If I was the sort of blogger who wrote things on a timely basis, this post would have been up during the ALCS when I first thought about it, or at least during the World Series, when it was topical, or shortly thereafter, when people were still buzzing. But I’ve been busy with work, that novel I’m perpetually working on, and meeting some of my favorite authors. And I’m not that sort of blogger. Alas.
So. Baseball. And feminism!
The school where my sister teaches had a Yankees-themed dress-down day when the Yankees won the World series.1 She stopped at a Modell’s store to pick up a jersey to wear, and found only men’s larges and extra larges — and a very few women’s shirts, all in pastel pink.
I don’t actually know any women who want pink Yankees gear. The blue pinstripes? Pretty iconic, is all I’m saying. Rachel asked a salesman if there was anything else for women, and he said no. They never bother to order jerseys for women. Imagine that.2
I went to see a game with my friend B this summer. B is a much harder-core fan than I am, actually, and when we were talking about how we got into watching, she said I was one of the only women she knows who watches baseball like she does — or, in other words, who watches baseball like a dude.
But, she said, it was nice to see a game with another woman because she didn’t have to avoid talking about how Derek Jeter is wicked hot.
Yup. That’s my experience, too. Because that’s the thing about talking baseball with dudes. There’s an awesome feeling of being in-group, and what’s more fun than talking about something you love with people who are similarly passionate? But for me and B both — and, I suspect, a lot of other female sports fans — there’s an unspoken knowledge that commenting on a player’s attractiveness means you will be out-grouped instantly. Your opinions will be taken less seriously, and instead of a real fan, you’ll be seen as one of those women, who only watches the game for eye candy or because your boyfriend makes you.3
The thing is, this is not something that happens in reverse. For some reason, a sports-centric magazine with a primarily male audience puts out a yearly edition that’s devoted to women in swimsuits, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a magazine about sports. 4 Movie reviews nearly always comment on the female lead’s attractiveness, but even when written by men, the reviews aren’t discounted out of hand, on the grounds that people assume men only watch movies to stare at the women. And often, female athletes are uber-sexualized, and their looks are considered at least as important as their skills.5
So maybe I do watch baseball like a dude, because apparently even sitting on my couch watching the YES Network is a gendered activity. (Sigh.) But I also watch baseball like a chick. Because, whether you believe in Derek Jeter’s intangibles or Derek Jeter’s actual defensive statistics?
Dude is wicked hot.
- Still not tired of typing that. ↩
- She scowled at him, bought a men’s large, and demanded I blog about it. ↩
- FYI: this is not something than any of the men I know do on purpose. It’s just a part of the same culture that, you know, devalues things girls like. Stupid culture. ↩
- Or at least that’s what’s on the cover, I have no idea what the actual content is. ↩
- I googled to find examples of this, and there are plenty out there, but I was so grossed out and annoyed that I decided not to link to any of them after all. ↩
So. I have ranted before about my experience as a female geek trying to have a conversation with male geeks, and the prove-your-credentials bullshit that goes on. The more I pay attention, the more I see this bullshit is everywhere; it’s a fucked up game that, when I see it going on, I refuse to play. It pisses me off.
I have also written that I think that, generally speaking, I think that happens less in sports fandom because women have been “allowed” to like sports for longer. Actually, what I wrote specifically was:
That said, I’ve still been, um…initiated by male sports fans, by which I mean skeptically asked to prove that I’m part of a group. Let’s just say I’ve never heard anyone ask a dude if he’s really a fan or if he’s just wearing the hat. But (while I wouldn’t be surprised if it had happened to others) I’ve never run into anything as malicious or defensive as I did in the comic book situation.
Spoke too soon, it turns out. Now, I still suspect that’s generally true, but all I’m working with is personal anecdotes, so I shall refrain from drawing any specific conclusions. But I did run into a pretty parallel, this-isn’t-how-you-treat-male-fans situation on Friday, that I need to rant about because it’s still pissing me off.
Traditional, old-fashioned, House-that-Ruth-Built Yankee Stadium is closing after this season, to be replaced by a shinier, more expensive House that Steinbrenner Built. So Jess and I decided to go see one last game together (err… one last game at the stadium, the first one we’d seen together) and snagged a couple of bleacher seats. The bleachers definitely used to be known as the home of the drunken assholes in the stadium, but in recent years alcohol has been forbidden in that area, so they’ve become more family friendly. But that didn’t stop a couple of drunken douchebags from congregating outside the stadium to yell at people as they walked by. Specifically, a drunk dude screamed at us, “HEY LADIES, you like baseball?”
Tee-hee, no! We just thought the hats were totally cute and felt like dropping $80 so we could admire the players in tight pants!
Wait, no, the other thing. The game. Yes, we enjoy that. I froze up because I had no idea how to answer, and probably shouldn’t have answered at all. Then again, I’m someone who smiles at everyone and stops to chat when random strangers talk to me — still trying to shake my small-town upbringing. So I said, “Yeah…?”
To which he answered, “So then, like… Do you know how many outs are there in an inning?”
At which point I exploded with, “OH MY GOD, DO YOU THINK WE ARE STUPID, YOU JACKASSES!” and stormed in to the bag-check line while Jess stared at me in surprise. I rarely scream at strangers. I rarely scream at all, actually. But like I said, I won’t play that game anymore, and it seriously enrages me.
Here’s the thing: six outs per inning is kind of the most basic, standard thing you know about baseball. Three strikes, you’re out; three outs per half-inning. I don’t know when I learned that, but it was ages before I actually became a baseball fan. It may not be universal knowledge, but it’s pretty standard; it’s especially standard among people who are attending a baseball game, whether they’re big fans or not. To ask someone attending a baseball game if he or she knows that is insulting and yes: in this situation, it was a sexist thing. It wasn’t a good faith question. It may have been a severely misguided attempt at flirting, or it may just have been some douchebags being douchebags because they could, but they weren’t yelling insults at men. They were targeting women, questioning our intelligence, and questioning our reasons for attending.
It didn’t ruin the night: the Yankees pulled off a 2-1 win, and I got to see Mariano Rivera (my very favorite player) get a 5-out save. We had a great time. It just sucks that in order to get in to have a great time, we were slapped with yet another reminder that, as women, there are still people who are at best surprised (and sometimes hostile) when we venture outside of our specifically-designated woman-places (the kitchen, I guess?) and enjoy life as if we were actually just people.
This article (via Chaos Theory) is absolutely excellent. Both in its analysis of the show Beauty and the Geek (which is fascinating and touching, despite being incredibly shallow), and in its analysis of why it’s so uncomfortable to add Nicole and Sam, the female geek and male beauty, to the show.
But I think there’s also more to it than that. I’ve discussed the idea of a reverse-gender cast with GC before (as we accidentally watched all of season two together in a New Years marathon last year. In one sitting,) and have always been against the idea. Which at first struck GC as odd, what with me being, you know, a female geek and all. But there are two points I’d like to make about this.
First: I don’t like having Sam in the competition against the female beauties. First off, because a lot of their challenges are things which are, in this society, gendered as male activities*, such as the week they were building bottle rockets. As GC pointed out, there’s a much bigger chance that at some point in his childhood, Sam had already done that, or at least known kids who did and was familiar with it. But it isn’t just that.
The stereotype of the shallow, sexy woman is also invariably tied to low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. The theory seems to be that the cliche beauty, the sort found on the show, uses her body in place of brains, and thus has never tried to use her brains. She may not be dumb, but she’s uncomfortable and doesn’t like being put in a position where her smarts and not her body are being judged. So that’s what the show does. It repeatedly challenges these walking stereotypes to learn something, and to be confident in their newly-acquired knowledge, and in almost any competition, the most confident wins.
The thing is? Good looking men aren’t socialized that way. That stereotype does exist for guys, but with guys, “lack of confidence” and “attractive” aren’t inextricably linked. Where beauty for women is generally passive and objectified (literally meaning they’re at their prettiest when they’re not contributing anything but good looks), it isn’t for men; a man can be attractive and shallow without getting the message that he should shut up. So to have a contest such as the one where the beauties had to debate against each other, but throwing him in the mix, is unfair. The show is a learning journey, where the beauties gain that confidence. Sam, raised in a society that can appreciate his opinions as well as his attractiveness (not to mention one which urges him to be competitive while it urges women to be supportive and gentle), is not lacking in that confidence.
And then there’s the matter of judges. Society already values male opinions over female one; in a contest where there are, what, eight women stumbling to find an answer and one guy (who, while not especially well-spoken, is also not shy or nervous), who is going to stand out more? I’m not saying that he didn’t genuinely learn his material and present it well, but regardless, the whole competition was already biased in his favor.
Point two: let’s talk about being female and geeky. It isn’t easy. Though male geeks tend to appreciate your existence, society overall is confused, baffled, and just doesn’t know what to do with you. You’re smart, but instead of being judged on competence, you’re judged on looks. But the thing is, inherent attractiveness isn’t even the point. Different things tend to be important to geeks as compared to most of the rest of the population, and one of the major differences is that looks (and with them, fashion, the ability to use make-up, or do your hair) are waaaay further down on the priority list.
Look at Nicole. She’s not ugly, but she doesn’t dress with attractiveness in mind. Especially when she’s surrounded by other women, all of whom are concerned primarily about being attractive, the message is that she’s lacking. Actually ugly or not, she might as well be, because not caring means being ugly, and being ugly means, well…dealing with it.
This is not a society that’s kind to the unattractive. At all. And when all you want is to be judged by your intelligence, and instead you spend your life having all of your hard work barely noticed but your physical attractiveness scrutinized…well, it’s hard. It’s frustrating. Being yourself without apologizing for it is hard, because no matter how awesome you are, you’re fully aware you’d be treated better if you were prettier.
So back to the show. The reason having the female geek on a show where the geeks all get makeovers and learn to better fit in with society is that it’s damn hard to not do that. It strikes me as very much taking someone who has, consciously or not, rejected the patriarchal idea of female beauty, and trying to shoehorn her right back into it. Because the thing is, guys can be appreciated for being geeks. Which isn’t to write off their legitimate struggles with social awkwardness or attractiveness; when I said this society isn’t kind to the unattractive, I meant that, full stop. Both genders. But for men, there are other ways to contribute to society and be appreciated for them. For women, it’s beauty first, kindness and femininity second, and everything else after that. So for male geeks, learning to jump these hurdles and conquer personal demons is a bonus. It’ll make life much easier, sure.
But for a female geek? It’s akin to saying, “You’re really great at what you do. But you’d be better if you were prettier and easier to get along with.” Which is the same damn thing women are told every day. It isn’t subverting the societal message of what a woman should be, it’s reinforcing it.
I get enough of that in my daily life, as someone who’s female and a geek. I identify with Nicole, and it’s rare to find someone on reality TV (or, for that matter, TV generally) I can see myself in. I really don’t want to see her buy into this.
* Mostly unrelatedly, fuck you and your “boys are different” campaign, Playskool toys. Because sure, only little boys like toy trucks and want to run around…but at least they make girl toys! Play houses! With play kitchens and a play washing machine! Seriously, fuck you.
…But pretty close.
The scene is my living room. After text messaging the Gentleman Caller to update him on the Yankees’ score, only to see them blow it in the fourteenth, my phone rings…
GC: Fucking Joe Torre! I defended him the whole fucking season when things went wrong, but now he pulls THIS kind of shit in the fourteenth inning of one of the last games of the season on a night when the Sox won? Fuck that guy!
Me: It’s his bad habit. Torre always feels like when there’s pressure, he has to DO something, he can’t just let things play out, so he over manages and screws himself–
GC: He fucking took out Melky! Melky is clutch! For Wilson fucking Betemit! Who the fuck is that guy?
Me: You know how I feel about Melky. I love Melky. And Brian Bruney? Really?
GC: Damn it! Okay. I’m going back into the bar now.
Me: Allrighty. Drink away the pain.
GC: I will… You know everyone who walked past me on the sidewalk assumes I’m ranting to a guy, right?
Me: …There’s absolutely nothing I can think of to say to that.
Good Christ. I just found and read through this. Ahem:
“I’m at the local wine bar and a very attractive hostess is recommending books in the science fiction genre to another (far less attractive) hostess. So far I’ve heard Ender’s Game, Hyperion and Snow Crash tossed off as appropriate for a “newbie.” Is this the Twlight Zone??? Am I a freak to think this is freaky? I haven’t had a sip of wine, so it isn’t the alcohol.”
So now, please let me explain why I’m dating GC, who, while he has his nerdy tendencies (such as an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of baseball, which I find perhaps a little too hot), has no interest in anything even vaguely related to scifi; and not someone who has a fetish for hot nerds.
Whether you call it a nerd, a dork, a geek, or a brain, I am one. I’m a woman who loves science fiction, for example. And on the one hand, I’ve always been proud of my geekiness — much prouder of that than of my looks, in fact. Part of being in a subculture that’s often mocked is that if you don’t embrace it, there’s a good chance you’ll be miserable. So I embraced it. I own my nerdiness and my fangirly glee. But I don’t advertise it anymore, because, quite frankly, I’m sick to fucking death of male nerds being amazed by my very existence.
Case in point. GC and I met when we were both working at Borders. He and I had gone out on a couple of dates before the subject of Batman came up. I don’t remember how it happened, but I suspect it was something along the lines of favorite actors → Christian Bale → Batman Begins → Batman. He likes Batman, in an abstract sense, but has never been into comics. And while most of my friends are hardcore comics fans whose knowledge makes mine look miniscule, I’ve read a whole bunch of trade paperbacks, and a couple of histories/social studies of Batman. I’m definitely at least conversant on the subject. GC was impressed (and perhaps terrified, but he got over that), and in the break room the next week, he asked me a Batman-related question. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only people in the room. Two other guys, both of them nerds, were there. Both of them overheard. And upon affirming that yes, I really like Batman and have a mild interest in and knowledge of comics, I was asked what other titles I read.
This was not a friendly question. It wasn’t the way you’d ask a new acquaintance what they read to see if there’s anything to discuss or bond over. It was a challenge, which they made very clear. The question may have been, “What other comics do you like?” but the subtext was very clearly, “You’re a girl, what other comics could you possibly actually be familiar with?”
But I am, as I said, conversant in Batman and passingly interested in comics. So I answered honestly that I don’t really read a lot of comics, and definitely know more about Batman than anything else, but thanks to friends who were really into them, I enjoy both Green Lantern and Green Arrow. And the guys in the staff room, well, freaked out.
The questions began. First I was asked to establish more credentials, and it wasn’t even innocently phrased anymore. One guy said, word for word, “If you really like Batman, name three Robins.” Because hey, I’m me, I busted out Stephanie Brown, in fact, and not Tim Drake. I was then told that I’d forgotten one. (“No, you asked for three and I named three. If you wanted Tim, you should have asked who the three male Robins were.”) I was asked who killed Jason Todd. I was asked to detail current storylines.
And again, keep in mind, these were questions to establish that, good god, I really was a living, breathing girl — an attractive one, no less! — who was into something nerdy. One of the guys responded with wonder. The other, who many women at the store have had other, far worse kinds of run ins with, was angry and condescending. (Needless to say, he was the one who hadn’t even realized Stephanie was a valid answer to the Robin question.) This all went on for a good twenty minutes (until our break ended, in fact) and through the whole thing I got more flustered and more angry, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until later.
I later pondered and realized that what pissed me off was the notion that, because I’m female, I need to prove to men that I can join their exclusive club. And once that proof is established, I’m still not really allowed into their clubhouse. In the same way that so many nerds consider jocks to be practically another species, well, women are, too. We are Other. We’re confusing and mystifying. And it doesn’t matter if we like the same things, if we read the same things, if we discuss the same things. ‘Female’ is ‘Other’. But a female who is into those same things is put into yet another classification — as both female and nerd (especially if you’re attractive) you’re now a fetish. You’re someone who can share the joy of videogames and comics and science fiction, so he doesn’t have to alter his interests to impress you — and on top of that, you might have sex with him. You’re not just a girl, you’re a dream girl.
I used to be pretty pleased with that. I grew up awkward (as many nerds do) and when I first met a group of male nerds who treated me as Queen Nerd, it was a heady, thrilling feeling. But as I grew more comfortable and confident with myself, it started to feel creepier. I don’t like being someone’s concept, I like being a person. And Nerd Girl is not the same as Person.
To refer back to the title, though it’s a vast overstatement (there are many reasons why I’m dating GC, and I have definitely dated nerds in the past), one thing about the way GC and I interact that makes me feel really good is that he likes me as a person, and not as a Nerd Girl. He likes that I’m intelligent, he likes that I’m happy to kick back and watch baseball with him, he likes that I’m cute. And he finds my nerdiness to be an endearing quirk, one he’s fond of, but when it comes down to it, he likes me for me, nerdiness included, but not because I’m a nerd. And that is a much better feeling.