Toxicity in STEM and Geek Culture
Not to long ago an article about a Victoria’s Secret Model, named Lyndsey Scott, made a lot of noise. It wasn’t because of how she looked, which admittedly is breathtaking, or about the clothes she was wearing. Not even about the lack thereof. It was announced about how she was also able to code. Not just in one language but 5 different languages.
To most people that sounds amazing. She challenges the stereotype of programmers and is not only able to excel in a difficult field but in the equally difficult time being a model. I imagine a majority of people would see the article and talk about that amazing success she is and would cheer her on. Of course, that is not everyone.
Shortly after the article some of the more toxic dredges in geek culture decided to attack her. Their comments “I bet she can only program ‘Hello World’,” which is the most basic task and usually the first taught one. Instead of being inquisitive about her credentials, like asking “What projects have you done?” They instead decided that this beautiful woman couldn’t also be smart.
That is Sexism, pure and simple. She didn’t fit their narrow perspective and attacked her for being different. Something those in STEM and Geek culture as a whole has had to deal with for years. Instead of being better about it and being welcoming (which is what I advocate), instead they become destructive and exclusionary.
By the way, Mrs. Scott can program in Python, C++, Java, MIPS, and Objective-C. In her stack overflow profile (a place where programs are rated based on their contributions back to the community) she was rated in the top 2% in 2014. So not only can she do these things, but she helps others in their programming. To top this off, she has a black belt in Taekwondo. (Not a style I am a fan of but impressive nonetheless.)
The last note on her side of the story is that she is the lead iOS designer for Rally Bond 841st growing company in America. To finish my thoughts about just her side is that this is a woman who is amazing and has worked hard in almost every field she has tried. I congratulate her on it. However, there are some neanderthals.
Moving into those of us who are not models and may just enjoy geek culture. We have all seen those who exude unwelcoming behavior as you try to get into any part of the culture. Simple questions of “Who is your favorite Superhero?”, used as ammunition to tear you down. That you are a ‘casual’ because you have only seen the movie or TV Show associated with the comic.
Someone who is compassionate when hearing that, for example, you like Batman, should respond “Cool, have you had a chance to read Dark Knight Returns?” That being the comic that imprinted in the culture about what Batman was, not just the campy Adam West version. When or if you say no, they offer to help you find it or offer to loan theirs. Depending on the relationship.
“Honestly I don’t like to read comics,” or “I don’t have time to read it.”
“Cool not a problem. There is a very honest rendition cartoon movie made of it. There are some small changes from the comics, but not enough for you to have to care.”
That is the kind of constructive relationship people can have with people trying to join our culture. Instead of showing them a disdain for not knowing the name of every Robin or that there has been more than one, you encourage them to explore the comics or games that brought you joy.
The side of society that gets this the worst is females. When women in my geek forums were asked about their experiences, not a single one didn’t have a horror story about their mistreatment. How they were thought of as inferior because of appearance. In all honesty, though, I feel is more than those men felt threatened.
We as a culture can and should do better. It wasn’t too long ago that we were the ones being attacked for being different. Now we have people who watch football playing their own version of Dungeons and Dragons (you try to tell me that Fantasy Football is anything else). Just because the things we have enjoyed is now being shared in a larger sense, doesn’t mean we cannot be welcoming to the few holdouts we have left.
If you meet someone who likes the same hero as you, offer to let them read some of the comics that brought you joy. If they are not ready, at least talk with them about some of the stories that you liked. Open their eyes to how much more there is to the lore of those worlds. Of course, don’t force it onto them. If they are not interested, don’t force it on them.
With STEM and related careers, let someone show you their skills. You don’t need to take their word for it, just give them a chance. There doesn’t need to be a list of twenty questions, and if they mess up, don’t attack them for it. If it is something you can do so easily, see if you can help them improve. Don’t talk down to them, but encourage their curiosity into the subject.