The XX Factor

Geek Culture Lives Up to Ugly Stereotypes

It’s easy to pity tech geeks for having to live with the stereotype that they’re undersexed, sexist, tone deaf, and mean-spirited. Easy to pity them until you see that geeks are their own worst enemy when it comes to upholding this stereotype. The latest tech world sexism scandal-involving Yahoo-sponsored lap dances at a conference- inspired Gawker to compile a list of some of the most recent sexism scandals in the tech world. Why on earth does the world of high tech create so many occasions for its ugliest members to send signals that indicate that they think that men are for thinking and women are for shutting up and stripping?

No doubt sexism deniers would say that the incidents listed on Gawker-which involved strippers, jokes about strippers, booth girls, and mean-spirited jokes aimed at a woman whose body didn’t fit the exacting standards of audience members whose exposure to actual women is debatable-are not a matter of aggressive sexism. We’ve heard all the denials before: Feminists should get a sense of humor. What’s wrong with a little sexiness at a tech conference? Geeks don’t realize that lap dances send the signal that women aren’t welcome. Et cetera. But incidents like the lap dances don’t occur in a vacuum, but in an industry where women often face vicious treatment from some corners if they dare present themselves as the equals of men. Take the treatment that tech guru and blogger Kathy Sierra attracted , seemingly for no reason other than her willingness to be a woman with respect and authority in the industry. In this environment, conference entertainment that implies that there are no women in the audience certainly sends the message that the tech world is the He-Man Woman-Haters Club.

It’s too bad, really, because many male tech geeks want a culture that’s more welcoming to women. The “no women allowed” message many women perceive is being sent by a minority of men in this world. But men who find this kind of sexism disgusting still feed the beast when they quietly roll their eyes and move on. Sexists see silence as consent. Male geeks who want a culture more welcoming to women need to speak up when they see sexism, or this kind of thing won’t end.