Geek Girl Navigating the World – Raising a Future Geek, or, The Stuff My Parents Did Right
There’s no denying it. I have grown up to be a geeky adult. A conversation with a friend of mine over my gleeful purchase of a Captain America hoodie (because it had a cowl instead of just a regular hood), made that abundantly clear. I realized pretty quickly into the conversation that I have absolutely no idea what normal people spend their money on. As a matter of fact, as far as I’m concerned, in my house, normal is a setting on the dishwasher.
Being a geek, especially being a female geek has meant that I’ve had to become comfortable with who I am and what I like. That’s not always easy, especially when you’re surrounded by peers who just don’t get it. My disposable income goes towards the purchase of books and DVDs and comics and music. And, of course, the odd action figure or two. My idea of a party is getting together with a bunch of my friends and watching movies together. I write. I write a lot, both fiction and nonfiction. I read more than I write. As I’ve gotten older, more and more, I find that I am actually pretty happy with the person that I am. Sure there are things that I would change, but my geekhood is not one of those things.
Mostly, I have to credit my parents for being a geek. There’s a lot of that burden, such as it is, on my dad. When I was a starry-eyed little sprocket, Dad was the one who kickstarted my evolution when it came to visual media. One of the very first movies that I remember watching with him was the Disney Movie “The Absent-Minded Professor” starring Fred Macmurray. This was during a time when it was still common practice to rent a VCR along with renting the movies, so it was a big deal. The movie was kind of silly, of course, but it was also funny and involved a scientist who wasn’t some kind of total freak (like the ones in Bugs Bunny cartoons, who were all pretty much bad). Sure, he got involved in his work and lost track of time, but he wasn’t a bad guy. Instead, Professor Brainard was the hero of the show.
Dad and I watched reruns of the original “Star Trek” series in syndication right before dinner on most weeknights. “The Trouble With Tribbles” has always held a special place in my heart and, some day, I’m going to name a cat Fizzbin, because cats make about as much sense as that game. When “Star Trek: The Next Generation” started airing, anyone pretty much knew exactly where to find us on a Saturday night. Data was my favorite character on that series and I liked that they handled his stories with a mix of humor and intelligence that wasn’t often spared for other androids on other shows. It was one of the first times that I remember comparing similar types of characters across different types of stories.
When our local library started renting VHS tapes, Dad quickly introduced me to the joys of “The Forbidden Planet”. Up to that point, I had primarily known Leslie Nielsen for the “Naked Gun” movies, which I thought were funny. When Dad told me who the male lead in the movie was, at first I didn’t believe him. He looked similar to that other guy, but this movie was a far cry from the stuff that I normally saw Leslie Neilsen doing. I wasn’t totally familiar with the tropes of science fiction yet, so “The Forbidden Planet” was an entirely new experience for me. Raptly, I watched the story unfold.
There was a mysterious scientist who was creepy and clearly had something to hide. He had a beautiful daughter who had never doubted her father’s word until the strangers showed up in their ship. There was the odd-looking robot and a crew of intrepid spacemen and ray guns that made a slightly metallic “pew pew” noise. It was everything my geeky little self could have ever hoped for in a story.
Dad and I watched “Star Wars” over and over again. We could probably have quoted the entire trilogy to anyone foolish enough to ask at the drop of a hat. When we broke out “A New Hope” it was pretty much guaranteed what we’d be watching the next two nights in a row. Mom usually took it pretty well. I think maybe getting to watch a young Harrison Ford parading around in cavalry pants probably helped our case.
There was also a point in our house where Dad and I were no longer allowed to bring home “The Princess Bride”, “Creature from the Black Lagoon”, or “The Forbidden Planet” because we had watched them so many times that Mom just couldn’t watch them one more time. So, we found other sci-fi movies to watch. About once a year we’d rent “The Thing” and watch it. While it’s still one of my favorite movies, it also has some of the most stomach turning special effects that I have ever watched. I cannot eat during that movie and, at this point, I suspect that I will never be able to.
My Dad doesn’t look like a typical sci-fi geek. He’s a farmer. He wears bib overalls and workshirts and, most of the time, he’s out working on machinery. He does wear glasses, but as for the rest, whatever you might think sci-fi fans look like, I’m pretty sure that my dad will take care of a whole lot of those assumptions for you.
Dad can’t really take all the credit for my geekiness, though. Mom did more than her fair share, to be sure. When I wanted to look closer at toads or snakes or lizards, my mom didn’t tell me that “girls don’t do that”, instead she went out there and caught them for me. The local wildlife was all of the nonvenemous variety (except for certain spiders, which we did not catch), and, by that point, my mom had logged enough hours as a tomboy to be an expert catcher of small critters. Mom always insisted that I had to be careful with whatever creature we happened to be looking at more closely. It didn’t matter how homely that animal was, it was not to be hurt. This rule even extended to the occasional crayfish.
Mom was the one who usually hauled me on trips to the library. She always looked over what I was picking out to read, but she never said that I shouldn’t read any books that looked interesting because they weren’t something girls should read. Early on, I gravitated towards the books about dinosaurs and dragons. So, Mom and I learned at least a smattering of Latin so that we could pronounce dinosaur names.
As I got older, I read more and more fantasy and science fiction. While Mom didn’t really care for the genre herself, she also didn’t discourage my interest in it. My reading habits fit completely in line with my interest in sciences. In my teens, Mom would give me a bad time about reading “weird stuff” and I gave her a bad time about her choice of reading material, but Mom never acted like it was a waste of time for me to read.
When I joined 4-H, that’s when I actually put Mom’s patience and support to the test. My interest in rocks and fossils wasn’t much of a problem. Rocks could be broken outside on the sidewalk if not easily, at least with a minimum of damage to any property or to anyone else. Mom helped me look through mineral and fossil guides to identify what I had in my rock collection and put up with the rocks overflowing first a basket, then several large tins, until, finally it took up most of one corner of my room.
It was the entomology that really ended up testing her limits. Not only did we have to make most of the equipment that I used for catching bugs, she had to put up with little bug corpses being carefully placed onto pins and enshrined in boxes. Even then, I think she was probably mostly all right with the process. Soon, we realized that the insects actually held up a little better if we froze them, instead of making kill jars with nail polish remover. Then, Mom had to deal with jars of dying and recently deceased insects in her freezer. That was all very well tolerated, until the day that I found a cicada killer wasp lying stunned on our sidewalk. I was out of jars, so I got a piece of tinfoil and made a little box and stuck it in the freezer. Then, I completely forgot about it until I heard my full name shouted under the force of my mother’s shock. She’d thought it was a package of meat. She was not amused. Unfortunately, I heard how unamused she was from clear across the property. That was really the beginning of the end of my entomlogy career.
Still, my interest in the sciences was never discouraged, whether it was geology, entomology, paleontology, even simple mechanics. Nothing was really off-limits to my curiosity if I expressed interest. Both of my parents were willing to let me ask questions and learn things for myself. I can’t remember a single time that either one of them said anything discouraging about what girls were supposed to like or how girls were supposed to behave. At our house, it was always a matter of taking it in stride that the kid had found something else to ask questions about.
I grew up and went to college and I majored in a science. A science that, I might add, is not necessarily all that popular with girls, still. I still read and watch a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and, again, while there are other geeky girls like me out there, we aren’t as common as you might expect. Our numbers are growing, though. Every year, more girls are finding their way to science and to comics, and to science fiction. It’s exciting that we’re gaining both traction and acceptance. There’s no reason to be ashamed of being a geeky girl. And, if you’ve got a budding geek in your household, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be proud of that.