Women and Geek Culture

Within mainstream culture today there is exists an unique subculture of computer geeks. This Geek Culture dictates the rules of conduct for the inner most core of the Internet community. However, many of the elements of Geek Culture actively discourage women from entering into the field of computing. What are these elements?

There is a particular social stigma attached to Geek Culture. Mainstream society portrays the members of this culture (in some cases, rightly so!) as a group of obsessive individuals with little social skills. However, at the same time, society teaches women to be balanced individuals who value social interaction. As a result, the core characteristics that compose Geek Culture are completely contrary to those that mainstream culture expects of women. Women are thus discouraged by society to enter into the field of computing and its accompanying Geek Culture because they are told that such actions and characteristics are not appropriate for their assigned gender.

Geek Culture is often a culture of hostility and anger. Flaming, arrogance and little tolerance for ignorance or newcomers are the norm in the computing subculture. All one has to do is look to the scathing posts on various newsgroups and websites to see the hostility of Geek Culture exemplified. The issue of the hostile nature of Geek Culture has been discussed in depth on many of the definitive geek gathering places, like Slashdot and Freshmeat. In an article about geek hostility entitled "Please Die2: Raising Creative Jerks," Slashdot contributer "JonKatz" writes "hostility tends to go hand-in-hand with online media...there's always been an angry streak in the subculture of geeks, hackers [and] nerds." Unfortunately, women are often targets of this Geek Culture hostility. In the same article "JonKatz" notes that women, "more than any other single group" report problems with hostility on posting boards and websites. This unwarranted cruelty from fellow geeks may cause women to view computing as a particularly unwelcoming field and may ultimately drive women from the discipline.

The male dominance of Geek Culture also discourages women from entering and remaining in Computer Science. In "Please Die2," Slashdot's "JonKatz" describes the Internet as a "clubhouse," dominated by those who are "white, male [and] narrow." This sentiment is echoed by LinuxChix - a website devoted to providing women (and men) with Linux support in a hostile free environment - which describe the male dominance of the net as a "locker-room mentality." In fact, a 1993 study done by Gladys We indicated that men tend to dominate the majority of online communitcations. The study noted that even on feminist newsgroups (Alt.feminism, Soc.women, etc) men tended to dominate the conversion, accounting, in some cases, for more that 70 percent of the posts. As a result of Geek Culture being dominated by men, women often feel excluded and isolated, thus causing them to leave, or choose not to enter, the field of computing.