The Geek Girl Survival Guide

Friday February 21 2014
by Merrin M

Lovely girl geeks1, gather close: you are some of the most important people to the future of the world. You love to learn things, and know things, and make things, and do things. The things you learn, make, and do can change the world for the better.

But you’re probably aware that it can be pretty tough for a girl in any field of geekery dominated by boys. You might be held to different standards than your male compatriots; people might find it harder to believe and respect you; and you might be treated badly. But I want you to stick with it because I think you can make the world a better place if you do what you do best.

So here are some tips for you to get through those extra bits of rubbish that you get for being a geek girl and help other people get through them too. You’re still going to need to work really hard to get really good at the thing you love.

1. Be good to each other.

Make friends. Be a mentor. Ask for advice. Forgive people. Pass on opportunities to others. These are things that can never really go amiss in general, but especially be good to other women in your field. It can be really hard not to fall into the trap of being super-competitive and mean to other women, but it’s always worth it to create positive relationships.

2. Learn everything you can.

You got into this thing you do because you enjoy it, right? You enjoy learning new things, solving problems, and being delighted at how much you’ve improved?

Read about it! Talk about it! Practise it! Do it! It’ll make you better at the thing you love. That is always worth doing.

3. Teach everyone you can.

Even if you’re not an expert - even if you’ve just started out - teach things you’ve learnt to people who don’t know them. It’s really important for people to see women as knowledgeable authorities in your field, and teaching people of any gender can improve that. Seeing how much you can teach others can help your confidence and drive to learn more as well.

4. Find, create and support positive spaces.

You want to do your thing, right? And it’s a lot easier when you can collaborate and exchange ideas with interesting people who treat you well, right?

When you're in a visible minority, it's a lot harder to find places where you can do this and feel safe enough to be creative and unconstrained. So when you find a group of people, a workplace, or a club where you can, treat it as a wonderful and fragile treasure. And if you can't find one, know that there are other people that need one too, and consider making one.

Even though a positive space for women doesn’t necessarily have to be women-only, I think it helps a lot to have events that explicitly prioritise women in order to help them break into heavily male-dominated industries.

Events like this for women and girls in technology include Geek Girl Dinners, Rails Girls, PyLadies, and so on - these are all global efforts run by local people all over the world, and you can see if there’s one where you live by checking their site. If there isn’t, and it’s a field you’re in, consider starting one. Put out the call asking who would help you run it. If you’re in a different field and there aren’t women-positive events for your field, try regularly meeting up with women in your field in your area, or finding or creating online spaces to talk to women in your field in other areas.

Another way you can make sure spaces are positive is to have codes of conduct and ensure there are ways in place to deal with harassment. Ashe Dryden has a good rundown of why this is important and how it can be enacted.

5. Be good to yourself.

Sometimes the thing that you do can be frustrating, and sometimes people can be hurtful. Sometimes you need to leave toxic environments and find or start something better. All through these things, be kind to yourself. Remember that statistically people are usually going to underestimate you, so have a more optimistic view of your capabilities. Remember that failure is not as big a deal as it feels. Remember the people that look up to you, and the people who’ve invested in teaching you. Remember that you’re important.

And don’t forget to get excited and make things!


1 (Who counts as a geek girl, you ask? Well, I’m a big believer in the power of self-identification. If you’re inclined to identify as both a girl and as a geek, I’m going to treat you as such. Maybe you like to play games, or make games, or program computers, or make internet, or make science happen, or maybe you geek out about something else really interesting. Whatever it is, if you’re a geek, that’s brilliant.)

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