Geeky enough for you?


Reading a recent post over at Geek Feminism about geeks and geek-adjacent women and the perception of women as un-geeky when around (particularly male) geeks, I appear to have been struck with yet another minor identity crisis.

You see, left to my own devices I have plenty geek cred. I really, really like the analytical, theoretical aspects of my field. The last time I decided I needed a new hobby (last week) I ended up with a giant book of calculus, a pen, several sheets of paper and a cheerfully furrowed brow. The time before that, I decided to learn a whole new language partly because I wanted to see how my brain learned to deal with communication happening with entirely different senses and body parts to the ones I was used to. I describe knitting as ‘fluffy algorithms’. I cheerfully own my cognitive biases and will equally cheerfully point out yours. I’ve spent years working in a library, for Pete’s sake. Oh and yeah, I spend way too much time playing video games and like collecting dusty old sci-fi books. I hear that counts as well. But here’s the thing. I live with an origami-wielding statistician* and the McGyver of computer science**. Compared to these people? I am, as The Statistician describes, Little Miss Girlie-Girl Popular from the planet SocialConventional. Her words, by the way, not mine.

Reading over that post at Geek Feminism, there seems to be an undercurrent that in order to be a geek, one has to be a techie. Now, I’d always seen geekery as being less a specific interest and more a way of doing things. I see geekery as being that tendency to get really-really interested in things, the desire to take things apart (literally or figuratively, depending on context!) and see how they work, the constant hankering for more knowledge and more understanding, the peculiar and unique interests. Normally, but not exclusively, existing alongside a reasonable dollop of having been That Geeky Kid.

Now, I know that there’s a lot to be looked into about how women’s geekiness is devalued when it happens to exist adjacent to an also-geeky man. But they’re doing an awesome job of that over at Geek Feminism. What I’m curious about here is this: what does the word ‘geeky’ mean to you? How do you define it? Also, how do you define not-geeky? I’m interested!

*Check her out, by the way. She doesn’t post often, but when she does it’s gold.

**He claims to be a recovered engineer, but we have significant doubts.

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18 thoughts on “Geeky enough for you?

  1. Geeky. Hmm. The word has morphed a bit since I was a kid. Back then it referred to the buck toothed boy with an oversized Adam’s Apple, a calculator in his breast pocket, no social skills whatsoever, a touching cluelessness about sport and an unhealthy addiction to Collosal Cave and chess.

    Nowadays the same term encompasses people *with* social skills. What has changed is that computers and analytical pursuits have become more mainstream. So far more of us are geeks, but it’s not such a bad thing any more.

    Non geeky? Heh. Someone who gets less than 40% of xkcd cartoons…

  2. The thing with defining geekery as a mindset rather than a set of interests, though, is that nearly everyone has SOME area they’ll happily obsess over. As you pointed out yourself the other week, actually, to the effect that the exquisitely fashionable and stylish people aren’t doing it all effortless, they’re putting plenty of obsesion and attention and, yes, geekery into figuring out the whole clothing, makeup, what goes with what to send what message THING. (More power to them – I don’t know how they do it). So on that basis it seems like the intensity of ones interest can’t be the sole deciding factor for geekery.

    Buuuuut if one says that obsessive interest in some fields is geeky and in others is just plain enthusiasm, there’s the problem of deciding which ones are which. Books, maths, computers are generally accepted on one side, and fashion and music and sport are widely agreed to be on the other. Then there’s the middle ground of things like baking – is it geeky when I try out three different creme brulee recipes in two days to find the perfect one? Or knitting, or anything that’s mainstream but not universal.

    There does seem to be a certain amount of self-identification, is one thing I’ve noticed on the intertubes. Maybe, plain and simple, you’re a geek if you respond to accusations of same with a cheerful “Yep, sure am!”

    Actually, what would probably help solve it would be to have a very large Venn diagram with circles for self-identification as a geek, identification as a geek by others, and assorted interests and personality traits. In this way you could isolate the features most strongly associated with perceiving oneself to be a geek, and also with being perceived by others as a geek!

    And that last paragraph right there, that probably makes it pretty clear what circle on the diagram *I* fall into, at any rate…

    • This comments make me think.
      I’ve read a biography of Yves-saint-Laurent by Alicia Drake and he seemed pretty /geeky/.
      Not geeky in the sense self-identified geeks of now would put it, but geeks in this sense that, had his entourage known the word “geeky”, they’d have used it. He was like the geeks in 60-80′s movies, only he liked fashion.
      I guess for fashion, it depends on if you are a woman or a man. It is geeky for a man if your behavior (low social skills, clumsiness) is geeky.
      I’ve also once heard a woman telling her daughter liking some sports as a girl is geeky.

  3. I read the same blog, Geek Feminism that is, and I have felt similarly to you at times. Their posts are interesting and great, but a lot of the time I am not that interested in the techie topics they talk about (I’m more interested when they profile geek women, for example).

    A lot of people I know, because they know how much of a non-closeted geek I am, assume that I’m a techie. ‘Oh, you’ll love this, it’s about computers’. In fact, in a room full of traditionally ‘nerdy’ people, sci-fi fans, the like, I’m bound to come across *sounding* like a techie. People are surprised when I tell them that I am a sociologist, and have never studied computer science.

    Of course, to most people I know, the fact that I can assemble a computer by myself, or fix the more common Windows problems, means that I’m a techie. Then I have a conversation with an actual techie, about how I stopped using Linux because I’d rather use my time elsewhere than making an OS goddamned work, and it’s pretty clear I am but a sociologist.

    In my experience it’s been mostly because my nerdy interests (scifi, videogames) get lumped in with a supposed stereotype. In fact, I dare say I don’t act as geekily in my areas of professional interest. At least, to my knowledge, I don’t obsess over the minutiae of sociological theory, feminism and trans writing, as much as I do about the precise chronology of the Power Rangers universe.

  4. When I was a kid the Geek was the guy who bit the head off a chicken at the circus.

    But are you not more of a “nerd” or possibly even a “boffin”?

  5. I’ve had this conversation tons of times. I called my blog MissGeeky, cause it seemed to fit all my interests. I’m into scifi, movies, tv, games, books, gadgets and tech. I tend to write about all of those, expect actually tech… I am a “techy” geek though too, I just don’t really like writing about it.

    But whenever I meet someone new, they’re always surprised that my blog isn’t that techy. I try to explain to them that in my eyes geeky != techy. The example I always give is being a movie geek. I was a movie geek waaaay before I became a techy geek. And the term movie geek has been around for ages too.

    For me “geek” means being passionate about a topic, so much so that you might be a bit obsessive about it and that you relish knowing tons of inane, obscure details about your topic. For instance, a movie enthusiast will like watching a lot of movies and will see the newest movies the first day it comes out. A movie geek will do that too, but he/she’ll book tickets to the midnight showing, or camp outside for a couple of hours just to be among the first people to see it. And she’ll know tons of stuff about movies, like being able to list 12 actors who appeared in The Lion King, or explain the way the Psycho shower scene was filmed.

    Or let’s take the example from one of the comments above about fashion geek. I think a fashion enthusiast/fan (a fashion non-geek) just loves fashion, will follow the latest trends, buy the newest stuff, etc. The fashion geek will know the entire history of Chanel, Dior, or fill-in-any-fashion-brand-here, will have the same dress in 5 different colours, and can recognize a top designer by face.

    My examples are a bit extreme, but I think the difference between geek and non-geek is that little extra of being a bit crazy about a certain topic.

    • I like that definition a lot. I’ve always thought of geekiness as being less about the particular topic you geek out about, than about the fact that you’re actually geeking about about it.

  6. Part of me dislikes the idea of finding a solid definition for geek, because it will just make it easier for people to say “no, you’re not one”. Which, bless the world, has somehow become an insult. What exactly do we gain from defining geekdom?

    That said, I’d tend to go with a DSM model of geekery. A list of attributes, and if a person displays, say, 3 or more of them, they’re a Geek with a capital G. And if not, they’re subclinically geeky. :)

    • I believe that the fact that you describe that as a DSM model of geekery should make you tick off at least one of those attributes. ;)

      Also, I find it very interesting that “you’re not a geek” is an insult in some circles, and “you’re a geek” is an insult in others. I remember visiting my aunt a few months ago and, in passing, describing myself as a bit geeky. Her response was the typical “Oh, don’t be silly, of course you’re not!” that you get when you say something self-deprecating. Trying to assure her that no, geekiness is not a bad thing and that yes, I happily describe myself as a bit geeky led to almost sitcom levels of misunderstandings.
      Maybe seeing geekiness as a compliment, as opposed to an insult, is in itself a sign of geekiness?

  7. It’s really funny that you would write this, and ask this, just a month after I had my own little epiphany.

    “Oh,” it dawned on me one day, “Geekiness and enthusiasm are the same thing! The only difference is the point of view of the speaker.”

    People who don’t understand others’ enthusiasm for a certain activity or thing often describe those others as “geeks,” using the term in a negative (even if sweetly, patronizingly negative) sense. Those who see nothing odd in that certain enthusiasm would just call them “enthusiasts.” I’m delighted that enthusiasts–at least, those of a certain vein–have embraced the word and have made it their own, positive thing. (And since that certain vein is most often a “techie” one, I think that’s why most people associate geekiness with techiness.) But all these terms (“enthusiasm,” “geekiness” in the negative sense, “geekiness” in the positive sense) describe one thing, seen from different points of view.

    As a side note, I personally never use the term “geek.” I generally say, “Oh wow! Your enthusiasm for X is so cool!” Or, “He’s really into Y.” The term “geek” just doesn’t pop into my head as the one I should use. This may be because (1) I honestly catch enthusiasm from anyone pursuing any of their interests, (2) because I’m not sure whether people will interpret the term positively or negatively, and/or (3) because I still have a vague sense of “geek” being used in the sense David McNerney’s talking about.

  8. I think there’s a difference between “geek” as a substantive, and “geek” as a noun that requires a modifier.

    My aunt may be a “crochet geek”, but she’s not a “geek”. Similarly, I may be a linguistics geek, but that alone doesn’t make me a geek.

    The problem with “geek” as a substantive is that, like porn, you know it when you see it. The other problem is the constant goalpost moving, by men (who are intimidated) and women (Queen Bee syndrome). I agree with previous posters who say that enthusiasm is important, but I also think there’s a level of esoteric knowledge or interest that is required before “geek” can be used unmodified.

    I think the difference between someone who is a geek and someone who is a [noun] geek, is a vested interest in two or more atypical areas of study AND the desire to use that interest or knowledge to better themselves or the world (I’m not counting “making money” as bettering yourself).

    Somebody who sits around playing D&D all day is a D&D geek. Someone who plays a lot of RPGs and studies history to make them more accurate and more accessible to people who aren’t white men is a geek.

  9. I think that ‘geek’ is descriptive of passionate interest in subjects which are becoming more and more accepted by the mainstream as time goes by – the geeks of our childhood have grown up and become the shapers of modern culture, and the kids who used to pick on them for their geekery simply didn’t go as far. Karma, huh?

    But culture is still used to thinking of ‘geek’ as a bad thing, with the image of an awkward, antisocial obsessive associated with the word. I’m fairly confident this will eventually fade. Maybe one day we won’t need the word ‘geek’ anymore, I don’t know.
    Time will tell.

  10. Pingback: She was only appointed because she’s a linkspam (8th April, 2011) | Geek Feminism Blog

  11. I will add this blog to my favorites, it is great.

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