Feminism | Posted by Molly W on 06/18/2012

Geek Culture and Male Privilege

an example of a "Friend Zone Fiona" meme

Spend any time on website like 9Gag or Memebase (and you know you do), and you’ll quickly realize that most of these websites are populated by guys. Men are both the readers and the ones creating and submitting the content. As a girl who spends time on these websites, I find myself discouraged and disenfranchised all the time. I’m constantly being told that the contents of my underwear disqualify me from being a big nerd, and it just isn’t true.

This isn’t uncommon by any means. Geek girls have always dealt with male privilege within their communities. Take a look at some comic books and video games. A guy looking for himself in a comic book is going to find what he wants, be it a villain or a hero, and the character will be fully formed and fully clothed. On the other hand, a girl looking for herself in a comic book will find a parade of women in skimpy clothing that seems to defy gravity with the lack of nip-slips and wedgies. The female characters also have next-to-no backstory or history to their name. While men are seen as powerful, useful, and diverse, women are portrayed as having a single useful quality – sexuality.

The new meme culture and the advent of the rage comics is just a new facet of this struggle. For instance, the “Friend Zone” meme provides a prime chance for geeky guys to put down girls. The central idea of the meme is that girls will tend to date a guy who is mean or rude to her (but is attractive by society’s standards) over a nice, nerdy guy who isn’t necessarily ‘attractive.’ Although the idea of the “Friend Zone” has existed for awhile, this new, online context has made it less about navigating the divide between platonic and romantic relationships and more about beating up on girls who (for whatever reason) decide not to date one particular guy.

The meme continues to grow at the expense of women. The assumption is always that girls are so vain we’d rather date someone who’s attractive than someone who’s nice. It’s an oversimplification that doesn’t bother to account for the variety of factors that go into dating and relationships. At the same time though, girls who make their own “Friend Zone” memes (pointing out that the street goes both ways, that nerdy guys often shut down their female counterparts for reasons that seem just as silly) get laughed at, called fat, ugly, stupid, a lesbian, a slut or a variety of other demeaning things.

The inherent problem here is that girls are simply treated differently than guys within the community. A lot of people don’t think think of that as a problem, but to me, it’s the biggest issue of all. Every thought about a girl is filtered through the very idea that she is female, while thoughts on guys are just thoughts, with no relationship with the gender of the person being thought about. Geeky girls are thought of as girls first and geeks second, while the guys are just geeks. Issues of male privilege within geek culture are shrugged off most of the time, because girls are still outnumbered by guys in large ratios. The first step towards making it better though is making people notice it, and I’ve watched my nerdy female friends stand up for themselves in greater and greater numbers. Hopefully change is in the near future, but let’s keep talking about it even while it’s in the works

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  • Dan @ at 12:04 pm, June 18th, 2012

    Interesting article, but I feel like you’re missing a few viewpoints. The internet allows for anonymous communication, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that an overwhelming amount of this communication involves complaints on how one is treated in “the real world”. Going into “internet” culture, you were no doubt aware that you were entering a demographic that is almost entirely male.
    Those two points being said, you have entered a forum in which a large amount of men are going to vent their social frustrations. The reason for many people to be shy in “real life” is due to self esteem and lack of appeal towards the other sex (which usually go hand in hand).
    Now, as a woman, you no doubt are aware of what is sexually attractive in a man [or at least, for the majority of women]: Confidence, Muscles, Facial Symmetry, Height, etc. What is EMOTIONALLY attractive dips into a different category: personality traits. For a meaningful relationship, the partners need to feel both kinds of attraction for each other. For men and women who feel they have the qualities needed for emotional attraction but lack the qualities for sexual attraction, a feeling of anger at the “unfairness” usually ensues. Thus, it pops up on the internet.
    Now lets look at main demographics for women. MTV, “Chick Flicks”, and magazines often overly glorify men who fulfill desired physical qualities while simultaneously labeling a large percentage of men as “douchebags”. Examples of cheating, date rape, and other unpleasant sexual encounters place blame on the men. This isn’t just a social viewpoint; it’s also a legal one.
    What I’m saying is that females do the same kind of “venting” in their popular social media. I feel like the best way to overcome such feelings [since they obviously stem from a past where the person was hurt] is to reach out to the poster with a self example of kindness. To show the opposite demographic [be it based on gender, race, religion, or whatever] that exceptions to the pain-driven generalization they have created exists.

  • Gigi @ at 5:08 pm, June 18th, 2012

    @Dan ^ I think your suggestion that in female-targeted shows, males are represented negatively due to situations of date rape and other sexual encounters is irelevant. While the male oriented meme sights make trite, overused jokes about women and their roles in life intending to be outrightly sexist and demeaning, the situations you’ve listed which are represented in tv shows are serious issues, which one could argue, are adressed for the particular reason of spreading awareness and acceptance of situations like rape, so they may be discussed rather than swept under the rug in society. Womens shows don’t continuously make a joke about men ‘only being good in the bedroom’ or other such nonsensical things. They don’t make cheap sexist jokes like the meme sites, they address issues; most of which are statistically initiated by males.
    I’m not saying women don’t ‘vent’ in social media, I’m suggesting that your comparison of straight-up, sexist, humiliating ‘jokes’ to situations of rape are below the belt.

  • Eliana @ at 11:54 am, June 19th, 2012

    I totally agree with this article. There have gotten to be so many sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic posts on some of the sites that I’ve mostly stopped going to them. IMO, It’s just not worth the small amount of humor.

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 1:56 pm, June 19th, 2012

    I agree that memes can often be sexist and prejudiced to everyone who is not a white middle class male, but your claim that memes are part of geek culture is a little nearsighted. Most people with Internet access in our generation are at least familiar with memes, it’s not solely a geek thing at all. So to tie memes to comic books isn’t really such a great connection. I have to guess that most meme readers are not comic book people.

    And I’ve found that a lot of girls make memes and read memes. In general I would say the breakdown of gender regarding memes is half and half, at least in my experience. I’ve found a lot of female-centric humor.

  • Amanda Anastasia @ at 10:19 am, June 24th, 2012

    Molly W, thank you so much for speaking on this topic. I just wrote an article on street harassment. And thought you think the two wouldn’t be related, they are in the simple fact that the speaking out against women when we disagree with some sort of male behavior is often met with demeaning and gendered insults. Just as women who may turn the tides on memes are instantly labeled a slew of awful names, a woman who tells a man on the street to ‘stfu’ when he’s cat calling her is often met with hostility and anger. I spoke with a few male friends about this and they (as men) suggested that the guys that are quick to hurl insults are just doing it out of lack of self-esteem. They can’t handle rejection, so they lash out at women. I thought that explanation was very telling.

  • Amanda Anastasia @ at 10:20 am, June 24th, 2012

    ^and though*

  • Jen @ at 6:42 pm, August 26th, 2012

    @Dan: You wrote: “For men and women who feel they have the qualities needed for emotional attraction but lack the qualities for sexual attraction, a feeling of anger at the “unfairness” usually ensues.” The choice of words here demonstrates how a man mistakenly feels that he has a right to have a girlfriend who is more physically attractive than him. It never occurs to one of these guys to chase after a woman who’s on the same level of attractiveness as him, or else to go to the gym or get some better clothes. The sense of entitlement and the resultant anger are what’s unfair. And what we women are trying to say is that entitled attitude means the self-proclaimed “nice guy” isn’t really that nice at all. Just lazy, entitled, and bitter.

  • FiachSidhe @ at 2:37 am, December 3rd, 2012


    Don’t talk about things you don’t understand. The frustration isn’t due to being owed anything. It’s due to women who, for years, have manipulated geeky guys into “the friend zone”.

    A place where geeky guys do everything a good boyfriend would do, only without any physical intimacy. To a geeky guy, the friends zone, is like helping a woman you care about, move her boyfriend’s furniture into her home, while they have sex in front of you.

    The friend zone guy gets all the baggage, the confessions, and most infuriatingly, the complaints that there are no “nice guys”. You claim they aren’t nice, and yet defend women for wanting a sexy guy to have sex with.

    Nice guys will only be nice for so long, especially when the women they actually care about often times willfully date asshole upon asshole.

    The bitterness comes from years of attractive women shitting on geek guys, then when it becomes socially acceptable, they begin talking about geek pride.

  • Emma Goldman @ at 1:15 pm, July 8th, 2013

    This is a very tired argument. It just baffles me that people don’t see the problem with doing things for someone, and then expecting to be repaid with sex. You moved a pretty girl’s boyfriend’s furniture? What if she was a male friend? Would you feel bitter about moving his girlfriend’s stuff if he didn’t give you sex afterward? She sees you as a friend. Friends help each other out. You expecting sex is creepy as hell and the epitome of male entitlement. You say women manipulate guys into the friend zone, but it sounds like you try to manipulate women into having sex with you by pulling the “poor pitiful nice guy” routine. Which is worse- manipulating someone into being your FRIEND or into having sex with you?

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