Today on Blogcritics

Geek Who?

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The Internet is not only changing our outlook on life and work but is also going to change the male/female ratio in the workforce, giving the female population more choices when it comes to work. But what has female work choice to do with geeking? Plenty!

First, let us see the origin of term geek and establish why geek girls and not geek boys. Tom Ziegler researched the origin and changing usage of the term geek and quoted this in a feature on geek.com:

It appears that "geek" outstrips "nerd" by almost 400 years! Seems Mr. Alexander Barclay back in England wrote the following in 1570: He is a foole, a sotte, and a geke also which choseth … the worst [way] and most of ieoperdie [jeopardy]. Why, old Willy used it in Twelfth Night, Scene I, as Malvolio says to Olivia: Why have you suffer'd me to be imprison'd, kept in a dark house, visited by the Priest, And made the most notorious gecke and gull That e're invention play'd on?

The word geek is derived from 'geck' or 'gek' or 'geke'. In its original meaning, "geek referred to a foolish, inept, or clumsy, single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept or a carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken."

As per the MS Word 2000 UK Dictionary, geek is a synonym of nerd, weed, and bore. Eric Raymond describes "computer geek" as "one who eats (computer) bugs for a living." But that was in the past.

All these definitions and meanings are outdated. "It was during the dot com boom (1999-2000) that the usage of the term changed to positive," wrote Tom Ziegler. After a steady transition, the term now refers to keen and expert users of personal computers and the Internet, in an upbeat sense, notwithstanding gender.

It is no longer demeaning in any sense. Gleaning through the use of term in IT publications and online material, I have developed a new definition of female geeks by changing and removing ill-suited parts and disregarding anecdotes, humorous stories, photographs, and cartoons still found on the World Wide Web and in some IT journals. Geek girls are simply skilled females with a purpose. They are comfortable, having no computer or Internet phobia or gender consideration while using them. They may be going for a career in any of the fields related to IT or merely using them for communication or entertainment. They find work satisfaction and motivation achieving and creating anything online.

This isn't, in any sense, a gender fight nor is it the intention to address gender equality and rights issues. The intent here is to see why the female population is less represented in computer fields and how they can be brought up to equitable levels based on merit. A woman pilot is called a pilot and not a girl pilot, a female driving a car is called a driver and not a woman driver, and a girl cook is called a cook, not a girl cook. Why limit computing skills to gender? Yet another unfounded stereotype!

It is not understood how the term geek girl has arisen instead of simply 'geek' in the first instance. In the IT environment, computers (or for that matter, any machines) are neutral. They cannot ascertain the gender of the user. Moreover, IT should be considered a tool that needs to be adapted rather than redefining the terms of gender. Anyone keen about the use of computer technologies should be described as a geek and not necessarily a geek girl or a geek boy. Ideally, there should not be any gender bias when it comes to assigning role and status to women working in IT.

A wide gap exists in head counts when it comes to notable role models like computer science teachers or computer engineers or those using computers and the Internet for communication, but it is not due to technology aversions or any computer phobias. How can the female achieve the skill level that shows in workplaces and personal life? The answer to this question has its roots in social, cultural, historic and economic factors.

Parents here buy computers for boys. Girls still use their "brothers' computers" when they have finished. Girls simply cannot use services in cyber cafes due to the ill repute those public places have earned. Ironically, the developers write gaming and other software targeting male users. Generally speaking, more websites are of interest to males as compared to other half of the population. Parental endorsement, opportunities, and the Web contents set the attitude of female. All this has to change if the female population is to be taken along in this much hyped information revolution.

Despite the constraints and chauvinism of this sort, there are already females who have a strong interest in the field (call them geeks if you must). They are as good geeks as their male counterparts. More than just a career or a meaningful interest, geeking is becoming a way of life for girls; even cool. "It's chic to be geek…" But here one has to look beyond the stereotypical profiles of women in our society to find them. The male to female ratio in undergraduate and postgraduate-level courses in IT institutions is improving. Girls pursuing business degrees (MPAs, MBAs) are also taking more IT courses to further their computer skills. But females will be seen in high profile positions in corporate Pakistan and in native IT hubs when this breed joins the workforce and when corporate Pakistan starts realizing their presence is beneficial in many ways.

Faiza, an MBA from Karachi University who runs his father's gas filling station and carries a laptop says, "In this day and age, a geek is a geek whether girl or a boy. The term refers to computer skills and fascination and not the femininity or masculinity. It is not at all a negative term and no one should feel insulted by it, rather it is a descriptive word."

Perceptions are changing and girls in our society are now more willing to work harder to achieve goals and face the greater demands of hard work; they need it. Most are able to exercise choices and are combining values, which are at once traditional and modern, taking along family and career. Now one can see a marked trend towards working, creativity, and personal fulfillment in females. "More and more girls are seeing their future into IT and a positive attitude towards using information and communication technologies to their advantage is developing," says teacher in the University of the Punjab, Dr. Shahida Jehan.

The changing attitude is preparing a corps of girls skilled in IT changing as the computers are growing to be more commonplace in our society and women and young girls see their male family members achieving more and more things online. Let the word geek spread.

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About Shirazi

  • http://desicritics.org Aaman

    Very cool, not something one thinks of at first blush – please do cross-post to Desicritics

  • http://www.sajshirazi.blogspot.com shirazi

    Aaman. You think so. Thanks.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com Christopher Rose

    You geek!

  • http://www.sajshirazi.blogspot.com shirazi

    Christopher Rose: I pretend to but I still am not perhaps. Thanks.