What’s in a Name?

Maryam and her readers post some good questions. Can a woman +be+ a geek? Should a woman call herself a geek? A person has the right to call herself, or himself, anything they like. I cringe every time a woman allows herself to be called, or calls herself a ho’ or bitch, but far be it from me to deny her right to do so.

I don’t bite the head off chickens, but, yes, I am a geek. Sure, I can dress acceptably for an occasion, and I even own makeup. I have and like jewelry, and I even have an unhealthy but managed love of purses. I am still female, very much so, but I am also a geek. I’m a geek because my brain is a geek brain.

Let me try to explain. My teen years in the middle to late 70’s, were lived in the suburb of Littleton, CO (yeah, that Littleton). Title IX was passed when I was a teenager. I was ever-so-grateful when I could take drafting instead of home economics. I couldn’t sew a dish towel, but I came in second place in the bridge design and building contest in drafting class (my bridge was lighter, but withstood less stress). My dad was proud and deeply embarrassed by that. (My parents didn’t tell me my math teacher wanted me to study math: it was unnatural for a girl to be good at math.)

I had a programming class in sophomore geometry class. It was love at first sight and it was the first time I felt like I fit into the world. The prof invited me to join the computer club, but the idea appalled me. Partly because the guys were jerks, but also because that would have simply sealed my fate as a hopeless social reject.

So, I went to college and studied the nicely feminine (i.e. useless) subject of painting. (Tho’ if you want to talk sexist, talk to me about the art business.) This choice was a real gift, and completely balances my parents’ unhelpful notions about girls and math. For one thing, I have a talent for and love of art, but for another, the degree program allowed me the room to take science, math, linguistics, and anthropology. So, by the time I graduated, I had a better sense of what I was interested in (not to mention a growing need to earn a living). PC’s were blooming and I dived right into another degree program…this time computer science. It was like coming home. I loved it. 20 years later, I still love coding, though I have many interests other than code and technology.

I’m glad I didn’t get too plugged into technology too early because I did have a chance to explore many subjects that I couldn’t have guessed I love (geology, linguistics, physics). But, I’m happy as hell that I was born when I was instead of 200 years ago. I don’t know how I would have fit into society then. I shudder at the thought.

My brain is now.


12 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I can appreciate this. My undergrad was English (mostly linguistics) with a minor in geology. I was that odd female who actually excelled at one of the hard sciences and set curves in classrooms. I’ve taken a lot of humanities and social sciences. I’ve taken many semesters of physics and chemistry. What it does is make a well-rounded person.

    I don’t own makeup. I do have an unhealthy adoration of electronics and am typically the first one of my colleagues with the newest.

    I marry my artsy side with my technological side with photography, using technology to enhance the beauty.

    Well-rounded is beautiful.

  2. Hey Nancy,

    G’Day… wow… so u prefer an “auto-pivot” monitor over a diamond… lady, u r jus awesome and one unique personality I would love to know more…

    Did u attend the most buzzed BlogHer conference? If so, how did you find ladies there? Geeky or Hottie? What ratio of ladies were geeky?


  3. Hi, Manoj – I didn’t attend Blogher. I got to help Ponzi and Chris at Gnomedex, and that was fun.

    Hi, Dawn – Luckily my Mom respects a Liberal Arts education. I can appreciate the “engineer brain,” which can narrowed into one area pretty early. That’s not me, though.

  4. Pingback: Scobleizer - Tech Geek Blogger » A week in Montana did me some good

  5. Oh, gee – I would comment on maryam’s blog, but you need an MS ID and I don’t have time today to try again to get passport working….
    I did a quiz with some online buddies a while ago, and I came out geekiest of all. It was sad, ’cause its a geek mailing list and, well, I thought some of those boys would out-geek me.
    I’m sorry, I’m geeky as all hell and not the least bit ashamed of it (although my mother is stil wondering where she went wrong :))
    (sent here by Scoble, btw)

  6. I’m a geek and proud of it.

    I wear lipstick. Style my hair. Like high end stuff. I dig technology. Have my toys. Live for connectivity. Code (only the soft stuff like HTML, CSS, etc., though). I walk and talk ‘computers’ 99% of my life.

    Geeks have changed. Look at the boy geeks. Matt Mullenweg. Chris Messina (sigh). David Weekly. Amit Gupta. All hot…fashion conscious…change their shirts…wear nice clothes….know what a good wine is. They can still be geeks.

    Maryam has a very limited version of what a geek is. She’s thinking old-skool geek.

    I love Maryam, but I am put off by her ‘girls can’t be geeks’ meme. We can be whatever we want to be. Geeks, as you said is about the brain…not the outfit.

    I think what she meant was crazy uncle.

  7. Your post is great and you are 100% right. To think that it is a *woman* saying that girls can’t be geeks is just frightening.

  8. Gina – Thanks for visiting and commenting. I want to clarify something, though. Maryam isn’t saying women can’t DO geek. She’s just saying that women can’t be labeled as geeks. The real disagreement between us is semantic. Other than that, I’m delighted to hear other women confirm what I’ve suspected, many women who DO geek, see themselves as geeks.

  9. Hi, Tara- As with all the other comments, I’m glad to hear your thoughts on the subject. I think that the reason I bristle at the women-aren’t-geeks issue is that women have strived very hard to have identities other than wives and mothers. So, it’s an accomplishment to be a geek, or teacher, or mechanic, or what-have-you: something to proudly proclaim. IMHO, ‘natch.

  10. Nancy, I am a geek also. Just because I have the shoe gene and the crying gene doesn’t mean I don’t think the way geeks do. I am “not so savvy when it comes to dealing with people, fashion and emotions”. First my mother and now my daughters ask, “Are you really wearing that?” I can relate to people at work, but don’t ask me to make small talk in a social situation where the other people aren’t fellow geeks. I guess Maryam hasn’t met enough of us.

  11. Hi, Johanna-

    Maryam has that social skill I mostly lack: she can talk to most any kind of a person and bring out what shines in them. As an Iranian transplant to CA, she’s got a lot to say about politics, feminism, religion, among other things. I hope you can meet her one day. Maybe we’ll meet up, too. What do you code in?

  12. Hi Nancy…
    I read her comment, and what scared me is that she said “I have to be honest and say that I personally believe girls can’t be geeks”. For some of us, and I think your posts really sum this up in a great way, “geek” is the only thing that accurately describes us.

    I work in high-tech too (*nix sys-admining and training), and it’s bad enough having to deal with guys who treat us “like girls”. Yeah, I am a girl who likes to dress appropriately and cook (another aspect of my geekiness, I LOVE to cook), but I like gadgets, sci-fi, gaming, you name it I’m there.

    The guys that don’t think girls can be geeks sidetrack careers by thinking we are not interested in new technology and automatically excluding us from the cool new stuff, or worse yet make work unbearable by making us prove our abilities over and beyond what is necessary. Most truly geeky women I know in tech have come to accept those types of male colleagues as occupational hazards. :)

    But it just kills me that a woman would make that same comment….maybe she doesn’t realize this but her use of words really feels like someone pouring salt on a wound that you can never quite get to scab over and heal.

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