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That Oatmeal cartoon - Tactical Ninja

May. 16th, 2012

09:05 am - That Oatmeal cartoon

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My conscious sleeping didn't work so well last night. ;-/ Mostly I think because Tuesday is a gym day and also acro day and since it's blood week too, things conspired for me to just be too tired to wake myself up. Meh.

Yesterday there was a thing that bugged me. Specifically, the latest Oatmeal strip, about Nikola Tesla. Normally I quite like The Oatmeal and to be completely honest, this one is not really an exception. It was interesting and informative and if you're bothered about the wireless electricity bit you should probably talk to Professor Toddles because I haven't read up on it.


"What bit?"

This bit:


The offending bit.


"What's so bad about that then? Dude chose to be celibate, it's a legitimate choice."

Yep, it certainly is. And I have no beef with Tesla's choice, or his reasons for it, as an individual. But The Oatmeal decided to make a Thing about it - that thing being that Telsa was even more impressive because he shunned Teh Laydeez for the sake of his work - he felt his work to be more important than sex or relationships with women, and this made him, and I quote, "A Real Geek." Particularly annoying is the little mini-cartoon in which we see a stick-woman offering sex and the Real Geek declining it in favour of more important things, while the Not Geek doesn't have anything more important to do.

There are touches of geek glorification throughout the strip, but that's another topic. What's bothering me here is this business of The Geek only being Real if he* prioritises work over women. It's a trope that's everywhere in so-called geek culture - the man is the Geek Doing Important Things and the woman is an irrelevant distraction. You've heard of 'computer widows' right? Funny how it's the female noun that gets used for that, eh? Can't think why.. Oh yeah, that's right, it's because it's assumed that the one Doing will be the man, and the role of the woman is to try to distract him from his focus in order to have a relationship. Relationships with women being trivial compared with whatever The Geek is doing.

*cough*

"So what? It's one cartoon strip. Why are you acting like this is a big problem?"

Well, it's not just one cartoon strip. It's not unique to geek culture either. Check this out:



That's the latest Tui ad. According to this article, it's actually Tui's attempt to be less sexist than usual. Notice a familiar trope in that ad? Over to you, Hand Mirror:

"Women are treated as distractions from the real thing: a men-only, testosterone-laden, beer-drinking sport session."

Gosh, they noticed it too. And there's nothing less associated with the geek culture I'm familiar with than beer-drinking sport sessions with Everyman, right? And yet, apparently women are Distraction From The Important Stuff in that culture too. What say you, Tui?

"DB says camaraderie and irreverence are crucial aspects of the Tui brand."

Hmm. So in order to portray camaraderie, they have to set up men sticking together for their goal despite women's attempts to distract them. I wonder why it's never women sticking together despite men's attempts to distract them? But that's a ridiculous idea right? Why on earth would women need camaraderie and why would men try to distract them? After all, only men have Important Things to do.

Yes, I am being a little OTT there. But the trope is real, and it's everywhere. Still not convinced? Let me tell you about Aaron.

Aaron is the YoT's cousin. He was about 3 or 4 in 1994, when the family decided to have an outdoor barbeque. Everyone was standing around being social as you do, and I needed to talk to the YoT's Dad about something. I asked Aaron if he'd seen him. He replied "Don't bother the men, they are talking about important business stuff." (or words to that effect, it was a long time ago but that seared into my brain)

From the mouths of babes.

Because he meant it, seriously. At 3 years old he had already picked up that men talked about important stuff and women 'bothered them' while they were doing it, were distractions and that was bad. That kid will be 21 this year, he's an adult - and probably one that watches the Tui ads unless something major has changed. Yes, I know, it was Dargaville, but Dargaville isn't the only place this belief is held.

You see, even if Aaron grew up to be a geek who was into learning facts about Tesla, he'd still be getting fed the same trope, through things like that bit in the Oatmeal. And when he gets into a relationship (be it with a man or a woman), he'll have this background, unquestioned 'knowledge' that women distract men from Doing Important Things. And he'll treat them accordingly.

I am not a distraction, I am a person. My Things are also Important. And while I respect that everyone sometimes Does Important Stuff and shouldn't be distracted, I seriously resent the implication that by my gender I am always the distraction and my Things are always the trivial ones. I'm sorry if my speaking out about this makes you uncomfortable. I know that many of my friends do not think in these tropes - but we're all exposed to it, a lot of the time. Maybe for me, making sure that people around me see these things and understand why they bother me is some of my Important Stuff. I dunno, I reckon trying to make sure the world has less Aarons in it is probably pretty Important.

* It's always a he. Except in xkcd. Which is one of the reasons I like xkcd.


Last night we did lots of bluebird stuff. Bluebird looks like this:



Neither Tom nor I were really on last night but we muddled through. I only have one giant bruise on my shin (there's probably a matching one on his knee), and we definitely made improvements in all areas. Also, it's taking a bit of getting used to being flung around. I have always felt big, ungainly and gangly next to my friends, and it's a strange kind of cognitive dissonance to have someone pick me up and manipulate me as if I weigh nothing.

But I like it.

Comments:

From:clashfan
Date:May 15th, 2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
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Furthermore, Tesla being a virgin by *choice* is all rot. He had a phobia about touching human hair, making any kind of physical affection nearly impossible. The guy was a genius, but was also a walking bundle of neuroses that finally overwhelmed his life. He was likely the archetype of the 'mad scientist' trope.

He didn't not form sexual relationships because they would 'distract' him from his work.
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From:tatjna
Date:May 15th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
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So that bit is just Oatmeal doing a bit of trope-spreading?

Awesome.
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From:clashfan
Date:May 15th, 2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
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I can't speak to what the Oatmeal were doing, or what they know. But most of the cartoon is, in fact, awesome.
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From:tatjna
Date:May 15th, 2012 10:09 pm (UTC)
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I agree. Although that bit about every home on the planet is.. yeah. For the most part, I really liked it and really wish that Oatmeal would just think a bit harder and leave out the stuff that makes me facepalm.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:May 15th, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
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I'm pretty sure the Oatmeal's primary purpose is to spread tropes of the internet!
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From:tatjna
Date:May 15th, 2012 10:32 pm (UTC)
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Sadly, this isn't just an internet trope.
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From:rivet
Date:May 15th, 2012 09:42 pm (UTC)
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It's hilarious to me that you know that.
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From:clashfan
Date:May 15th, 2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
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And yet, predictable, wasn't it? ;-)
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From:adam_0oo
Date:May 15th, 2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
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I agree with that ad. Women are the WORST!
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From:tatjna
Date:May 15th, 2012 09:55 pm (UTC)
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:May 15th, 2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
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The Oatmeal comic doesn't reserve geekdom to men. It says "how to tell is someone is a geek". True, a man and woman are depicted in the subcomic, but the cognitive dissonance of talking about Tesla and then reversing the gender of the primary character would probably confuse people.

I also think it's hyperbole (there are lots of geeks who have sex, and if you're a geek about sex, then clearly this would short circuit the whole premise), but for many people sex is/can be a highly desirable thing, so to forego that for the thing that someone is a geek about conveys a sense of passion about the subject that nongeeks do not have. (and there is there is a lot of other hyperbole in the comic, but exaggeration is often used for comedic effect... it'd be boring to read if it was a dry historical text with every statement couched in conditionals.)

I could get upset about this comic (despite the fact I love it):



Because it displays the man as the instigator of sex (stereotype), and that this pestering is sometimes displayed as a nuisance to women are trying to get things done or just uninterested as well as displaying them as the one who decides (stereotype). Because yes, all men are annoying like that right?

In summary, and generalising: people like sex, if a person foregoes it for something that looks like boring work to other people, then they might be a geek.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:May 15th, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
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I kept it on the office door while doing mine, and it was right next to the floor's kitchenette... it may have become a bit of the meme among the postgrads.
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From:tatjna
Date:May 15th, 2012 10:18 pm (UTC)
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You missed the asterisked bit - it's always a man, and that's what makes it a trope. Thus, while the Oatmeal comic doesn't explicitly reserve geekdom to men, 'geekdom is for men' is a trope and the Oatmeal comic perpetuates it. Seriously, the comic would have been just as good without that bit.

A good test of a trope is if you switch the roles and it becomes funny/ridiculous, which I actually put a bit about in the post up there.

Your analysis of the subtext and stereotyping in the ninja comic (which I also like) is bang on - this is one of the reasons for the statement 'sexism harms everybody'. The notion of women as the gatekeepers of sex constructs men as impulse-driven, unevolved animals - this isn't really helpful for anyone, eh?

Also, this is worth reading. It's about how to deal with the difficulty of acknowledging something is problematic while still enjoying it.

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From:ferrouswheel
Date:May 15th, 2012 10:36 pm (UTC)
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I wasn't aware of that trope.

It seems "trope" is used in a different way to the dictionary or wikipedia definitions. Was this word adopted for some different meaning? As I understand, the closest match is "trope" as being a recurring theme. With no judgement about it being necessarily bad (there is also trope as "figure of speech", but that doesn't match either really).

To be honest, I don't find the subtext of the ninja comic a problem. It could equally be a man preparing his thesis, with a women pestering him. And then it'd be part of the "geekdom is for men" trope (since PhDs are necessarily geeky).
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From:tatjna
Date:May 15th, 2012 10:43 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, recurring theme is a good way of putting it, or a style of discourse (from the philosophical application), usually commonly understood. And yeah, there is no value judgement in the word 'trope'.

This is worth reading too - The Fedex Arrow - along similar lines to the first one but more practical and less in-your-face. It's the thing I was pointed to when I was having trouble over how much I enjoyed Avatar despite knowing how problematic it was. It's about the different responses people might have to a thing, and has a very good series of questions regarding when someone else points out something problematic and you don't see it as so.
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From:tatjna
Date:May 15th, 2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
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This is true, although you are right - my bones are closer to the outside, I am not compact I am rangy, and this does make a difference to how my body works, leverage wise.
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From:Will Marshall
Date:May 16th, 2012 12:59 am (UTC)
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Grrr. Wireless power. It's an urban legend and it pisses me off that so many otherwise-intelligent people believe it. GRRRR.
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From:mundens
Date:May 16th, 2012 06:33 am (UTC)
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Wireless power ain't an urban legend.

http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/everyday-tech/wireless-power.htm
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From:wildilocks
Date:May 19th, 2012 02:01 pm (UTC)
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Yah and there's also Witricity which is getting more investment... ;)

:D
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From:polychrome_baby
Date:May 16th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
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I find this particular trope to be largely untruthful about geekdom, too.

Geeks, in my experience, value sex. At least in the areas of the world that I've been a geek we value sex.

Because geeks are smart and value sex, they have a tendency to not be stupid about the source of that sex, either. Thus I have seen many straight and bi geek men who were learned and vociferousness feminists.

The ones who are all "the men are talking now. Go along and play dress up with the other girls," tend to find themselves not welcome at most events, and eventually shunned from the geek circles. Mind you, we have a very robust geek culture in the US SouthEast (I would suspect because it is so very subculture, and an incredibly repressive culture tends to create very strong subcultures), so that just might be a thing here. Dunno.
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From:polychrome_baby
Date:May 16th, 2012 03:00 am (UTC)
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That should read "vociferous" the ness added itself because I'm damn tired.
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From:tatjna
Date:May 16th, 2012 03:12 am (UTC)
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My social group is pretty non-sexist too.

I hesitate to label anything 'geeky' or 'not geeky' because there is a developing view of 'geekdom' as something special and different (read: superior) that is grating on me more and more. However, yes, I'm surrounded by smart people who do interesting things and, AFAIK, value sex. And you will never hear "Men are talking now" said in any of the so-called geeky places I frequent.

In fact, I doubt there are many people who would forego sex and companionship for the sake of calibrating a thing - at least, not on an ongoing basis. And yet here we have The Oatmeal saying explicity that in order to be a Real Geek, that's exactly what you have to do. And given that in the vast majority of these types of references, the Geek is a man and the Distraction is a woman, it tells me that even if this view isn't held by my corner of 'geekdom', it's held somewhere, sufficiently strongly for me to keep seeing it. This sort of low-grade sexism is dangerous, IMO, because people don't see it.
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From:thesecondcircle
Date:May 16th, 2012 09:45 pm (UTC)
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So I'd say there are two common memes here. One: women annoy men while they do their big important business. Two: geeks are people who get so wrapped up in their work that even sex takes a backseat. I think we can agree that number one is sexist and untrue.* As for number two, we might agree that the ability to get caught up in a mental challenge you love to the exclusion of all else is true, however that doesn't equate directy to "geeks don't like sex."

My advice for you and for Oatmeal: Don't cross the memes... it would be bad. **



* Although I'd point out that it probably used to be true, since women were relegated only to those roles that society as a whole didn't consider important. One branch of early feminism in the US (domestic feminism) approached the problem from the point of view that women and men had different roles, but that women's roles were equally important. Another branch (political faminism) instead said that women and men shouldn't have different roles, they should have choices and equal rights. While political feminism initially won out, we can see domestic feminism in action today as stay at home moms (and caregivers and teachers of children) fight to be valued equally with more "male" choices.

** I concede that you might find my argument specious because it's entire purpose was a cheesy Ghostbusters pun.
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