Sunday, November 11, 2012

A story of nerdrage past

I remember a time in 8th Grade, I think it was. I was walking to my lunch table, probably to talk about Star Wars or something with my equally geeky friends, when some girls at their table talked to me. I don't remember really if they just said hi or asked me how I was or asked me to sit with them or what. What I do remember is blowing them off with some rather rude language.

I was on to them.

Even some of my friends were surprised by my conduct, but I knew better. Years of taunting and bullying had put me on-guard. I'd naïvely entered enough seemingly-innocent conversations or answered apparently innocuous questions that inevitably led to embarrassment and humiliation; I may not have always known a trap when I saw one, but I'd had enough experience that I wouldn't walk into such a blatantly obvious one. Better to ignore it or fire a warning shot. I wasn't going to let them mess with me, not without a fight, anyway.

I mean, really. Those girls really thought I'd believe they wanted to talk to me? What kind of idiot did I look like?

This is just one of far, far too many examples of how being the target of bullying messes up your entire approach to the world. It's only been within the last couple of years that I've actually been able to understand how screwed-up some of my instincts are. I still can't take a compliment without wondering if it's meant sarcastically, can't stop imagining that people who are friendly to my face are actually laughing at me behind my back. When your formative years are dominated by dysfunctional, abusive relationships with your peers, it's hard to break out of the negative, cynical, paranoid thought processes that develop as a result.

And all this is a roundabout way of saying that I completely understand why the "Fake Geek Girl" meme has taken root in the collective male nerd consciousness. I know why the notion exists, and I know why it's alluring, because I've been subject to the same basic thought-biases myself.

Which is not to say that I can explain the whole thing; I'm no psychologist. But I know what it's like to have that suspicion-bordering-on-certainty that anyone who's being nice to you, anyone who's entering your conversation or trying to engage with you who isn't clearly an outcast in the same way you are, is working with sinister ulterior motives. Humans are very good at recognizing patterns--patterns like "this cool/attractive person wants to talk to me/be my friend -> no, turns out they just wanted to humiliate me in front of everyone"--and it doesn't take long for those patterns to get ingrained. And once you've got those patterns in your head, you start comparing every experience to them, and you learn pretty quickly that making a type 2 error--a false negative--is far more costly in the short-term than a type 1 false positive error.

Consequently, you become a jerkass to anyone outside your clique, which you don't realize at the time is exactly the original problem. You withdraw. You become like an abused animal, flinching at every outstretched hand, and sometimes lashing out with a preemptive strike.

This doesn't make the "Fake Geek Girl" meme any less sexist or otherwise terrible, not by a longshot. After all, you don't see this kind of backlash against self-professed geeky guys like Vin Diesel who would have been equally out of place at the lunch table. It perpetuates negative stereotypes on every end, and continues a cycle of negativity, abuse, and bullying that should never have begun in the first place, and certainly should never have extended beyond the bounds of the junior high. But the magic of the Internet is that abuse, bullying, and cliqueishness can encompass the whole world, and the increasing popularity of aspects of "geek culture" means that geeks can maintain this weird cognitive dissonance that simultaneously assumes that geeky stuff is stuff that no one would genuinely like unless they were an outcast, but girls only like it because they're jumping on this huge bandwagon. Naturally, typical nerd entitlement and a dash of MRA misogyny keep the whole thing at a nicely disgusting level of discourse.

I sympathize with the folks who dreamt up this "fake geek girl" meme, I really do. I know where they're coming from, and I've been there myself. Which is why I feel justified in saying they need to knock it the heck off. Grow up. See a therapist. Work out these issues, because the cost-benefit analysis that kept you alive in junior high isn't applicable in the real world. Constantly assuming that every nice gesture disguises malice, constantly assuming that no one would want to be in your situation (and yet thinking that people are pretending to be in your situation) denies you real human contact and relationships, and turns you into something twisted, bitter, self-absorbed, and entitled. And that really is someone that no one should want to be.

And what's worse, it makes you into a bully yourself. When you scoff derisively at someone who just wants to join the club, who just wants to be part of the group, you're perpetuating the cycle that led you to be the suspicious, bitter cynic you've become. Remember how crappy it felt to know that you were on the bottom of the social hierarchy? It doesn't feel any better to the people you're trying to shove down there, and it shouldn't make you feel better that you've managed to elevate yourself at the expense of others.

I mean, didn't you ever watch a teen sitcom in the '90s?

The social hierarchy that sucked in high school doesn't actually have to be perpetuated outside of those brick walls. Society has its own crappy caste system without you inventing new cliques to keep people out of.

Cut it out. Get some therapy. Work out your problems. And burn the damn "No Girls Allowed" sign.