Dear Male Geeks: A woman is not a Rubik’s cube that turns into a fleshlight when you win.

Nerd Assertiveness and Blindness To Privilege (guest post) by Matt Kopas at Sociological Images (emphasis mine):

Today’s XKCD strip bothers me, a little. It reminds me of the discussion about assertiveness amongst nerd guys brought up when Gabe and Tycho at Penny Arcade were talking about “pick-up artists” (PUAs) a while back.

[…] But I also think that messages like the XKCD strip really reinforce that idea of isolation and make the world out to be filled with potential mates — if only you’d just talk to them! There’s some truth here, in that it’s pretty hard to meet people if you find it hard to talk to communicate with others. But the more insidious, unintended message I’m seeing is one that just feeds into the PUA logic — given enough confidence and skills, all women are yours for the taking.

myoxisbroken of the XKCD forum said it best:

Because so goddamn many of you [nerd-men] believe, for whatever reason, that interacting with women is like solving a Rubik’s cube that turns into a Fleshlight when you win.

Generally, I like XKCD because it’s geeky and normally not sexist—something quite rare in the geek community. Randall portrays both male and female geeks in his comics, which undermines the male geek assumption that geekiness is unique to men.

However, this particular “Creepy” comic, along a few other XKCD comics, is problematic and reinforces problematic behaviours among heterosexual male geeks. “Creepy” promotes the pick up artist logic, a.k.a., women work like dating sims.

Another thing that bothers me about the “Creepy” comic is the stereotype that netbooks are best suited for women and that “cuteness” is some kind of salient property of a woman’s computer.

If I had a netbook on the subway and some man told me that it was “cute”, I would think that he was sexist, and therefore a creep. I have an XO “laptop”, but I would think that its power-saving features, its electronic-paper-like display, and the fact that it was built to run Linux are more salient features for me than its “cuteness”. A netbook is not a purse.


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16 Responses to “Dear Male Geeks: A woman is not a Rubik’s cube that turns into a fleshlight when you win.”

  1. ted_h Says:

    A few things. I think that extrapolating a sexist perspective to a subculture based on this comic’s content would be a mistake, one that unfairly indicts the comic’s author. Randall Munroe’s work frequently deals with shyness as a barrier to social interaction. If you would really judge a man as a sex-oriented pig because of a well-intentioned compliment about your laptop, what would you do if he smiled winningly at you? Belt him? Poor geek social skills–whether based in ignorance-derived sexism or not–are surely more of a threat to the given geek than the hapless target of his affections, and referring to this social/intellectual deficit as a “problematic behavior” is, in and of itself, overbearing and a little “creepy.”

    Secondly, many netbooks ARE marketed in a way which emphasizes the feminine. I would argue that this is a good thing; the association of a pleasant aesthetic with a feminine sensibility is not unreasonable, nor does femininity preclude power. For instance, I own one of the “cute” colors of the Asus 1005ha. One of the reasons I picked a cute computer is that pink is a better conversation starter than black. Yes, I’ve struck up two conversations with boys–*cute* boys–in similar public situations, but I’ve also had excellent conversations with women and men who I might not otherwise have chosen to talk to. The alt-text indicated that the girl in question might well have purchased the netbook specifically because it WAS adorable, and based on comments on Engadget and Gizmodo, consumers are looking for inexpensive and cute computers. So–why CAN’T a netbook be an accessory? Even this male tech-user wants an attractive computer for social reasons.

    To your personal point, I don’t think the XO laptop is all that cute–I wouldn’t worry about it attracting attention from so-called “creeps.” If I did try to strike up a conversation about your laptop, though, I wonder–would you consider me a friendly stranger, or would you assume the worst and call the police on the spot?

  2. Restructure! Says:

    Firstly, the comic can be sexist without Randall Munroe being “a sexist”, because people aren’t either 100% sexist or 0% sexist, and people’s behaviour aren’t always consistent. I suspect that Randall Munroe is a feminist, but even feminists can enact sexist behaviour sometimes, because they aren’t always on the ball.

    Secondly, I’m not extrapolating a sexist perspective to a subculture based on the comic’s content. I’m interpreting the comic’s content based on the Nice Guy and Pick Up Artist logic context that exists in male geek subculture. See my posts on Nice Guy and a chapter of Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman that reinforces the common meme on geek sites that “women want jerks”. The XKCD comic “Friends” is a criticism of Nice Guy, but many XKCD readers don’t perceive it as such because they identify with the Nice Guy and feel themselves the victim for not having access to a woman’s vagina.

    Thirdly, good intentions have little relevance. It’s the false assumptions that matter. If you have false assumptions about a woman because you think of her as a stereotype, but you are trying to do good (but still based on the false assumptions that women like certain things), it doesn’t change the fact that you have false assumptions and that you acted upon them.

    Poor geek social skills–whether based in ignorance-derived sexism or not–are surely more of a threat to the given geek than the hapless target of his affections,

    Fourthly, you are assuming that only men are geeks, that poor geek social skills only affect men, and that threat felt by the male geek’s “hapless target” is irrelevant and that only the threat felt by the heterosexual male geek matters. In others words, female geeks face at least two dimensions of oppression: being a geek in a society that values extroversion, and being a woman in a patriarchal society. But you can’t see that, because you think that women are all the same and men are diverse, or at least that women are less diverse than men (greater male variability hypothesis, etc.).

    Secondly, many netbooks ARE marketed in a way which emphasizes the feminine. I would argue that this is a good thing; the association of a pleasant aesthetic with a feminine sensibility is not unreasonable, nor does femininity preclude power.

    I’m not arguing against diversity in netbook casing. I’m arguing against associating women with netbooks and being concerned about outward appearances.

    For instance, I own one of the “cute” colors of the Asus 1005ha. One of the reasons I picked a cute computer is that pink is a better conversation starter than black. Yes, I’ve struck up two conversations with boys–*cute* boys–in similar public situations, but I’ve also had excellent conversations with women and men who I might not otherwise have chosen to talk to.

    That’s great, but not really relevant to what I am saying.

    The alt-text indicated that the girl in question might well have purchased the netbook specifically because it WAS adorable,

    Yes, the girl in the comic is also fictional and portrayed in a stereotypical and unrealistic way, which I also have a problem with.

    and based on comments on Engadget and Gizmodo, consumers are looking for inexpensive and cute computers. So–why CAN’T a netbook be an accessory?

    It can, but you shouldn’t assume that if a woman has a netbook, she cares about its cuteness. People also buy netbooks because they cannot afford to buy a full laptop, but they need to do work on the commute.

    To your personal point, I don’t think the XO laptop is all that cute–I wouldn’t worry about it attracting attention from so-called “creeps.” If I did try to strike up a conversation about your laptop, though, I wonder–would you consider me a friendly stranger, or would you assume the worst and call the police on the spot?

    You’re assuming that a woman can call the police for no reason, when nobody has assaulted her in public.

    Anyway, if you just striked up a conversation, that is no reason to assume the worst. However, if you said something that sounded sexist (“Hey, mama!”) or predatory (“Where do you live?” as a conversation starter), I would think you’re a creep.

  3. factcheckme Says:

    theres a post over at “shapely prose” right now addressing this comic, and there are a couple hundred responses which are worth reading. basically, women are goddamned sick and tired of having to navigate predatory men when they take public transportation, and they want to be left the fuck alone, thanks! the nerd-girl’s body language says “busy, leave me alone” and thats all that needs to be said, or should need to be said in a culture that wasnt a rape-culture, where men they are entitled to womens time and attention simply for them leaving the house. its an aggressive and entitled male mentality that supports rape culture instead of dismantling it, or subverting it. just because some nerd-boy sel-identifies as a “nice guy” dont make it so–not only that, its irrelevant. leave her alone. you are not entitled to her time and attention, or to anything from any woman. full stop.

  4. Titanis Says:

    “the nerd-girl’s body language says “busy, leave me alone” and thats all that needs to be said”
    You realize the socially inept aren’t usually great at body language, right?

  5. factcheckme Says:

    the socially inept do not get a free pass to be predatory creeps. LEAVE HER ALONE, at all times, under all circumstances. if you are too dumb to take a fucking hint, modify your behavior so that you DO NOT talk to a girl on public transportation, ever. for the slightly less inept, you could modify the rule to include “unless she speaks to you first.”

    the other rather major offense is that the comic had her typing in her blog “i wish that cute nerd-boy would talk to me” or whatever…which perpetuates the NO MEANS YES rape-language we all live with, and thats unacceptable. yes, its unacceptable to think or believe or fantasize or perpetuate or cartoon that NO MEANS YES. NO MEANS NO. full stop.

  6. growup Says:

    if you are too dumb to take a fucking hint, modify your behavior so that you DO NOT talk to a girl on public transportation, ever. for the slightly less inept, you could modify the rule to include “unless she speaks to you first.”

    yes, of course. women totally get to have the double standard, only they are capable of engaging the opposite sex in a socially acceptable manner. if this logic is extended, only women get to initiate conversation with unfamiliar people, and therefore are the only ones “allowed” to show interest in the opposite sex. totally makes sense. very rational.

  7. thewhatifgirl Says:

    growup, I would say the exact same thing about guys… *IF* this were a problem for guys, but its not. I have never ever seen or heard of a guy being accosted by a girl on public transportation; I HAVE seen and heard of girls being accosted by guys on public transportation so much that some girls refuse to even take public transit anymore.

  8. Restructure! Says:

    I was going to say that the girl in the comic is fictional and so it makes no sense to talk about her body language, but then I looked at the comic again. Her legs are pointing away from him, instead of straight ahead, so yeah, it really does look like she doesn’t want to talk to him, which contradicts what she is supposedly really thinking. The direction your legs are pointing is supposed to be something subconscious; when you like someone, for most people, your legs point towards that person, whether or not you are aware of social customs.

    In the original post at Sociological Images, someone in the comments mentioned that it’s even more difficult for socially inept female geeks, because many don’t have the social skills to extract themselves from a man who is harassing them. (I have poor social skills the other way, in that I often act what is considered “rude” to men in clubs who I find grinding behind me; I just walk away without making an excuse.)

  9. factcheckme Says:

    “I was going to say that the girl in the comic is fictional and so it makes no sense to talk about her body language”

    HUH? by that rationale, we would never be able to critically examine body language (or ANYTHING) in any media image, because they are all “fictional.” if you meant “not human” thats not much better, because we have all manner of cartoons, comics, CGI etc that are being pumped into our consciousness 24/7. this stuff matters. and the nerd-girls bod language said NO while her fingers said YES. big, big, BIG problem.

  10. Restructure! Says:

    Hmm, that came out wrong. What I meant was that I believe the girl in the comic is fictional and that using a fictional girl to represent real women in real situations is problematic. If her legs were pointing towards him, it wouldn’t make the comic okay.

  11. Socially Inept Predatory Creep Says:

    Apparently everyone is expected to be psychic in this day and age because some people are too easily offended by just about anything.

  12. thewhatifgirl Says:

    Apparently Socially Inept Predatory Creep doesn’t realize the irony of his being offended while complaining about how easily people are offended.

  13. Noelley B Says:

    You know, I was going to post an argument here defending this comic, but then I realized something. You are all insane, and nothing I say will change that. I fell briefly into the “Someone is wrong on the internet!” trap, but not before I came to my senses. So I will refrain from laying down my dual feminist/geek credentials (which are impressive, I assure you), and I will not bother to take you down point by point.

    Good day to you, and all that you stand for, you chip-shouldered nutjobs.

    except for myoxisbroken. You’re cool.

  14. Another Predatory Creep, apparently Says:

    I am an extremely shy nerd; I find it very hard to express my feelings to a girl, and I feel a primal “flight” response when I get drug along to a dance club. I don’t read people very well at all.

    I am also athletic and physically attractive (most times, it seems, according to everyone but myself).

    I put off as much of an “not interested” vibe as I can, and yet girls still make flirty comments to me in inappropriate situations. It feels like, all the damn time. I’ve had my ass grabbed by two complete strangers while I was walking home alone, presumably for the offense of wearing a T-shirt that was too tight (the one appropriate shirt that I had available for that night — not that it fucking matters). The two “relationships” I’ve had ended with the girl telling me, truthfully or not, that she didn’t find me interesting and was only using me for sex. They certainly felt like pick-up artists to me because they certainly made me feel interesting, and they left me feeling utterly, utterly powerless, used, and hopeless.

    You can throw out whatever double standards you want either way, but I know this much:

    If a shy girl fantasizes about me thinking she’s cute and wanting her to get up the courage to talk to me, that’s the absolutely fucking least of my worries, as far as predatory women are concerned.

    If a shy, socially awkward girl that I see every day on the way to school or work gets up the courage to say something to me in the hopes that it might lead to a friendship that might lead to a relationship, and that something is slightly sexist or infers something about me that makes me slightly uncomfortable, that too is the absolutely fucking least of my worries, and I wouldn’t hold it against her unless getting to know her better solidified it.

    Perhaps that’s just a double standard of shy women being virtuous and shy guys being creeps, or the result of me not having to much fear being raped (just molested in the street).

    My view is this: 70% of men and 70% of women are shallow as all hell, and it’s easy for men or for women to hide their intentions. Once you realize that, you just have to shrug off the craziness, because it’s everywhere, and it’s on both sides.

    However, it is also possible to find someone physically attractive without ever having had a conversation with them, still want to get to know that person really well before acting on your physical attraction, and yet lack the social skills to know an appropriate way to show your interest. I’m certainly not going to begrudge socially-awkward-girl, who potentially doesn’t fall into that 70%, for the actions of the two shallow-as-hell airhead sorority girls who felt me up.

    But whatever. I guess that makes me a proud supporter of feel-’em-up-and-run street molesters. Too bad. I thought I hated them passionately.

  15. Restructure! Says:

    If a shy girl fantasizes about me thinking she’s cute and wanting her to get up the courage to talk to me, that’s the absolutely fucking least of my worries, as far as predatory women are concerned.

    If a shy, socially awkward girl that I see every day on the way to school or work gets up the courage to say something to me in the hopes that it might lead to a friendship that might lead to a relationship, and that something is slightly sexist or infers something about me that makes me slightly uncomfortable, that too is the absolutely fucking least of my worries, and I wouldn’t hold it against her unless getting to know her better solidified it.

    What if one of your best friends, who you find unattractive because he/she is not your type, turns out to be only pretending to be your friend because he/she wanted to get into your pants? Isn’t that like the girl who didn’t find you interesting and was only using you for sex, leaving you feeling utterly, utterly powerless, used, and hopeless?

  16. Restructure! Says:

    Oops, I thought your comment was on the Nice GuyTM xkcd comic.

    Perhaps that’s just a double standard of shy women being virtuous and shy guys being creeps, or the result of me not having to much fear being raped (just molested in the street).

    It’s not about shy guys being creeps. It’s about the idea that “you” can get any woman if you perform X sequence of actions. Underlying this is the assumption that women are interchangeable with each other and all have the same minds.

    Shy women don’t think that. Shy women tend to be more worried about their physical appearance and consider the possibility that they permanently lack attributes that a particular man wants, or permanently have attributes that a particular man cannot stand.

    Heterosexual men in general think that any woman is attainable if they give her money, if they act nice, or something else that is external to them.


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