"I'm not a guy, I'm a nerd", or the Smurfette Problem

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"I'm not a guy, I'm a nerd", or the Smurfette Problem Empty "I'm not a guy, I'm a nerd", or the Smurfette Problem

Post by Guest on Tue Jan 06, 2015 2:40 pm

So, One_True_Guest posted in the Rants thread about female nerd erasure, and I wanted to post something that has been kind of swirling around in my head for a while.

In conversations about privilege, you see this argument a lot: "I'm not privileged, because I may be male, but I'm a nerd, so it doesn't count." Or: "Don't say I have white privilege, because I grew up dirt poor and couldn't afford college, and I didn't have the scholarships set up for black students available!"

It feels to me like the biggest part of privilege is the ability to deny your membership in a category as a defining part of you.

I can't make the argument: "I'm not a woman, I'm a nerd." I am a nerd, don't get me wrong. I am definitely a nerd. But I don't get to be a nerd instead of a woman. I have to be a nerd in addition to a woman, and which set of labels people slap on me will depend on context.

For instance -- when I was a kid, and was with a group of girls, I was a nerd. With a group of boys, I was either a girl or a nerd, or sometimes both. When I was with a group of nerds, I was a girl. And when I was with a group of girl nerds, we were always carefully trying to figure out which we were trying to be -- should we be rejecting the nerd stuff for the girl stuff, or rejecting the girl stuff for the nerd stuff.

Anita Sarkeesian did a section on the Smurfette Problem, where you have a big cast of characters, each of whom has a defining trait. Brainy, Hefty, Grouchy, Greedy, Baker, Doctor, Miner... Girl. I don't think there was a Nerdy Smurf, but there could have been, and he would absolutely have been a boy, because you can be a nerd instead of a boy, but you can't be anything "instead of" a girl.

Now, I am an incredibly privileged person. I can be a nerd instead of a straight person, and a nerd instead of a white person, and a nerd instead of an able-bodied person. A lot of people have to carry more labels around than my two. But I think it's really critical to acknowledge that our ability to reject the label that goes with privilege is itself a privileged ability.

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Post by celette482 on Tue Jan 06, 2015 2:52 pm

Just... yes.

At 27 years old I still have to weigh "Do I dress like a nerd or do I dress like a woman?" Because if I dress like a "nerd" (even the girly variety with the dyed hair and whatnot) society as a whole will treat me like a child (because I'm petite already) and if I dress like a woman, my nerd friends that I want to meet and hang out with will think I'm One of the Plastics.

Some traditionally feminine things have been reclaimed by nerds, though. Like knitting and sewing, which is an interesting side topic. Not sure if it's the nerd girls finally coming into their own as adults and asserting themselves and their right to both, or if it's the trend toward homemade stuff that's oh-so-cool in the 20s-30s set (see also: cooking, resurgence of baking, making things yourself blogs) that has bled into nerd circles.
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Post by Caffeinated on Tue Jan 06, 2015 3:30 pm

ElizaJane wrote:
Anita Sarkeesian did a section on the Smurfette Problem, where you have a big cast of characters, each of whom has a defining trait.  Brainy, Hefty, Grouchy, Greedy, Baker, Doctor, Miner... Girl.  I don't think there was a Nerdy Smurf, but there could have been, and he would absolutely have been a boy, because you can be a nerd instead of a boy, but you can't be anything "instead of" a girl.  

Wow, yeah. I always notice whether there's more than one girl character in a big cast of characters, and it always makes me so happy when there is. I'd almost rather have a cast that is 100% male than have the one and only one Girl character. At least if it's all male there's probably a reason for it (set in a men's prison or on a WWII submarine or something) and someone has thought about it. But when it's just that one lone Girl who's there to be pretty and be the hero's love interest or get rescued or look improbably young to be heading the science lab or whatever, it's just... a little disheartening.
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Post by Mel on Tue Jan 06, 2015 5:21 pm

I think it's important for everyone in discussions of privilege to remember that lacking privilege generally has a much more intensely noticeable effect on one's life than having privilege.  But the fact that it's easy not to notice your societal privilege, or that this means you can feel as if the weight of your disadvantages completely invalidates that privilege, doesn't mean the privilege doesn't actually exist and benefit you.

It's easy not to notice that you're not getting followed around in stores, not stopped randomly by cops, not risking homophobic violence whenever you approach a potential romantic interest outside of very select settings, not facing buildings you can't access because they're built with only able-bodied people in mind, etc.  But not having to deal with any one of those things is still a privilege, even if you have to deal with others.
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Post by Wondering on Tue Jan 06, 2015 5:50 pm

ElizaJane wrote:But I think it's really critical to acknowledge that our ability to reject the label that goes with privilege is itself a privileged ability.

I think I want to get that printed on a t-shirt or a banner or something. That's exactly true. And it goes along exactly with what Mel said. Being privileged means you don't see it unless you're paying attention or someone points it out to you. I don't see all the ways I am privileged being white, straight, cis, etc. I do see the ways I'm disadvantaged being a woman and having a disability.

I think part of the problem with people recognizing privilege, unfortunately, is the word itself. We're used to the term "underprivileged" generally meaning poor, so when discussions of social privilege come up, people who aren't fabulously wealthy often will deny having privilege because they just don't see the word that way. I also think people don't understand the idea of intersectionality very well. Many denials of privilege I've encountered seem to apply an all-or-nothing, either/or logic to it. "Well, I'm poor, so I can't have privilege even though I'm white, male, straight, cis, able-bodied, Christian, etc." Understanding the concept of intersectionality is pretty essential to getting people to understand, I think.

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Post by reboot on Tue Jan 06, 2015 6:02 pm

Intersectionality is tough. It is hard for people to see privileges they have when they lack privileges on other axis. It is easy to say, "I can not be privileged! I am female." and ignore that you are cis/able/neurotypical/middle class

I struggle with this a lot because my family and I are rather poor, I have some mental health issues and I am a woman, all of which can blind me to the fact that I never once need to think about accessibility when I go somewhere, it never occurs to me that the police might shoot me, my sexuality does not put me at any risk, and my gender is as my body shows.

Personally, I have found it easier to recognize and accept racial privilege and het privilege, possibly because I have worked more on those topics?
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Post by Wondering on Tue Jan 06, 2015 6:11 pm

I've found racial to be easier to explain because I can do it with "visual" examples. So, when people want to deny or ignore privilege in areas like the police shooting people of color, I can still explain it with examples of how Band-Aids don't come in a variety of skin colors, and until very recently, make-up didn't either.

The Band-Aid thing, when it was pointed out to me, was the first time I recognized my white privilege -- though it wasn't called that -- when I read an essay about it back when I was in high school. So...20 years ago? (I don't know if the word "privilege" is more recent or I just wasn't educated about what the concept was called back then.)

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Post by UristMcBunny on Wed Jan 07, 2015 4:01 pm

Mel wrote:I think it's important for everyone in discussions of privilege to remember that lacking privilege generally has a much more intensely noticeable effect on one's life than having privilege.  But the fact that it's easy not to notice your societal privilege, or that this means you can feel as if the weight of your disadvantages completely invalidates that privilege, doesn't mean the privilege doesn't actually exist and benefit you.

It's easy not to notice that you're not getting followed around in stores, not stopped randomly by cops, not risking homophobic violence whenever you approach a potential romantic interest outside of very select settings, not facing buildings you can't access because they're built with only able-bodied people in mind, etc.  But not having to deal with any one of those things is still a privilege, even if you have to deal with others.

This is very, very true.

One of my vectors of privilege is race - I am white. In addition, I am blonde and have eyes somewhere in the blue spectrum, which AFAICT is like winning the race-privilege-olympics. But you know, if I hadn't spent so much time actively trying to learn about my own privilege and about racism, I almost certainly wouldn't know I was privileged. Which is why it is so important, when someone less-privileged says that here is an example of a difference between us that stems directly from my privilege, I listen. I often don't get it at first. I often have to let the notion sit quietly in the back of my mind for days, weeks, sometimes months, before what they say makes sense to me. But I try to accept it, in the moment, and not get defensive. It's... not easy. But it helps.

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Post by fakely mctest on Fri Jan 09, 2015 2:08 pm

ElizaJane wrote:In conversations about privilege, you see this argument a lot: "I'm not privileged, because I may be male, but I'm a nerd, so it doesn't count." Or: "Don't say I have white privilege, because I grew up dirt poor and couldn't afford college, and I didn't have the scholarships set up for black students available!"

I think the problem is also in that people who make statements along these lines are comparing themselves laterally to others who may have privileges on other axes when they should be trying to imagine a version of themselves that's the same except for [insert non-privileged group here]. I also totally agree that people are likely thinking only in terms of economic privileges when, to me, the most privileged action is a kind of social fluidity where you can go into a lot of different social spaces, even ones that are dominated by those less privileged than you, with relative impunity. And by "impunity" I don't mean utter and complete freedom from any snarky comments, but without having to consciously think of yourself inside that space any more than you might normally do.

Chris Rock had some really interesting things to say about being black and rich in an interview last year (bold parts are the interviewer):

Where else besides Ferguson would you hypothetically want to interview white people?

I’d love to do some liberal places, because you can be in the most liberal places and there’s no black people.

I assume one such place is Hollywood.

I don’t think I’ve had any meetings with black film execs. Maybe one. It is what it is. As I told Bill Murray, Lost in Translation is a black movie: That’s what it feels like to be black and rich. Not in the sense that people are being mean to you. Bill Murray’s in Tokyo, and it’s just weird. He seems kind of isolated. He’s always around Japanese people. Look at me right now.

We’re sitting on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel overlooking Central Park.

And there’s only really one black person here who’s not working. Bill Murray in Lost in Translation is what Bryant Gumbel experiences every day. Or Al Roker. Rich black guys. It’s a little off.

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