Well, hate’s a strong word. I don’t hate The Mary Sue. But gender-based sites make me itch.
Truth is, Internet culture has evolved way past the gender divide. Aside from the occasional idiot smashing out “Tits! Tits! Tits!” to express the insane awesomeness level of a new gadget, I don’t encounter a high volume of girl-o-phobia in the online geek world. What I fear is a far more insidious attitude: the assumption that women just aren’t interested in technology.
(More on Techland: Wired vs. Women: Too Much Objectification in Tech?)
Unfortunately, this puts The Mary Sue directly in the path of my skepticism tractor beam. In my experience, I’ve found “Geek for Girls!” sites to be little more than a tortured search for a girly angle on issues that have nothing to do with gender. For most lady-geek blogs, the content is nerdy, sure, but packaged in “pink.” Why? The practice is historical. Institutional. A whole set of -al’s.
This isn’t anything new. In 1923, the A.C. Gilbert Co. released the first of its iconic chemistry sets, marketed exclusively to boys. It took 30 years for the toymakers to acknowledge that girls might want to play scientist too, and so Gilbert released the Lab Technician Set For Girls. Wait. Lab technician? Yes, inside the stereotype-laden little pink box were all the instructions young girls needed to assume “assistant status” during playtime. Bigoted? A bit. But the idea it spawned created more lasting harm: “Science must be specially marketed for girls to take interest.”
That’s why I take issue with editor Susana Polo, a former assistant editor of The Mary Sue’s sibling-site Geekosystem, when she writes “I have never met a geek girl who was even halfway interested in almost anything Cosmopolitan had to say. We were too busy reading Cicada and Popular Science when we were the age that Teen Magazine wanted our attention. I’ve rarely seen a ‘women’s’ site that seemed to report on much that I was half-way interested in.”
(More on Techland: The Felicia Day Interview)
She’s right. Growing up, us “geek girls” probably learned more from Judy Blume than any article that promised “100 ways to blow his mind in bed.” But while Cosmo and the dweeb-set may not speak the same language, since when is being a geek about telling others they don’t belong?
The site’s first commenters shared my concern. “I am a Geek Girl. But I’m still a girl. My tastes are wide and varied, and I take exception with the fact that you think I can’t be a Geek Girl if I like the things I like, said one. “Most of my Geek Girl friends share some of my likes, the ones you say belong to ‘non-Geek Girls.’”
See what we’ve opened here? A Pandora’s box of definitions that we’ll never be able to agree on.
Now to be clear — I’m an unconvinced reader, but a reader nonetheless. That’s because the content of the site, independent of Polo’s girl-geek Magna Carta, is quite nice. Today we’ve got Looney Tunes clips and an awesome binary necklace. They’ve got my attention there. Still, the site is just doing what the rest already are: reblogging content found around cyberland. “But this time, it’s for girls!” (See. It’s annoying, right?)
(More on Techalnd: Should We Teach Web Etiquette in Schools?)
Getting technical, it doesn’t look like the site has mastered Web 101 just yet. Yesterday afternoon, The Mary Sue still wasn’t optimized for SEO and title tags weren’t search friendly. I took the issue to wonderful fellow lady geek (and TIME staffer) Miral Sattar, who wondered just how a “Girl Guide to Geek Culture” managed to overlook indexing the site into Google search. “That’s rule number one,” she said in e-mail. “That’s the first thing I looked for and was disappointed when no stories came up in Google News. Any geek would know that.”
While I look forward to The Mary Sue’s content in the future, I’m definitely doing it as a geek, not a girl. And you know what? That’s tits.