Monday, April 27, 2015

#nerdshaming SUCKS

The Cultural Appropriation of Nerds is going strong and frankly it stings.
40 years ago I started going to public school and was harassed and beaten down verbally, emotionally, and yes - physically on a constant basis for being a nerd.

I was belittled for being obsessed with things that no one else cared about (Computers, for example) and regularly called out in the open for throwing the grading curve.

So nowadays when I see people affecting "Nerdy" things based on stereotypes perpetuated by shows like Big Bang Theory or Portlandia I see people "trying to be cool".  (And that's called "Cultural Appropriation" when some people do it)
Much like racial slurs that have been reclaimed & worn like a badge "Nerd Culture" is a defense mechanism against "The Norms" whom have beaten us down & locked us out and now that the societal value of nerds has been proven, those same "Norms" want to raid the cupboards and claim ownership of what they once ostracized.

Allow me to level-set with this anecdote: I dressed as Wolverine for Halloween in Junior High - and No One Knew Who I Was Supposed To Be.  (They just knew that those claws I made in metal shop should get me suspended)

I was the (now) "infamous" cis-white skinny male who "couldn't get laid in a whorehouse with $100 bill hanging out of my fly."
So I ended up huddled defensively at That Table in the lunchroom with all of the other people who took such crap regularly.

I can't imagine what that experience was like for girls - because none ever spoke to us except to put us down.

The exception that I remember was the "Big Win" of being asked to the Sadie Hawkins dance!

But of course what I didn't know what that I was "settled on" so that the girl wouldn't have to deal with the shame of going alone.
I got eyerolls from her from the minute I showed up (with my mother driving) to pick her up.

And as soon as we walked in the gym where the dance was held, she ditched me & ran over to her friends where she stayed the entire time & they all made sure to let me know I wasn't welcome.

I honestly don't even remember if I brought her home or not. (I think that she just ditched me)  I just remember awkwardly standing around by myself the whole time - just like every other day.
I felt worthless and used.

Since I don't recall ever seeing "girl nerds" clump together in groups I don't know if there was such a group - so I can only guess that such an existence would have been an even more lonely one than mine.

All that I remember was that Girls Hated Nerds and if you wanted to ever get a date - you needed to lock away anything about yourself that resembled that and keep it hidden.

My way out of social ostracization was music.  Acid Rock & Heavy Metal were "cool" back then & by learning to play bass & wearing a denim or leather jacket suddenly I wasn't seen as a nerd anymore.  "Burnouts" were much higher on the social pecking order.  (see The Breakfast Club for reference)  But of course I still had to hide the nerdiness from the Other Burnouts - who remembered me for what I really was & wanted nothing to do with me unless I "got cool".  (Which included also hiding any interest in "New Wave" music, incidentally)

Fast forward to today - where 'many' modern feminists have picked up the old habit of nerdshaming by labeling a group that already has massive social anxiety - who might have been slowly gaining mainstream acceptance (by way of providing tech-support) and then branding them as misogynists with a wide brush.

As I understand it the label was earned at comics and video game conventions when vendors started hiring "booth babes" i.e. attractive women dressed in costumes to attract the attention of a demographic desperate for female interaction.  There they were - actually paid to talk to them...  And what do those nerds pick as a subject to talk about?  Why their costumes of course!  And when those actresses failed to have the background material on whomever they were portraying -- the nerds reacted to being "played" with hostility.

That such hostility spilled over onto the other females at such conventions is, I agree, wrong.  But the idea of establishing a nerdy pecking order based on how many obscure facts that you know about a given subject is not something with which only female nerds have to endure.  That is universal treatment that we all do to each other since what other currency is there in such a culture except knowing obscure things?

Such super-fan mentalities extend to everything.  I can clearly remember school-bus crucibles where I needed to be able to name Van Halen or Led Zeppelin songs that weren't hits to prove that I was in fact a True Scotsman and thus prove myself worthy of acceptance.  If you are not a sports fan & ever speak to one, you will no doubt have had a similar experience.

In the spirit of No True Nerds - I will offer these simple missives:
  1. The cis-hetero-male-nerds that I have known did not hate women (& thus by definition are not misogynists) but they have been mistreated by women (girls actually, but the distinction invites more arguments) and so are wary of being further mistreated.  This added to the endemic lack of socialization skills/inclination makes them walking disasters waiting to happen & perhaps worthy of a molecule or two of compassion/understanding/help/lending a clue.
  2. If you find yourself in the group that I am talking about - today is the best time in history to be a nerd.  Bullying is actually taken seriously when you ask for help.  (I actually switched classes to avoid bullies several times) And physical abuse is no longer tolerated.  I will take a Tweet-storm over an actual pummeling any day.  So don't take it out on other people and at least try to learn some social skills.  They will only make your life easier.
  3. Using a computer a lot doesn't make you a Nerd.  Liking movies based on comic books or watching Star Trek/Wars doesn't make you a Nerd.  Thick glasses that you wear by choice don't make you a Nerd.  If you haven't been abused for liking unpopular things - you aren't a Nerd.  A "nerd" is not something that anyone wants to be - but when you wake up with that Albatross around your neck - the only thing to do is to own it.  So let the nerds be & go be whatever you are.
And to make one last distinction - I never wanted to wear "Nerd" as a label.  I settled for "Geek" - because "Paid Geek" is a term that garnished some modicum of respect.  And if you think that the term "Nerd" has lost all of it's teeth today - then substitute the word "Dork" and re-read to get the spirit of what I am trying to convey.

In closing, feel free to shit on my story.  I'm an adult now and I can take it.  But don't for one minute assume that reliving & talking about this wasn't painful.  I do not want other people to have to live through that.

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