Four Letter Nerd

Be The Nerd You Want To See In The World: Thoughts on Gender Issues in the Nerd Community

A few weeks ago I was playing with my kids outside and my little girl starting crying for me to pick her up. As I bent down to get her my iPhone fell out of my pocket and hit the cold, hard concrete. I’ve dropped it before, but this particular time I had taken it out of it’s case because…. well, because I’m a glutton for punishment apparently. As soon as it hit, I didn’t even see the screen, but I heard the crack. It all but shattered (some of that may have also been the sound of my heart breaking). Here’s the kicker, I lost my wallet a while back and when I cancelled my debit card, that stopped the payment on my cell phone insurance. I forgot to call them and give them the new card number. So there I am, a broken iPhone screen and I can’t get the phone replaced, and I can’t quite afford to get the screen replaced either. What do I do? Well, it just so happened that my wife had a cell phone case/wallet, which she’d stopped using, that has a clear cover so that you can still use the touch screen while it’s in there. I figured, “Hey, I can use this and not risk cutting my fingers up on the broken screen!” It was a perfect plan! I should also mention… It has a POP-brand Wonder Woman on it.

 

After carrying that case around for a few days I started to think about something. I thought about how many guys would be so wrecked if they had to do the same. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of dudes would rather risk cutting their fingers up than carry around a cell phone case with a female comic book character on it. I mean, men are clearly superior to women in every way so I guess I can understand the thought process. Men are smarter, tougher, and stronger. It’s completely flawless logic…

Tell her to her face that she’s weaker than a man. I DARE YOU.

 

I’ve gotten a few strange looks, and a couple of people have asked me about it. I just explain the story; broke my phone, didn’t want to cut my fingertips. Most people get it.

The weekend after I started carrying the Wonder Woman case, I was carting my daughter (you know, the one I unfairly blame for my broken phone) around with me on some errands. I had put her in a little Spider-Man shirt that used to belong to her brothers. Everywhere we went people thought she was so adorable and cute (at least people got one thing right) in her little comic book t-shirt. Suddenly, another realization hit me… Had this been one of my boys, and they’d been wearing a Wonder Woman or My Little Pony shirt, people would have responded VERY differently.

There have been dozens of stories, over the last few months, regarding boys who love My Little Pony being bullied (I even wrote about the situation here). A friend of mine, Melody, showed me an article that I highly recommend, written from the perspective of a father scared that his son would be bullied for liking it…

“My Son Loves My Little Pony. At 7, he already knows that’s not OK.”

Also, Melody and her husband Nick wrote an awesome blog entry about their stance on gender issues, which you can read here:

“Me, My Man-Shaped-Person, and Our Non-Genderist Stance On Barbie vs Lammily”

There are about a thousand good reasons for you to read their article, but I’d like to reference one thing in particular that serves my point…

They mention something that happened, where a little boy in their daughter’s school told her that she couldn’t like super heroes because she’s a girl. That’s bulls–t.

My 3 year old runs around the house in a Batman costume with his little sisters toy tiara on his head, calling himself “Princess Batman.” My little girl has no concept of “boy toys” and “girl toys.” She’s equally as happy playing with a Hawkman toy as she is playing with her little tea set. I would be pissed if someone told them that they can’t play with something just because it doesn’t match their gender. I don’t want any of my kids thinking that women are weaker than men. I don’t want my boys treating women that way, and I sure as hell don’t want my little girl going through life with the outlook that she “needs” a man because she’s weak and fragile.

Again I challenge, YOU tell Katana and her GIANT MACHETE that she’s weaker than a man… What’s that? You’re scared and you peed in your pants and you want to leave? Thought so.

 

So, after weeks a weeks of periodically working on this piece, I came across another article that I really connected with (I like to make you people read a lot, as you may have noticed…)

Why I read Ms. Marvel to my 5-year-old daughter

This was written by a father who explains why it’s been very beneficial for his little girl for them to read the new Ms. Marvel book together. He talks about how even at a young age, she can comprehend certain aspects of the character that she relates to, and how Kamala is a very good role model for her. After reading this I thought, since male and female characters are equal, maybe my 6 year old could learn something from the book. I mean, I love it. It’s one of my favorite new titles. If I love it this much, surely he would too right?

She can shape-shift! What’s not to love?!

 

He has to read every night for homework so we typically let him read some comics for it. That’s how I pitched this to him. “Read these two issues, and they’ll count toward your homework reading.” He sat down on the couch and quietly, intently read both books. I was so excited to talk to him afterwards about this character that I love so much, sure that he now loved her too! After he finished the second book, we sat down at the kitchen table and I asked, “So what did you think?!” His response, “It was OK.” It was OK? It was just OK?! I asked what he thought about her powers. “I didn’t really like them.” Wait… what? Her ability to alter her shape and size is very similar to Mr. Fantastic and I know that he loves him. The more I pressed, the more upset he got. He just didn’t like the books and he didn’t wanna talk about it.

As I talked about it with my wife, how I was bummed that he didn’t respond to the character the way I’d hoped he would, I began to understand that I’ve had a somewhat flawed outlook on comic book equality myself. I’ve always looked at the issue as, men and women are equal so anyone should be able to draw influence and inspiration from any character, without gender being an issue. I had completely failed to consider how important it is, as a young reader, that you *relate* to the character you’re reading. My 6 year old son doesn’t relate to Kamala Khan. Her story just doesn’t speak to him as a reader. He doesn’t think there’s anything “weak” about her, but her story is not something he understands. He’s just more interested in Tiny Titans or Scribblenauts because the characters meet him at his level more. As an adult, I appreciate what Kamala stands for: gender, religious, social, and cultural equality. As a child, those things are not issues for him. He already doesn’t discriminate against people, and he isn’t faced with it on a daily basis. It isn’t a part of his everyday world. I’m thankful for that.

Last one, I promise… I triple-dog-dare you to walk up to Valkyrie and tell her to make you a sandwich because women belong in the kitchen. Go ahead, I’ll just sit here with this popcorn and soda and enjoy the show…

 

Maybe one day someone will make a joke about him wearing a t-shirt with Jean Grey on it, or give him a hard time about carrying around a Wonder Woman cell phone case, but maybe, just maybe, they won’t. Maybe all the “you’re a girl, you have to like girl things” and “you’re a boy, you have to like boy things” is on it’s way out. Maybe our kids will finally be the generation that collectively says “who f–king cares”, instead of feeling pressured into being something that “society” dictates.

As a nerd community, we are in a prime spot to be a beacon of hope and change. We have an influence over culture these days that we’ve never really had before. We’re not just outsiders anymore. We are a huge, thriving part of society, and we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to have a positive influence on the future generations, nerd and otherwise. So get out there nerds, be proud of who you are, and train up your little nerdlings in the way that they should go, so that when they’re old they’ll want to change the world too.

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Stephen Andrew

Stephen has spent most of his life reading comics, watching horror movies, listening to death metal music, and speaking in the third person. His favorite comic book character is The Punisher, and he believes that the Punisher: War Zone movie is criminally underrated. His favorite film of all-time is National Lampoon's Vacation, and his favorite album is Pantera's "The Great Southern Trendkill".

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