Without intending to do so I’ve developed a thread of research focusing on geek culture and identity, including feminist perspectives on these subjects.
Gender Bias in Wikipedia and Britannica
Abstract: Is there a bias in the against women’s representation in Wikipedia biographies? Thousands of biographical subjects, from six sources, are compared against the English-language Wikipedia and the online Encyclopædia Britannica with respect to coverage, gender representation, and article length. We conclude that Wikipedia provides better coverage and longer articles, that Wikipedia typically has more articles on women than Britannica in absolute terms, but Wikipedia articles on women are more likely to be missing than articles on men relative to Britannica. For both reference works, article length did not consistently differ by gender.
“Free as in sexist?”: Free culture and the gender gap.
Abstract: Despite the values of freedom and openness, the free culture movement’s gender balance is as skewed (or more so) as the computing culture from which it arose. Based on the collection and analysis of discourse on gender and sexism within this movement over a six year period I suggest three possible causes: (a) some geek identities can be narrow and unappealing, (b) open communities are especially susceptible to difficult people, and (c) the ideas of freedom and openness can be used to dismiss concerns and rationalize the gender gap as a matter of preference and choice.
The Obligation to Know: From FAQ to Feminism 101
Abstract: In addition to documenting and sharing information geek culture has a complementary norm obliging others to educate themselves on rudimentary topics. This obligation to know is expressed by way of jargon- laden exhortations such as ‘check the FAQ’ (frequently asked questions) and ‘RTFM’ (read the fucking manual). Additionally, the geek lexicon includes designations of the stature of the knower and the extent of what he or she knows (e.g., alpha geek and newbie). Online feminists, especially geek feminists, are similarly beset by naive or disruptive questions and demonstrate and further their geekiness through the deployment of the obligation to know. However, in this community the obligation reflects the increased likelihood of disruptive, or ‘derailing’, questions and a more complex and gendered relationship with stature, as seen in the notions of impostor syndrome, the Unicorn Law, and mansplaining.
Geek policing: “Fake geek girls” and contested attention
Abstract: I frame the 2012–2013 discourse about “fake geek girls” using Bourdieu’s theory of fields and capital, complemented by the literature on geeks, authenticity, and boundary policing. This discourse permits me to identify the reciprocal relationship between the policing of identity (e.g., am I a geek?) and the policing of social boundaries (e.g., is liking an X-Men movie sufficiently geeky?). Additionally, geekdom is gendered, and the policing of “fake geek girls” can be understood as a conflict over what is attended to (knowledge or attractiveness), by whom (geekdom or mainstream), and the meaning of received attention (as empowering or objectifying). Finally, despite the emergence of a more progressive and welcoming notion of geeks-who-share, the conversation tended to manifest the values of dominant (androcentric) members. That is, in a discourse started by a woman to encourage other women to be geeky, some of the loudest voices were those judging women’s bodies and brains according to traditionally androcentric and heteronormative values. Consequently, in this boundary and identity policing, women faced significant double binds, and the discourse exemplified a critical boomerang in which a critique by a woman circled back to become a scrutiny of women by men.
Naive meritocracy and the meanings of myth
Abstract: Hackers and other geeks have long described their spaces as meritocratic. Geek feminists challenge this belief as a myth. In short, so-called meritocracies reproduce extent members and favor incidental attributes; they can be biased, susceptible to privilege, and unconcerned with inequitable outcomes. I agree that meritocratic claims are often unfounded and elide equitable opportunities and outcomes; it is deserving of critique and qualification. Yet, meritocracy has been experienced as real by some, and it is a worthwhile ideal. Given that the word myth has multiple meanings, I offer the term naive meritocracy in its place. I also suggest there are two types of naiveté about meritocracy: that which is ignorant of critiques and a subjective naiveté by which personal experiences trumps all else. The notion of naive meritocracy permits us to be critical of meritocratic claims without sacrificing the ideal of meritocracy as equal opportunity. It also permits us to refute the claim that merit has been abandoned in favor of political correctness.
Nerd vs. bro: Geek privilege, idiosyncrasy, and triumphalism
Abstract: Peggy McIntosh characterized privilege as an “invisible knapsack” of unearned advantages. Although the invisible knapsack is a useful metaphor, the notion of unearned advantage is not readily appreciated, especially in androcentric geek cultures associated with computers, comics, and gaming. After providing brief cultural histories of geekdom and privilege, I ask: Why are some geeks resistant to the notion of privilege? Beyond the observation that privilege often prompts defensiveness and unproductive comparisons, there is a geek-specific reason. Geek identity is informed by the trope of geek triumphalism: early insecurity is superseded by a sense of superiority. Geeks’ intelligence, unconventional enthusiasms (e.g., technology and fantasy), and idiosyncratic dress were once targets of ridicule, leading geeks to believe they are without privilege. These same characteristics, later in life, become sources of success and pride, leading them to think they are beyond bias. Nonetheless, even in the seemingly innocuous realm of idiosyncratic dress, bias and privilege exist.