You know the stereotype: the sensitive geek, intense in his/her passion, becomes a magnet for bullying, ridicule and harassment. And all because they’re a geek! Well, no, actually. That’s not it, not exactly.
Yes: being earnestly passionate about something will mark you. The problem with being honest about what you like is that it makes you vulnerable. That’s why we like things “ironically” now, that’s why the idea behind “guilty pleasure” exist: because we can’t just goddamn say we’re into something, really into something, without fearing what people might think about us.
That’s partially what geek bullying responds to, sure. The Atlantic wrote a piece recently about the hidden, less talked about things that contribute to geek bullying.
Here is one that you might not expect: class. The Atlantic writes:
Americans have trouble seeing class, and the intersection between class and intellectualism-or geekishness, if you prefer-can be especially invisible. Yet that intersection exists, and is, indeed, fairly obvious when you look for it. As I said, it wasn’t an accident that I, as the son of a professor, got better grades than most of my classmates. Our family didn’t necessarily have more money than our neighbours, but we certainly had more cultural capital-and the fact that I got good grades was in part a marker of that. And while in some settings, that class marker would be a huge advantage, in small town Pennsylvania, among lots of kids who didn’t share my background, it made me different…and inevitably, it made me a target.
I wasn’t being bullied because I was sensitive, in other words. I was being bullied because I was privileged. At the time, my dad tried to comfort me by telling me that all the kids who were giving me trouble would end up much more miserable than I was through the remorseless workings of class (though he didn’t put it quite like that, of course), and he was, as far as I can tell, correct.
How many times have you heard/seen the cliche about geeks being bullied only to go on to rule the world? That’s a class thing; it’s taking solace in the idea that a geek will not remain with the plebs.
Though in this case, the writer found that they came from a background and maintained interests that gave them advantages down the road because it gave them cultural capital. Cultural capital is the idea that there are things beyond finances that can influence social mobility (the ability to change class.) We’re talking education, intellect, the way you dress, the way you speak, the way you look, amongst other things.
To put it simply, when it comes to class, a stereotypical geek might have good chances of moving up in the world.
In certain sects of geekdom, the tie between class is particularly clear. Some hobbies require a good deal of money to keep up with, and games are a good example.
Beyond class, there’s also the issue of gender and homophobia. If you’re into games, comics, D&D or any other geeky thing, those hobbies operate outside gender roles. You’re not, say, learning domesticity if you’re a girl playing shooters. You’re not being manly if you’re constantly lost between the pages of a book instead of playing football.
Class and gender roles are difficult, sensitive subjects. Perhaps that’s why we don’t talk about these things — I fear that the narrative of being bullied simply because you’re a geek and you really like things is simple and attractive when trying to explain the bullying.
But, it might be good to think about what else might be a factor. You might be surprised at what you walk away with.
Why Geeks Get Bullied (It’s Not Necessarily for Being Geeks) [The Atlantic]