Nerds And Male Privilege

I want to tell you a story.

A few years ago, I was dating a girl who was decidedly not nerd curious. She tolerated my geeky interests with a certain bemused air, but definitely didn't participate in ‘em… not even setting foot inside a comic store on new comic day. She'd wait outside until I was done… which could be a while, since I was friends with several of the staff.

She came in the store exactly once, after I'd explained that no, it's a pretty friendly place… well lit, spacious, organised and with helpful — and clearly identified — staff members who were willing to bend over backwards to make sure their customers were satisfied.

She was in there for less than 4 minutes before one mouth-breathing troglodyte began alternately staring at her boobs — evidently hoping that x-ray vision could develop spontaneously — and berating her for daring to comment on the skimpy nature of the costumes — in this case, Lady Death and Witchblade. She fled the premises, never to return.

When both the manager and I explained to him in no uncertain terms as to what he did wrong he shrugged his shoulders. "Hey, I was just trying to help you guys! She couldn't understand that chicks can be tough and sexy! Not my fault she's a chauvinist," he said.

And that was when I shot him, your honour.

So with that example in mind, let's talk about a subject I've touched on before: Male Privilege and how it applies to geeks and — more importantly — geek girls.


I don't think I'm breaking any news or blowing minds when I point out that geek culture as a whole is predominantly male. Not to say that women aren't making huge inroads in science fiction/fantasy fandom, gaming, anime and comics… but it's still a very male culture. As such, it caters to the predominantly male audience that makes it up. This, in turn leads to the phenomenon known as male privilege: the idea that men — most often straight, white men — as a whole, get certain privileges and status because of their gender. (Obvious disclaimer: I'm a straight white man.)

In geek culture, this manifests in a number of ways. The most obvious is in the portrayal of female characters in comics, video games and movies. Batman: Arkham City provides an excellent example.

To start with, we have three of the male characters of Arkham City:

Here we have the brooding vigilante, the psycho ICP fan and The Doctor

Then we have three of the female characters:

Here we have the dominatrix, the crazy hooker and Exotic Fanservice Girl...

Notice how the differences in how they're portrayed and costumed? The men are fully clothed and deadly serious. They are clearly defined: the mighty hero, the ominous villains.

The women are all about sex, sex, sexy sextimes. With maybe a little villainy thrown in for flavour. They may be characters, but they're also sexual objects to be consumed.

I will pause now for the traditional arguments from my readers: these characters are all femme fatales in the comics, all of the characters in the Arkham games are over-the-top, the men are just as exaggerated/sexualized/objectified as the women. Got all of that out of your systems? Good.

Because that reaction is exactly what I'm talking about.

Y'see, one of the issues of male privilege as it applies to fandom is the instinctive defensive reaction to any criticism that maybe, just maybe, shit's a little fucked up, yo. Nobody wants to acknowledge that a one-sided (and one-dimensional) portrayal of women is the dominant paradigm in gaming; the vast majority of female characters are sexual objects. If a girl wants to see herself represented in video games, she better get used to the idea of being the prize at the bottom of the cereal box. If she wants to see herself as a main character, then it's time to get ready for a parade of candyfloss costumes where nipple slips are only prevented by violating the laws of physics. The number of games with competent female protagonists who wear more than the Victoria's Secret Angels are few and far between.

The idea that perhaps the way women are portrayed in fandom is aleetle sexist is regularly met with denials, justifications and outright dismissal of the issue. So regularly, in fact, that there's a Bingo card covering the most common responses. Part of the notion of male privilege in fandom is that nothing is wrong with fandom and that suggestions that it might benefit from some diversity is treated as a threat.

But what is that threat, exactly?

In this case, the threat is that — ultimately — fandom won't cater to guys almost to exclusion… that gays, lesbians, racial and religious minorities and (gasp!) women might start having a say in the way that games, comics, etc. will be created in the future. The strawmen that are regularly trotted out — that men are objectified as well, that it's a convention of the genre, that women actually have more privileges than guys — are a distraction from the real issue: that the Privileged are worried that they won't be as privileged in the near future if this threat isn't stomped out. Hence the usual reactions: derailment, minimization and ultimately dismissing the topic all together.

As much as my nerdy brethren wish that more girls were of the geeky persuasion, it's a little understandable why women might be a little reticent. It's hard to feel valued or fully included when a very vocal group insists that your input is irrelevant, misguided and ultimately unwelcome. It's small wonder why geekdom — for all of it's self-proclaimed enlightened attitudes towards outsiders and outcasts — stil retains the odor of the guy's locker room.


Don't make the mistake of thinking male privilege is solely about how big Power Girl's tits are, fan service and jiggle physics in 3D fighters. It affects geek girls in direct, personal ways as well. Remember the example I mentioned earlier with my then-girlfriend in the comic store? Her opinions were deemed mistaken and she was told she didn't "get it"… because she was a girl.

Y'see, one of the issues that nerd girls face is the fact that they are seen as girls first and anything else second. And before you flood my comments section demanding to know why this is a bad thing, realise that being seen as a "girl" first colours every interaction that they have within fandom. They're treated differently because they are women.

We will now pause for the expected responses: well that's a good thing isn't it, girls get special treatment because they're girls, guys will fall all over themselves to try to get girls to like ‘em so it all balances out.

"Can I power-level your rogue for you? Are you looking for the Jem DVDs? Let me show you the anime section... wait, come back...."

If you're paying attention you'll realise that — once again — those reactions are what I'm talking about.

Y'see, nobody's saying that women don't receive different treatment from guys… I'm saying that being treated differently is the problem. And yes, I know exactly what many of you are going to say and I'll get to that in a minute.

Male privilege — again — is about what men can expect as the default setting for society. A man isn't going to have everything about him filtered through the prism of his gender first. A man, for example, who gets a job isn't going to face with suggestions that his attractiveness or that his willingness to perform sexual favours was a factor in his being hired, nor will he be shrugged off as a "quota hire". A man isn't expected to be a representative of his sex in all things; if he fails at a job, it's not going to be extrapolated that all men are unfit for that job. A man who's strong-willed or aggressive won't be denigrated for it, nor are men socialized to "go along to get along". A man can expect to have his opinion considered, not dismissed out of hand because of his sex. When paired with a woman who's of equal status, the man can expect that most of the world will assume that he's the one in charge. And, critically, a man doesn't have to continually view the world through the lens of potential violence and sexual assault.

Now with this in mind, consider why being a girl first may be a hindrance to geek girls. A guy who plays a first person shooter — Call of Duty, Halo, Battlefield, what-have-you — online may expect a certain amount of trash talking, but he's not going to be inundated with offers for sex, threats of rape, sounds of simulated masturbation or demands that he blow the other players — but not before going to the kitchen and getting them a beer/sandwich/pizza first. Men will also not be told that they're being "too sensitive" or that "they need to toughen up" when they complain about said sexual threats.

Men also won't have their opinions weighed or dismissed solely on the basis of how sexy or attractive they are. The most common responses a woman can expect in an argument — especially online — is that she's fat, ugly, single, jealous, a whore, or a lesbian — or any combination thereof — and therefore her opinion is irrelevant, regardless of it's actual merits. This is especially true if she's commenting on the portrayal of female characters, whether in comics, video games or movies.

"Bet you're paying attention to what I have to say now!"

Men can expect that their presence at an event won't automatically be assumed to be decorative or secondary to another man. Despite the growing presence of women in comics, as publishers, editors and creators as well as consumers, a preponderance of men will either treat women at conventions as inconveniences, booth bunnies or even potential dates. Many a female creator or publisher has had the experience of convention guests coming up and addressing all of their questions to the man at the table… despite being told many times that the man is often the assistant, not the talent, only there to provide logistical support and occasional heavy lifting.

Men are also not going to be automatically assigned into a particular niche just based on their gender. A girl in a comic store or a video game store is far more likely to be dismissed as another customer's girlfriend/sister/cousin rather than being someone who might actually be interested in making a purchase herself. And when they are seen as customers, they're often automatically assumed to be buying one of the designated "girl" properties… regardless of whether they were just reading Ultimate Spider-Man or looking for a copy of Saint's Row 3.

Of course, the other side of the coin isn't much better; being dismissed for the sin of being a woman is bad, but being placed on the traditional pillar is no less insulting. Guys who fall all over themselves to fawn over a geek girl and dance in attendance upon her are just as bad. The behaviour is different, but the message is the same: she's different because she's a girl. These would-be white knights are ultimately treating her as a fetish object, not as a person. It's especially notable when it comes to sexy cosplayers; the guys will laude them for being geek girls and celebrate them in person and online. They'll lavish attention upon them, take photos of them and treat them as queens…

And in doing so, they're sending the message that women are only valued in geek culture if they're willing to be a sexually alluring product. Everybody loves Olivia Munn when she enters the room ass-cheeks first as Aeon Flux, but nobody is particularly concerned by the girls dressed in a baseball tee, jeans and ballet flats. One of these is welcomed into geek culture with open arms, the other has to justify their existence in the first place.


The reason why male privilege is so insidious is because of the insistance that it doesn't exist in the first place. That willful ignorance is key in keeping it in place; by pretending that the issue doesn't exist, it is that much easier to ensure that nothing ever changes.

Geek society prides itself on being explicitly counter-culture; nerds will crow about how, as a society, they're better than the others who exclude them. They'll insist that they're more egalitarian; geeks hold tight to the belief that geek culture is a meritocracy, where concepts of agism, sexism and racism simply don't exist the way it does elsewhere. And yet, even a cursory examination will demonstrate that this isn't true.

And yet geeks will cling to this illusion while simultaneously refusing to address the matters that make it so unattractive to women and minorities. They will insist that they treat women exactly the same as they treat guys — all the while ignoring the fact that their behaviour is what's making the women uncomfortable and feeling unwelcome in the first place. They will find one girl in their immediate community who will say that she's not offended and use her as the "proof" that nobody else is allowed to be offended.

Changing this prevailing attitude starts with the individual. Call it part of learning to be a better person; being willing to examine your own attitudes and behaviours and to be ruthlessly honest about the benefits you get from being a white male in fandom is the first step. Waving your hands and pretending that there isn't a problem is a part of the attitude that makes women feel unwelcome in fandom and serves as the barrier to entry to geeky pursuits that she might otherwise enjoy.

Bringing the spotlight onto the concept of male privilege as it exists in nerd culture is the first step in making it more welcoming of diversity, especially women.

And when you check back on Friday, I'll provide you with some concrete applications on how being cognisant of male privilege will improve your relations with women.

Did I oversimplify an issue with regards to male privilege? Did I miss an aspect of male privilege in geek culture that you feel needs to be highlighted? Sound off in the comments and let me know.

Harris O'Malley provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove, as well as writing the occasional guest review for and appearing on the podcast The League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook ( and Twitter (@DrNerdLove)

Dr. NerdLove is not really a doctor.


    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      if you thought it was boring and bordering on 'anti-male' then I'm not sure you did actually understand it..

        I think the point flew so far above his head it's in geosync orbit

          The point didn't miss me at all. This is another piece of "women are objectified because of the male standards put forth in medium X Y & Z" garbage that's been around for many years. Hell, if you read some part of this closely you'll even notice an undertone of racism added in too.

          Every time an article like this comes out I have to remind myself that women objectify men just as much, if not more, than the other way around. Hell, look at how much the Twilight movies have made. I swear 95% of that movie had guys with six pack abs and well defined muscles standing around all the time so the women can drool over them. The same women mind you that would be first in line to call Harley Quinn's outfit "offensively sexist".

          But let me touch on my biggest gripe on this article: The fact that for most of this article it pushes that men are in total control of the mediums in question; which is the biggest load ever. There are many women in comics, video games, cartoons and everything else on the planet that have a say in what happens. Sure we're not seeing "Suzy the slightly larger burnette with sensible clothes and shoes adventures" on the shelves these days but that's the type of thing that seems to be pushed in these types of articles.

          Most women would rather see an idealized version of themselves as the main in anything than what they would want to see in the mirror, and the same goes with men; which is why we're not seeing Batman as a middle aged Bruce Wayne with a beer gut.

          So in summery, before you go saying that someone has "missed the point" maybe you need to stop and think about what you are reading and look at the other side of the argument before opening your mouth to someone who prefers to be more informed about all aspects of the argument than you claim to be.

            +1 !

              Imagine if every movie you went to see was like Twilight, with the focus on young male abs to drool over. Every single one. That's what women face in gaming. That' s the difference.


              Don't dig yourself into a hole by pretending "every single one" objectifies females. You are susceptible to one single counter example to prove you wrong.

              Like... Alex from Half life 2+, the moderately good looking, fully clothed, brave, intelligent woman.

            Hmm, I think you might have sunk yourself with the line "The fact that for most of this article it pushes that men are in total control of the mediums in question; which is the biggest load ever. There are many women in comics, video games, cartoons and everything else on the planet that have a say in what happens."

            You've got the point of the article, I just think you're wrong :)

            Agree with Mase.

            tl; dr: There actually *aren't* "many" women in comics, or any of these industries.

            "The fact that for most of this article it pushes that men are in total control of the mediums in question; which is the biggest load ever. There are many women in comics..."

            I'm going to stop you *right* there. In DC's current line up of 52 comics do you know how many women artists or writers there are? 4...

            Marvel has more, but the ratios are *still* terrible. Before you trot out the old "oh, but less women want to be in the field" chestnut, I'd seriously doubt that there is an entire order of magnitude less talent among that gender.

            That's a specific example from the Comics world, but it holds true in other industries. Some of it is because women weren't given opportunities to enter these industries until more recently (The number of women in the senior echelons in Disney's animation department is a direct result of their recruiting policies in the 60s and 70s) but that means you don't get to bring out the "well, there are lots of women in these industries so they are complicit" chestnut.

              Surprisingly enough, I agree with that you are getting at, but the way you say it makes you sound overly aggressive and almost one sided in your information.

              Yes there isn't a huge amount of women in the industries, but the way the article has made it sound is that women are not in the industry at all, which is what I took offense to. Yes my phrasing needed work but I just got off a long an boring shift at work so I wasn't thinking at 100%

              But at further work with your point somewhat; will there ever be a 50-50 split between men and women in these businesses? Nope. Let's be honest here, there is no such thing as a 50-50 split in any business. Do i think the ratio will improve? Hell yes, and the industry will be better for it. It's just going to take time. Nothing is an instant fix.

            First of all, this whole battle of the sexes thing is such a non-issue for people with social skills.

            Second of all, this whole "why can't a woman be more like a man" thing is the exact kind of reverse sexism that is detrimental to BOTH sexes and needs to be stopped. Women and men are equal BUT different.

            To be asked as a woman to be treated on the basis that you are a woman is common sense, and to treat a woman this way as a man is understandable too. No this doesn't mean make disgusting comments or place women on pedestals, it means there is a way you can act when you're with men, and a way you can act when you're with women, a way you can act with your friends, and the manner in which you converse with your boss.

            When you try too be overly PC you end up diluting the talent in competitive industries. Here's an article by Christina Hoff Sommers that everyone should read:


            Furthermore, this flogging of a dead horse is getting us nowhere. This is the internet. The idea that people can't change is a fallacy, but that change must come from within. The people who NEED to pay attention to this message will not. In fact, one of the only ways they will off the top of my head is to have their world rocked by a woman they admire calling them out on it face to face. A faceless entity spewing condescending rants at them will just shut down their interest level.

            My advice to all reading then, is that Men (boys):

            You will never find a girl who likes you for you because nobody likes you for you, you are a horrible human being and your views on women are warped by a lack of contact with actual ones, and a diet of pop culture written by like-minded sociopaths.

            If you want results you have to make them happen. Pretend to be understanding and mature and well-mannered, you might find the results outweigh the cost of applying yourself to get what you want.

            And women:

            Don't join "GRRL GAMERS" groups and then complain that you're being treated solely on the basis that you're a woman who enjoys games, rather than a person who enjoys games.

            Don't dress provocatively at things like Comic Con or other such events and then complain about lewd commentary.

            This is NOT slut shaming, this is acknowledging that you are an individual existing inside a world that was here long before you were, and as such, it will not simply bend to your expectations because you don't want to compromise.

            I, for example, don't like the idea that there are bad dudes in dark alleys that will mug me if i approach, but that doesn't mean I'm going to storm down that alleyway anyway because I shouldn't have to be afraid. If I get stabbed choosing the alleyway instead of the perfectly acceptable footpath that loops around the block, well then that's the consequences of MY choice in action.

            And most importantly, if you know a man or father or brother or friend in your life that is not living up to standards you espouse, call them up on it, face to face, and make damn well sure they understand. Articles on the internet won't convince them, it's up to their friends and family.

              I don't really have the energy to get into an arguement with you, but I wanted to point you to this. Dr. Fine provides a much better rebuttal to the article you posted than I am able to provide.

                1 hour long!? I really want to watch it but my internet bandwidth can't handle that sort of pressure. Care to summarise?

            Put simply, you're demonstrating that you don't 'get' the article because you just think that it only pertains to the objectification of women in media. The question-less objectification of women in particularly comics and in video games is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ways that women are unequal and misrepresented by video games and comics.

            Also, yes, it is a media that is controlled predominantly by men both culturally and professionally, to say otherwise is being disingenuous. It's just plain silly to assume that since women exist in the industry that they any control of what content gets produced.

            Killer comment! +10!

            This argument is exactly what the author of this article said his opponents arguments would be. So lets be honest here. Just because both genders objectify men, doesn't mean it's right. Also sexual harrasment isn't something people need to "just toughen up" about. It's assault, it's illegal, and when men do it to women it's even creepier for one reason. Men have been portrayed as sex crazed animals, all locked up in the societal cage of decency and politeness. Most women think that all guys have a secret pervert lying right underneath the surface, and whenever they are sexually harrased by men they get a peek at that supposed "monster". Which is obviously terrifying, to think that at any moment you might find yourself in a bad hentai scenario. I'm not saying that men are like that, but the fact remains thats how woman see us. And having all of these female characters being tailor made for ogling is not helping the stereotype.

            "Hell, look at how much the Twilight movies have made. I swear 95% of that movie had guys with six pack abs and well defined muscles standing around all the time so the women can drool over them. The same women mind you that would be first in line to call Harley Quinn’s outfit “offensively sexist”."

            You obviously haven't actually interacted with any geek girls. No self-respecting Batman fan would be a Twilight fan as well.
            The only show or comic I get into for fanservice is.... hang on. Wait. There is none. Because while guys get fanservice constantly, there is not a single decent show that I can think of right now that provides *me* with eye candy.
            And I don't care if I don't get eye candy. I just wish that it wasn't so predominant in female characters. I need ones I can look up to/respect/sympathise with, as well, and as a games designer in training I can tell you right now that there is a severe imbalance in that area.
            There are a few female characters that are actually good, yes. But I'll stop complaining when good characters are the NORM rather than the exception.

      It's not anti-male, it's not boring and it's certainly not preachy. It's factual, smart, relevant and something that needs to be continually reinforced until people get it.

        Movie Bob did it better on his Big Picture thing on the escapist.

          Doesn't mean it can't be said again though, does it?

        Objection. By the authors own standards it is indeed "Anti-Male" as it talks about these particular issue of gender bais (in the form of privlidge) from one perspective alone. Moreover the author is guilty of the very thing he is trying to point out and stop - lumping the minority with the majority.

        The second point would be that articles like this actually make the problem worse as more and more people feel they have a "moral obligation" to attempt to rectify and in doing so will cause more of the same problems.

        My favourite would be this authors on Bayonetta given what he has espoused above. It fails to take any of the depth of character of Bayonetta nor ANY of the inherent (and very craftily designed) symbolism.

        As a final thought - women have been battling to be liberated sexually for the past 50 years and its good to see now that we have come full circle and again we have a man saying that women are not allowed to be sexually attractive (even if explosively so) and be on equal footing to men while being so. The girls doing slutwalk would be proud of you sir.

          Bayonetta has no character or level of complexity at all.
          There is no symbolism or anything regarding her games utterly retarded story.
          She is a sex object pure and simple, that's why you see the constant crotch and boob shots and why half her special moves make her partially naked.

          Samus Aran used to be a positive image for a woman until the Other M managed to screw that up royally

            Asuron wrote:
            Bayonetta has no character or level of complexity at all.
            There is no symbolism or anything regarding her games utterly retarded story.

            Actually, I think that game is pretty symbolic of how disappointing the new Metal Gear will be. (Metal Gear Semi-Solid: Revengernation)

        yeah, maybe it feels like déja vu because it's a problem that hasn't really been resolved and requires more thought, especially in a rapidly changing world that can barely understand what is happening and where we stand as things evolve at the rate they have been.

        You lot of dumb-bells. Women aren't trying to be like men, nor do they want to be. BUT they do want equal opportunity, and do they want to be treated in a manner that represents an equality, and it's damn hard to find that when a guy is busy objectifying you and forming an opinion of you based mainly on how you look.

        Also, any man who thinks equality exists, or that men are objectified as much as women are, must be living on another planet (or sitting for looong periods of time on the couch). Try walking down the street and see how many times a man gets honked at or yelled obscenities at, then look at what happens to the women. Try taking stock of all the movies and games in the world and you'll see the ratio is grossly unequal. Try convincing me that 90% of the world at large (properties, businesses, political control) doesn't belong to men. Try explaining to me that there are as many male strip clubs in the world as there are female. Uh-huh. I didn't think so, assholes. And the Twilight argument was paper-thin to the point of hilarious.

      I think you need to read into some women's studies articles. Or just self reflect. A lot.

      These articles are better than the usual trash.

        I did read some of these types of literature as I've got a few friends who are hardcore feminists and I love shooting their men hating crap down with logic.

          Feminism ≠ man-hating. You are a twit.

        ^ this

          Oh I get it. He's a feminist-hater. These smug specimens pop up often in geeky circles. Someone who would rather stroke his own ego by proving he's too smart for feminists than help solve any problems. What a champ. It's always such a shame to see these people who are (or think they are) clever putting more effort into arguing fruitlessly (in their mind their superior logic pwns feminism though) with people than actually solving social problems by helping others improve their attitudes to certain issues.

    Count down until obligatory 'since when was Kotaku everyone's soapbox' comment in three... two...

    I personally am very impressed by this article. Very clearly argued and a very convincing argument. Mirrors my own opinion quite closely.

    Flame on!


    I suddenly have deja-vu

      Have you ever, ever felt like this - with strange things happening, are you going round the twist??


        Is wonderful, no?

          Mother of god...

      It does have the feeling like we have been here before!

    I found it exactly the opposite to you, Mase, it seemed like he was trying to get his point across, but, he knew exactly who he was talking to. Thus, 'garbage' as you term it, which I assume includes parts such as "Everybody loves Olivia Munn when she enters the room ass-cheeks first as Aeon Flux....", were seen by me as an attempt to remain engaged with the people he's actually talking to (the gamer GUYS that he's blaming), rather than disconnecting from them and seeming "very preachy". If you just come out and say "current gamer culture is stupid! accept women!" in the opening paragraph, 90% of people will just say tl;dr, haters gonna hate.

    While this is one of the better attempts at reaching out towards the online gender equality issue, it's still the wrong way to go about it. The people who are going to read well-reasoned, essay-form discussions are not the problem here. Do I have a solution? No. But if I did, it would not be done like this. So many articles in the exact same vein, no results. It's not working, and it's not going to work.

    I think this article would have been more relevant a few years ago. These days it seems a lot better for women in gaming circles. I mean, you only have to take a look at places like the Mana Bar and how the male customers act around female customers to see that they do infact respect them and aren't all boob seeking creepers.

      For every Mana Bar, there are still a dozen comic shops where when a girl walks in, everything stops while people stare incredulously.

      Of course, I'm used to it. It will be a long time before a trans lesbian is anything but a freak to most gamers. Or a joke. Or a 'trap'.

      Join a geek-interest club at university - role playing, LARPing, scifi, gaming - and you'll see that it's definitely still a thing.

        Yep. I was advised if I came along to check out a LARPing session to bring my boyfriend if I wanted to remain un-smothered.

    So I'm confused. Do I treat women different because guys who "insist that they treat women exactly the same as they treat guys — all the while ignoring the fact that their behaviour is what’s making the women uncomfortable and feeling unwelcome in the first place." are apparently doing it wrong?

    Or do I treat them the same as I treat any other human being because "being dismissed for the sin of being a woman is bad, but being placed on the traditional pillar is no less insulting."?

    Or should I just maybe take a singular example of one person one time and extrapolate that opinion to tar all people of a single gender in a single aspect of a certain culture with the same brush? Like our leering friend in the comic store, who was outnumbered by those around him decrying his interactions and yet is still used to represent me as a male privileged gamer?

      But it's not a singular example. A single example, certainly, but you're kidding yourself if you think that isn't going on all of the time and in all of the places.

      And, in case it wasn't clear, the argument is that you should see women as people first and women second. Men too, obviously, but it's a much rarer problem for them, and the definitions aren't as limiting.

        In the example used to build this argument against males everywhere, there was at least one other white male geek and two male geeks who argued against this admittedly poor treatment of a woman who stepped into a comic book store. I'm not saying this is the only time this has happened ever, that would be ridiculous. But it's a pretty piss poor example to use.

        As to how I'm supposed to treat women, you're right. It wasn't clear. It's not like I cherry picked that quote and took it out of context. It's poorly written. My question was rhetorical, I'll continue to treat women the same as I'd like to be treated myself.

          I've never been a fan of that phrase. 'Treat people the way you want to be treated.' I think we should at least try to treat people the way they want to be treated.

          Not having a go, just commenting on the phrase, rather than your comment.

            Your fetish stuff is your own thing, but I'm not into it so I won't go there. :P

            No, look if people don't want to be treated the same way i do, that's fine but it's at least a better starting point than treating them differently based on superficial assumptions. At least by treating everyone the same they get a minimum level of respect until I can find out how they want to be treated.

            Jeremy, treat me like a god... now give me all your stuff.

          But that's precisely why the issue is privilege (and empathy). It's understanding that saying to a woman "I love your work, I will bear you many fine sons" (for an example borrowed from Kate Beaton of Hark a Vagrant fame) *isn't* the same as saying that to a man, because the context women live under is so different to the one you and I experience day-to-day, that to be a female creative is to be constantly seen as a woman first and a creative second, that for every person who's saying that as an ungendered compliment there's a half-dozen others who are romaticising you or fetishising you or dismissing you based solely on your gender.

            What are you saying, Mr AK? Regardless of my sincerity about wanting to bear Kate many sons I'm still putting her in an uncomfortable position because I come from a position of privilege? Because other white males have said similar with no sincerity, and so as a white male there's a strong chance I'm coming from a position of insincerity? That's more than a conundrum Kif, that's a god damn Paradox that is.

            Tell me Mr Ak, because I sincerely want to know. How should I treat a woman if I can't treat them as I would like to be treated myself because of male privilege? I honestly want to know. I know the more I explain that I'm not being sarcastic makes it seem more sarcastic, but I'm not being sarcastic.

              I wish I had a good answer, but I don't. For me, one of the things which brought home the horror of privilege was reading Brokeback Mountain (Short story, not the movie. Movie missed the humanity of the protagonists, turned them into symbols.) Straight privilege, obviously.

              But yeah, I suppose all I can say is read people's experiences and try and understand how that would shape them, what it would actually be like to be told that you "play FPS just to impress boys" as a friend of mine has been, to have store staff regularly insist that you're not buying media for yourself, to know that to write on gender issues, even once, means you might forever be branded by some of your audience as a "crazy feminazi".

              And to accept all of this. To accept that it happens every day, that while it's driven by a minority, there's a whole majority whose actions feed into it, whose indifference reinforces the status quo.

              Sorry, I'm not coming up with anything concrete, am I? And I'm waxing my rhetorical in public, never wise.

              Long story short: I've no firm answers, and can't really comment on how you, personally treat people because I obviously don't know. As a general rule, though, empathy and self-doubt are your best best. And I mean genuine actual empathy, understanding a point of view which is shaped by factors outside your personal experience.

    Look, I'm a young single heterosexual male. Ideally, the sex in Arkham City was aimed at me. But I can't be the only person who found it awkward and uncomfortable, can I? Like, when I was Batman, I slid under everything just for fun. But, as Catwoman, she splays herself out in the most bizarre position I can imagine, just so I can see her breasts when she does it.

    Look, I'm not averse to attractive female or male characters in video games. Or in anything, for that matter. It's when it's out of place that I feel awkward.

    I do think there's a definite "we're nerds, people oppress us, we can't be wrong" vibe from some people - not all of them, of course. I wish there was an easy fix, too, but for some people it's apparently not as easy as "treat everyone like a person the same way you want to be treated".

    Um. There was a point to these unrelated thoughts, but I've forgotten it.

      That is eerily similar to my experience of Arkham City. Great game, some of the content was a bit misguided.

      This was a great article.

    Good to see an article on privilege. It's been missing in all of the discussions around sexism and acceptance so far. Really well written and looking forward to the follow up.

      I think the follow up is already up, it's been on his blog for a while

    'Harris O’Malley provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove'
    Dear god I wish I'd read this line first. Ugh.

    Good attempt mate, but you lost me about three-quarters through the article, right at the "Bet you're paying attention to what I have to say now!" comment.
    You make some really good points and yes women do get objectified as sex objects in games, but they also get objectified as sex objects in magazines directed at girls and women.
    The objectification of women as a sexual object in general society has been increasing at an alarming rate since perhaps the late 80s up to now.

    I understand where you come from about the comic shop anectode, but I must admit that I feel like your ex-girlfriend whenever i walk into a comic book shop, If you don't fit in to the geek stereotype, then you just cop the arrogance of the dude who is supposed to be attempting to make a sale.

    I no longer visit computer game or comic book shops because the people who serve me, treat me with disrespect and arrogance.

    Thank-you internet!

      I agree
      I dont fit the generally accepted form for "geeks" or "gamers" and as a result im shunned by some of the people within communities I interact with.

    In some ways Im surprised Batman was used as an example; you just need to look at TERA and Blade & Soul to see respresentations of the genders very skewed (though admittedly, the 3rd google image search pic of B&S showed a beefy guy without his top)

    DC comics wanted to change Harley Quinn's in-comic costume to the slutty one you see above. There was such a massive surge of nerd rage of this that they changed it back to the less revealing full-body suit.

    The more well known nerdy media tends to objectify women, because it's easy to sell just-less-than porn to the public. That they're willing to pander to the lowest common denominator is half of the reason most of those media houses are a successful as they are.

    The problem does exist, but thankfully it is dying out. The internet's presence giving independent creators the ability to mass distribute creative works that can self-seek the right niche audience, rather than having to seek appeal via genericizing their work, is certainly helping.

    There is a problem, some people propagate it. A lot more seem to be working to fix it.

      I know the was a lot of outrage about Harley's costume change but I don't think I hadn't realised DC had backed down on it.

      I mean this is from an issue that came out last week.

        I'm not sure how official it all is, but what I read (and I remember thinking of the source as credible enough to believe) was that they were going to explain away the slut costume as being part of some ploy, and then Harley would return with the regular costume after that.

          I hope your right. I personally wouldn't mind Harley getting an updated look but the current Jugalo Hooker costume is miserable.

    So then what are we to do? Completely remove the sex appeal from all our favorite female comicbook/vg/anime characters so that females will feel more welcome in our culture?

    Coz that's the only way I can see us removing the 'male privilege' in favour of diversity at face value.

      There's plenty of sex appeal in full clothed women. If you need females to be 3/4 naked for you to find them sexually appealing, that's your hard luck.

      Or better yet, have women in games for the story, not because there should be a girl for the guys to look at.

        actually, if he needs women to be 3/4 naked to be sexually attractive, then he's in luck, quite a bit of it.
        because there are women like that in media everywhere, and there always will be.

        I agree with a lot of the things the author says, women get objectified and are valued for their sex appeal.

        What no one has really explained to me, is why a woman being valued for her sexuality is inherently bad. Batman and other superheroes may not be skimpily dressed, but they've got bodies that would put the greek gods to shame. They exude the impossible amount of masculinity and virility that every guy dreams of being able to mimic. Six pack abs, broad chests, jawlines carved from stone, always full head of hair. Why aren't any male super heroes balding?

        Males are valued for their strength. If a man isn't strong, no one cares about him and he'll never be the hero. And if a woman isn't sexy, well why the fuck would anyone pay attention to her when there are plenty of sexy women (who can be just as capable). Would an ugly, frumpy Catwoman change anything? No more than if Bruce Wayne had bad acne and a bald spot.

        What I'm trying to say is, in games, movies, tv shows, what have you, each sex is idealized. Everyone is good looking if they are meant to be liked. If the story teller wants a character to be disliked, they make them ugly. Humans just work that way. We like beautiful people.

        That, and Samus Aran runs around in a big armored suit, while Kratos runs around in a loin cloth.
        it goes both ways.

          Finally! Someone with a brain in the comments section!

          But you have to remember in today's politically correct environment, objectifying women is bad; but objectifying men, which it does happen, isn't spoken about because men are evil

            False Equvalence.

            That would be objectifying robin.

              except the girl in that comic is demonstrably wrong.

              Firstly: buff men in media is not a MALE POWER fantasy. It's just fantasy, PERIOD. Look at the men on the covers of erotic novels that women read. As Mase said earlier, take Twilight for example. The series is a phenomenon among females, and the male leads show off their washboard abs and smooth chests and muscly arms. They aren't there to appease the male audience with some ego boosting power fantasy. It's what women like.

              Her second problem, is that she goes on to try and say what ALL women find attractive. She says that since SHE isn't into buff Batman, then women in general are not, and ergo, buff Batman isn't there for the ladies, he must be there for male power fantasy. I don't know what planet she's from, but on earth, the majority of women prefer strong men with defined muscles. They don't have to be body builders that rip their shirts when they flex, but the majority would probably prefer a buff guy to George Costanza.

              Now, imagine, that some guy came forward and said "I don't like big breasts and cleavage, I like small breasts and conservative clothing. Therefore women are not objectified in media because how they are portrayed does not do it for me."

              You'd just tell that guy "Well that's just you, most guys like big breasts and cleavage."
              And this is where I tell her "Well that's just you, most women like brooding, dark, muscly Batman."
              As much as she may hate to admit it, she can't just dismiss a specific male's appearance in media as objectification because it doesn't do anything for her personally.

              Thirdly, after saying she wants a dexteritous Batman, she still drew one with big muscles. Batman is just one example, though. What if we'd used shirtless Solid and Liquid Snake, fist fighting on top of a metal gear? They're lithe, still with defined muscles, smooth chests and full of sweaty masculinity.

              And lastly, let's just look at how she depicts the males she is trying to rebuke with this comic. Bald and fat. she may have latent hatred towards men and geeks. It's barely even veiled.

            Much agreed mase. The only gripe my girlfriend gamer has with games right now, is not about what their wearing, but more about just actually being in the game as playable characters. eg: counterstrike, killing floor, any battle field games, just to name a few, do not have any female playable characters/skins. The responses I hear from DEVs is that the reason that they don't include female character skins for the fact is that it takes time to model the 3d textures. Hell, if its equality that people are worried about for female representation in games, then the gripe should be about getting the characters modeled in, as for comics, well, its always going to be about eye-candy, because that is what makes the $$$. Final note, the future of gaming will be in mod-ability, and if you want to put conservative clothes on rather than a skimpy outfit, then the option will be there as well as the possibility for less.

            If people don't like it then don't buy it. Sex is probably the oldest traded commodity known to man, next to beer/grain.

              You're wrong on the first point. I really don't understand how you could possibly be anymore obtuse.

              1.) If your point were true, more women would be the purchasers of such content. Ever since the 1930's, men have been portrayed as shredded, powerful heroes as an appeal to the boys or men buying media with such portrayals.

              2.) Another reason why you are incorrect is because if you look at the examples of men that are objectified by women, they don't align with the iconography or representation of most of the heroes in video games or comics.

              Like I said before, objectification is just at the tip of the iceberg. As a woman, I don't really want Warner Brothers to censor Harley Quinn's tits, I'm a loyal financial contributor to the industry and I would like to feel a little more represented. Actually, I would much rather not be told to "Go back into the kitchen" or "suck my dick" when I play Battlefield of Starcraft. I also don't want people to assume that I just like to play my boyfriend's Nintendo baby games. I also don't want to be corralled in to what games people think are "safe" for my gender.

              People like you guys who think that the author of this article is blowing shit out of proportion have generally been lucky enough to not experience what he is discussing personally. As a girl who loves MMA, Football, Video Games and Comics, I have looked on at the effects of male privilege all my life, especially during my adolescence. Those effects have been dwindling, thankfully, but male privilege is something that even super-cedes video games and comic books, and even paradigms like class and race.

              Also, I worked a comic shop. Most of the customers that visited were bald and/or fat, and that's not a rip, it's just the truth.

            Actually no, the intent in the design in characters like Kratos or Batman is to align with male power fantasy. He is not designed that way to appeal to a women's fantasy of sexuality.

            Harley Quinn and all the girls in Arkham City were designed very specifically to align with male fantasy of sexuality. It is an unequal portrayal.

          There's everything wrong with being valued for your sexuality and ONLY your sexuality.

          Imagine a world where all male characters are the effeminate yaoi bishies. Sometimes they're given personality, but mostly they exist to have sex and pine for each other. Batman and Robin? They're just mopey androgynous shaggy haired beauties. Iron Man and Captain America exist purely to have tension and angst and fuck. They might have a place in the plot, but they mostly just look pretty and have sex and sell sex appeal.

          Yeah, that's right. Your heroes and idols and brooding crusaders? They're just a teenage girl's clit-rub fantasy to make the product more appealing. The creators don't consider the men's feelings toward their role models being cast as anal chew toys. "It's empowering!" they say. "It's empowering because being gay was so oppressed, and now we're showing off how liberated and AWESOME it is, and if you don't like it you're a prude!"

          And that's what it's like to be a women in the gaming industry.

    There is about as much a market for fully clothed non-sexualized female characters in geek culture as there is a need for thousands of copies of 'Biclops' at the Andriod's Dungeon.

      To summarize,
      No need, no market.


        Oh man, you are fucking hilarious.

    If you think men's opinions are not judged by how they look you are sadly mistaken. I automatically dismiss anyone over a certain weight as an obsessed fanboy. On the other end of the spectrum i dismiss people who are too pretty as not really being a nerd and ignore them.

    I'm sick of these one-sided opinion pieces. Can Kotaku Australia get some sort of live chat going, where people can air their comments? Even a Q&A session where we all submit questions would be good.

    I find that this issue is too prickly to be handled via long-form essays; there has to be interaction.

    Found a link to this on Dr LoveWahtervers site, I think it adds to the discussion

      THANK YOU! I was looking for this the other day after the article about Women and Armour.

      That's a great comic!


      Lol. That comic does put the issue very succinctly though.

      I agree with this comic also =)

      So since I don't find those huge breasted anime girls attractive, by the comics logic, they aren't objectifying women?

      While female players might not find Batman/Joker attractive they are intended to be attractive and males do feel a certain need to look like them. It's probably not an active attempt to capture the female audience or anything, but more just the result of everyone in movies/games/TV/books/music/K-Mart catalogues being attractive.
      In that sense video games work a lot like womens fashion magazines. The women are unrealisticly beautiful and the men are basically just fantasy. Which makes this not a problem with games as much as a problem with human representation in the general media. As soon as the balance tips towards one side being unrealistically beautiful and the other being nothing more than 2D fantasy fuel.

      I've got to say using Arkham as a lead in example seems like a poor choice. I'm guessing not many people would reject a Facebook profile picture that made them look like an Arkham Asylum character of their gender.

      [None of this is an argument in favour of poor representation of women in games. It just seems like if you only consider this as a problem with men making ridiculous women in mens games you miss the part where it's a much bigger social problem.]

    I generally agree with this article, but I think you got a few things wrong

    "nor are men socialized to “go along to get along”. "

    They aren't? You must be thinking "it's not as bad for men therefore I'll try and see it in a light that glosses over what guys go through".

    The vulgar trash talking is certainly a lot more noticeable for women, but... if you genuinely believe guys don't get plenty of nasty stuff them selves - probably from other guys you really have now idea what you're talking about.

    Okay, so I have some issues with the article but they're not with the spirit of the piece, more in the technicalities. They're being discussed elsewhere except for this one:

    "Men will also not be told that they’re being “too sensitive” or that “they need to toughen up” when they complain about said sexual threats."

    Really? I'm not huge with trash talking but I play with friends who do and if *any* guy complained about the way they were being treated they'd be told to man up. It's even more likely that they would be more polite around girls (which is another form of sexism I *know*).

      Also this: "Men also won’t have their opinions weighed or dismissed solely on the basis of how sexy or attractive they are".

      Science (and good old personal anecdotes) suggest otherwise.
      I couldn't count the number of times I've seen the less attractive amongst my peers instantly rated as a lower quality person (especially by the 'fairer' sex).
      Science also says that as a 6 foot white guy with dark hair and an ok build I have the highest chance of getting a promotion/pay rise/basically anything out of anyone around.

      Walk into an arena surrounded by the opposite sex and you will be scrutinised quite heavily, the only way we can improve this for girls in geek culture is to increase the number of girls in geek culture. We're moving in the right direction for sure, but until then we just have to set an example for all our socially struggling brethren.

    I swear I must live in some sort of alternate dimension then what is generally percieved as 'nerd/geek' culture.

    I game religiously, I have a plastic crack addiction (40k, sigh), I have been in and out of comics for years and in all the circles I've bounced off, orbited around and traveled through, I just never saw these problems as being wide spread.

    Oh, there's always that 'guy' who brings the rest of us down. You used him as an example with your girlfriend and the comic shop. But most gamers/geeks/nerds I've met are generally very nice, accepting people.

    I, personally, think elitism is a worse problem, as it covers a lot of the bases and seems to be everywhere. For some reason we can't just be people, we have to be Bro's, Hardcore gamers, Casual gamers, Gaymer's, Cawadooty fans, Fanboi's, Aniphiles.

    Maybe the guy who's being a chauvinistic asshole isn't so because he's a geek, maybe he's just a geek who's a chauvinist?

    Decent enough read though.

      I took it less about the community acting towards women, and more about the community bieng willing to accept images and portrayals of women that are so sexualised from the outset.

        Sex sells and all that jibba jabba. You'd be hard pressed to argue that women lacking in attire being used to increase somethings sex appeal would be a nerd/geek only domain.

        It's more an issue with society then an issue with the community, as the community is in itself a part of the society.

        Unlike the Jock community which is completely fair and well balanced.

    I have absolutely no interest in the 'sexiness' of video game females. It's a bunch of pixels and polygons, anyone who gets turned on by that needs their head examined. Catwoman's outfit in Arkham city was a joke.

      I hate this pixels-and-polygons "argument" so much. If you think that anyone who gets turned on by that has something wrong with them, I certainly hope you don't find yourself getting turned on by photographs of women. After all, they are "just a bunch of pixels" too. And printed images in a magazine - just a bunch of dots...

      A real girl is just a bunch of atoms. Atoms aren't sexy. You're a sicko freak.

        That's taking it a bit too far. Of course I appreciate an image of a real woman even if it's dots and pixels. I appreciate it because it's of a real person (nevermind photoshopping or touching up, that's a different issue) But an image such as the one of catwoman that has been created by someone on a computer is not something that's going to ever float my boat. You can fap to it as much as you like though.

          Right, so it's only ok as long as the person the image is of actually exists? But what has that got to do with anything? It's still just an image of a person that you will more than likely never even meet, let alone get to know at all. Especially in the case of an actress or something, the "real" them behind whatever character portray. And then, what difference is there between this and a nonexistant woman who you will also never get to meet or know.

    I felt condescended to by this article, even as I was trying to agree with it.

      100% agree. Fuller post coming soon.

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