A d20 die showing the number 20

All My Nerd Ladies, Put Your Hands Up

This is a guest post by Aminah Mae Safi , a recovering graduate student and a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, CA.  She reviews albums over at Listen Before You Buy  and makes delicious baked goods visible on her Tumblr.

I’ve read a lot recently, about the state of being a lady in the nerd world.  Most of these articles I’ve strongly identified with, though, some I haven’t.  There’s respect issues, misogyny issues, body image issues, personhood issues, as well as a whole host of other problems that are impossible to sum up in short, catchy quips. In short: it’s tough being a girl in a boys’ club, for any number of reasons, particularly the boys’ club of Geekdom. But I recently found a means of quiet rebellion, not a revolution, mind you, but a personal epiphany: Ladies Dungeons & Dragons night.

Like a knitting circle, my Ladies D&D night felt to me like a real starting point.  I know you might say segregating away from the boys can do more damage than good. I know you might say that it’s no better than women in the early twentieth century being forced to attend women’s colleges instead of being allowed in coeducational institutions.  But let me tell you something: sometimes, you have to start at the beginning.  And you don’t have give up your spot at the boys’ table forever when you sit with the girls.

Last night, we had our first meeting.  We began the processes of picking out our characters, and, obviously, learning much about one another in the process.  We drank cheap wine, discussed who we’d take to the Yule Ball, made esoteric references to Tim the Enchanter, got excited about speaking Draconic and hacking shit up in dungeons, all while feeing free enough to admit excitement over planning our characters’ costumes and buying pretty dice.

No one derogatorily accused anyone of being “girly” the entire night, despite swooning over a couple notable nerd-girl heartthrobs (Han Solo, Sirus Black) or waxing nostalgic on old boy band crushes.  It was the most comfortable I’d felt around a larger group of nerds in years.  I was free to be a girl, in my own sense of the word, and free to be a nerd, in my own sense of the word as well.  There were pumpkin Rice Crispy Treats and there was a suggestive drawing of Matt Smith on the walls.

What I’m trying to say, rather wordily, is that I felt actually a part of a community for the first time in my geeky life.  I didn’t have to prove myself by quoting an entire Monty Python sketch or discussing my favorite extended universe character.  I didn’t have to show up with wet hair and glasses to gain anyone’s respect.  I didn’t feel as though I’d only been invited because half the people there wanted to hook up with me. I’d found that elusive, ethereal thing for a nerd girl: belonging.

I don’t mean to say women should have to be segregated from men in the nerd community.  Some– not all, but a quite vocal some– of male nerds need to change many of their cherished views that have been making nerd girls feel so frustrated, worn out, and downright shitty.  But maybe we need to figure out who we want to be, as nerds and as women, away from the boys.  Maybe we need our own a girls’ clubs as well.  Maybe it’s easier for us to find mentors when we feel as though we’re in an environment of people who truly understand our hesitations, understand the mask we wear around others– be they nerds judging us for our so-called “girly-ness” or non-nerd friends judging us for geeking out. Maybe we need to shatter the misconception that all girls are out to fight to the death to steal each other’s boyfriends in a competitive rage, but hey, that’s just a thought.

Look, I don’t know what it’s like to be a gay male videogamer, or even a gay female nerd for that matter.  I can sympathize with how hard dealing with homophobic slurs across the nerd community may be, but I cannot empathize.  My own personal experience lies in being a lady nerd. But I do know that one of the best ways to tackle the injustices we see in Geekdom are through speaking out and coming together.

What I mean to say is that women in nerd communities often find themselves isolated in a sea of men who don’t always seem to understand.  So one solution is to reach out to one another.  Create our own bonds.  We do not always need to be exclusively away from the guys, but the best way to stop feeling like a nerd-impostor is to remember we also belong.  Because just one night with my nerd ladies provided me with enough feeling of community to assuage my general anxiety around other large groupings of nerds. Finding a space where I don’t always have to fight to be heard means I won’t be so exhausted the next time I do need to stand up for my own voice.

So, don’t give up your spot in the boys’ club of Geekdom.  I know many women, as well as other outsiders to the nerd herd, have fought hard for those spaces.  But, if you are a nerd girl, do carve out a new, extra space in your geeky life for your fellow nerd ladies.  You won’t regret it.

This post was submitted via the Guest posts submission page, if you are interested in guest posting on Geek Feminism please contact us through that page.

8 thoughts on “All My Nerd Ladies, Put Your Hands Up

  1. Ash

    Yes! Near the end of Battlestar Galactica I had a few lovely ladies to watch with. We talked about the future and AI and robots and if Apollo or Helo was hotter and I made stuffed crescent rolls shaped like cylon raiders with a red pepper “eye”. It was funtimes.

  2. 42

    Seems to me men do not have the same pressures to make sure women are included in their spaces and gatherings. I think women doing their thing together, whatever the activity, is a great thing and is so necessary for the psychological well-being of women. Nerdy women need to interact with one another, it is one of the best ways for us to validate and encourage our interests and passions.

  3. Caite

    I’m new to rpgs and playing two games at the moment. The first has three girls and a pretty feminist boy (he recently GM’d a my little pony game for us), the second the same group plus one blokey boynerd. The difference between the two games, and my comfort level while playing, could not be more obvious. I enjoy both, but one is hard work, because I constantly feel I need to prove myself as capable and geeky as the more experienced male players in the group. The other game is more fun, no one cares if we get sidetracked by discussing our children or other such distractions that wouldn’t be tolerated in the first game.

    tl;dr: I agree with the OP – doing nerdy things with girls (and boys who don’t mind being girly) is awesome.

  4. Ingrid Jakobsen

    I managed to survive okay as the only girl in an otherwise all-male roleplaying group when I was first roleplaying – but my sister and her friends began roleplaying as an all-girl group (DM’ed by me to start them off). I’m sure it made a big difference to how many of them stuck with it. Later I got the chance to play in woman-dominated groups and even for me, yes, it made a difference after all that time.

  5. Fiona

    I’ve been thinking for a wee while about starting a local woman’s gaming group for myself and some friends, this has certainly given me some encouragement to do so! having been a gamer since i was 15, i wasn’t sure it would really make much a difference but i do love the idea of having a place where its safe to slay dragons and trade knitting patterns at the same time.

    this post was perfect timing for me. thank you Ever So Much!

  6. John Sideris

    Great post. The whole point to playing a game is to have fun and enjoy yourself. The dynamic of a game, maybe especially with RPGs, changes with each person that is added, so it not just fair, but essential to play with people you enjoy and with whom you can relax.

    There are gender issues in the nerd world, just as there are anywhere else. Women only activities within that world should increase the comfort level of women wanting to join in, first with that group specifically, then with the larger community. So, this is a method for increasing the diversity of the community as a whole, not further dividing.

    I applaud your and similar groups. Have fun and kill monsters.

  7. Just This Guy, You Know?

    This is an absolutely brilliant idea. I’ll link this article to my significant other, and let her know I’m cheerfully willing to absent myself from the apartment if she wants to schedule Geek Girl Nights.

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