Judge A Nerd Girl; Where The Public And Private Collide

A geek girl took a photo. It became a meme. It's not like this is ever a happy story, you know?

Feb 12, 2013 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

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I gotta be honest, I am FUCK YOU levels of over the whole "fake geek girl" discussion. Because fuck you if you think girls can't actually be geeks. Ugh. I really hate it when oppressive cultural systems are replicated within subcultures that have formed as a reaction against the oppressive mainstream.

But don't we all hate that?

(That was like a subtweet just for geek dudes. Ahem.)

So, here's the set-up, which is similar to the set up for many other situations like this: A girl (like, she was 16, OK?), who considers herself a gamer, takes a funny picture of herself posing with a controller. It goes viral, because there are some geeks who really like mocking women. Comments get posted, judging her for being audacious enough to consider herself a gamer.

Cue me, rolling my eyes so hard I'm worried they'll pop out of my head.

E. Ortiz, over at NerdCaliber, actually did an interview with the girl from the picture -- he and Courtney talked about the origins of the picture and the responses to it. 

At this point, I'm pretty unfazed by geek men who say awful things about the women who dare to encroach on geekdom. It's not awesome, certainly, and it's motivated by, I think, vast pools of insecurity combined with socialized misogyny. We're all swimming in it.

But what struck me as super interesting was how Courtney (who is a little older now), throughout the interview, reiterated that she was awkward as a teenager. She seems to buy into the idea that people's response to the photo was a reasonable one -- that OF COURSE people looked at this photo and thought she'd never touched a game controller before. It's like she is brushing this photo off as a youthful mistake, a poor decision that she made that has caused others to question her gamer credibility.

At the same time the comments about her appearance were easy to brush off (which, yo, that is PROGRESS right there), the comments about her not being a "real" gamer were harder to deal with. Courtney said, "As someone who lives immersed in gaming, it felt like they were denying me my own identity."

Man, there's a lot going on with that. Because it means people -- by which I mean geeks -- have been so conditioned to the idea of the fake geek girl that even women involved in gaming buy into the validity of interpreting an image that way.

But I'm getting off track, sucked down the path of least ranting resistance! Because what I really want to talk about is the context of the original photo -- it was a joke, sent to her boyfriend at the time, who was into the PS3 rather than her XBox360. 

(Which, y'all, that is a nerdy debate. I'm team XBox, by the way.)

The sharing of this photo is a classic internet cautionary tale; because that's what the Internet does -- it strips context away from everything. An in-joke between two people got sent around to a whole lot of other people who weren't in on the joke. 

Now, I love living in the future. I bought a pair of shoes online via my cellphone at 1:30 am the other night. And you know I love my Internet friends. But one thing I learned a very long time ago is that there is no such thing as private when it comes to online communication. And if you are depending on context for meaning, well. 

Your shit is going to get all jacked up outside of its original context.

I don't think this is going to stop happening. I mean, I think this is where people screw things up all the time. We hear, all the time, "Oh, my friends know what I mean." But the Internet is not itself your friend. 

This isn't necessarily a case against "in jokes" online. But it IS important for those of us who communicate here to remember that privacy online is not the same thing as privacy in person. 

I'd say the rest of us (by which I mostly actually mean folks like the gamer dudes ragging on Courtney's picture) need to remember that context is a thing -- but even though I'm an optimistic person, I don't know if there's a way to bring a belief in nuance into any large crowd situation. And that's what the Internet is, after all.

Courtney repeatedly brushes off her picture like it was a bad choice made during an awkward time, an in-joke gone viral without her consent. But, really, there's nothing wrong with her picture that fixing our goddamned culture wouldn't cure.