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"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man who identifies as a nerd/geek/gamer must be in want of female attention," begins the manifesto at the top of the Fake Nerd Guys Tumblr. "This blog exposes fake nerd guys for the casual shams they are."
In other words, if seeing well-muscled young men wearing little other than a Saga T-shirt and a smile is the kind of thing that turns your crank, have I got the holiday season gift for you.
And as a bonus, the photos have been coupled with all the kinds of commentary that lady-nerds typically encounter from their geeky brethren: stuff like "This guy obviously isn’t a real geek, does he even play video games? Overly sexual hot boys, they just want attention." and "Hey shirtless guy, how do we even know you’re actually into [Call of Duty]?"
Obviously, captions like these aren't legitimate snipes at the dudes in question. Although it doesn't explicitly say so on its site, Fake Nerd Guys appears to be an effort to highlight the sexism that geeky women frequently face, especially when said geeky women are daring to wear something more suggestive than an oversized Captain Marvel housecoat and a Batman balaclava. (As I've heard from several people, even the anorak-wearing among us are often subjected to the kind of "Do you even know which X-Men character is on your raincoat?"-style aggression that plagues many a convention / comic store / street corner.)
Even as I scrolled past the blushing dudes biting their lips and staring up at me through Clark Kent glasses, though, I couldn't help but feel a little pang. It's not that I didn't appreciate the humor (or the eye candy) -- it's that, after a while, I think sites like this start to lose their punch. Because, at the end of the day, parody only goes so far before it starts just adding to the noise around the problem.
I know, I know, sites like these are trying to make a point about the idiocy of the criticism that gets leveled at geeky women. And I get it! Discounting someone's opinion or assuming that they're a "bandwagon fan" based on their appearance is completely ignorant, no matter what gender they are or whether they're wearing a Star Trek shirt or a midriff-baring Seahawks jersey. The fact that cultural critics' first impulse seems to be to apply that level of thinking to dudes in order to demonstrate that idiocy still kind of rubs me the wrong way.
In my experience, a big part of stopping misogyny on a personal, one-on-one level is appealing to people's empathy. So it makes sense, I guess, that our first instinct would be to forcibly put guys in women's shoes, so to speak. But achieving understanding shouldn't have to mean repeatedly demonstrating the absurdity of sexism by applying it to guys.
For one thing, it's annoying. The onus shouldn't be on disenfranchised people to patiently guide jerkwads to seeing the error of their ways. And for another, I'm just not sure it's very effective.
Take the Hawkeye Initiative, another parody site that makes a point of taking the sexist, objectifying ways that women are portrayed in comics and applying that standard to male characters. In other words, as its inspiration Noelle Stevenson put it, "How to fix every Strong Female Character pose in superhero comics: Replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing." Again, though I certainly don't have an objection with seeing images of Hawkeye all twisted around to show his booty and chest all at the same time, it makes me wonder why the primary vehicle for changing the minds of the masses is to subject dudes to the same demeaning stereotypes as women.
I am not advocating on behalf of the poor, newly objectified dudes. Even aside from the fact that systemic misandry is not actually a thing, they don't need me to defend them. Ultimately, however, I wonder how hard-hitting "reverse sexism"-style parodies possibly can be when the dudes in question know that they were never in any real danger of long-term disenfranchisement in the first place.
Going back to Fake Nerd Guys: Yes, the site is clearly not actually trying to make hot dudes in Lord of the Rings boxers feel bad for posting selfies on Tumblr. The thing is, though, that even if it were a blog dedicated to the intentional esteem-killing of sweet-faced young geeks, it probably wouldn't actually matter in the long run. It would just be one tiny site in a cultural sea of shrugging indifference towards nerd-dudes expressing themselves however they damn well please.
Maybe one or two of the guys posted would see the comments and feel bad, which would be a bummer. But they could content themselves with knowing that in the long run, the status quo is in their favor.
It's like the difference between standing in the ocean and getting sloshed with a bucket of water. Many women in the semi-public eye might not even notice the lap of the waves at their ankles -- the continuous grind of withstanding strangers' evaluations and their own internalized self-doubt, day in and day out -- until suddenly they find themselves struggling to keep their heads above the surface, the tide having come in unseen. It wears on you.
Getting a bucket of water to the face -- the momentary chill of being briefly subjected to inequality -- doesn't really compare. It might be uncomfortable, but after a minute or two, it'll dry. And once that happens, it's awfully easy to brush off the whole thing as "not a big deal."
I don't really have a solution for this. Combating sexism takes a lot of energy and creativity, and sometimes, it's just easier to rely on the "How would you like these stereotypes if they were applied to you?" argument rather than engaging in discussion.
At the end of the day, though, role-reversal like Fake Nerd Guys is only objectifying more people (however gently it may be). If we're going to take it upon ourselves to school people on sexism, it's probably going to be more helpful to appeal to their humanity, rather than reducing them to two-dimensional caricatures. No matter how nice those caricatures might look in a pair of Spidey-whities.
Kate is nerding out: @katchatters