This page is a resource for men who feel like they aren't sure how to interact with women who have joined their geek community, in particular, it lists errors to avoid.
See Interacting with women for more resources.
- Women you've just met aren't any more likely to be your friend than men are, or to be sympathetic about your marital difficulties, job woes, depression or similar, and do not find that having strangers force emotional intimacy on them makes geekdom more welcoming and friendly. Save the personal revelations for your friends.
- Don't ask women to explain other women to you when the only thing the two people have in common is being women. Women geeks have no special insight into your wife, daughter or woman colleague by virtue of shared womanness.
- Respect that sometimes, a woman may not want to talk to you or interact with you. It might be about you, or it might be that she's busy, tired, deep in thought, in the hack zone, or similar. This is a basic tenet of interacting with women: they might choose not to interact with you.
- If you don't for whatever reason know and recognise them, learn the polite signs people try and give in person when they want to end a conversation. Many women are trained by men's anger to be as non-confrontational as they can when ending interactions with men they don't know well. When you see these signs, say something polite and leave the conversation and the woman's immediate vicinity if possible.
- In general watch out for wording things as if you divide the world up into two groups: "people" like you and "women".
- When talking about female humans, use the words woman and women, not "girl(s)" unless you are very sure that you mean to talk purely about female children. Also, don't use "females", to most English speakers it sounds like a scientific description, like you're a biologist. "Female" can be used as an adjective. The noun you want is "woman".
- Don't use friendly/joking names for women ("ladies", "fems", "gals"), especially when you're new to a forum, it's too easy to sound belittling. Try "writers", "commenters", "moderators" and similar. "Folks" or "people" will often do as a more informal way of describing the people there.
- While the word "guys" is sometimes inclusive of women, it also sometimes isn't. Consider how it comes across when you describe a group of geeks as "guys". See also: Nonsexist language.
- Avoid talking as if everyone in hearing can be assumed to be sexually attracted to women and motivated to do things in order to please attractive women. This is alienating to both straight women and gay men because they aren't attracted to women, and also to women regardless of sexual orientation, because they become reminded of the male gaze fixed upon them.
- Avoid talking as if everyone in hearing can be assumed to regard women as mysterious fey creatures ("can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em"): women usually do not find themselves especially mysterious, and will gather that you're assuming an all-male audience.
- Avoid the words "irrational" or "hysterical" to describe an argument, especially a woman's argument. "Irrational" is often applied to women. And while you may genuinely have not known this, "hysteria" was a fairly recent (mid/late 19th century) medical term for a disease in which women's uteruses were thought to make them crazy, and a lot of women do know this. The term is still vastly disproportionately applied to women even if no one is assuming our uteruses are wandering about.
- Keep your topic of conversations normal for the venue, rather than trying to come up with stereotypical woman-specific topics of conversation like childrearing or crafting. If you're at a computing user group, try talking tech. If you're at a creche, talk about childrearing. If you're in a knitting circle, talk about yarn. If you're in a hot air balloon, talk about the view.
- Generally, avoid personal enquiries about family life and relationships in geek venues as a casual topic of conversation. In particular, there's no reason to ask or assume anything about a woman's menstrual cycle in a geek context (or other non-intimate contexts), feminist or otherwise. Women are used to having PMS accusations and jokes used to paint them as irrational, and even if we weren't, our society generally expects that our reproductive organs and genitals will not be the subject of general conversation. (It's also a mistake to assume you know what sort of reproductive organs or genitals somebody has based on your perception of their outward appearance.)
- Discussing feminism or women's experiences as women in geekdom is not small talk, even, or sometimes especially, with women you know to have strong opinions about geek feminism or to be activists. If you are not working on a geek feminist project with a woman, it is likely best to wait for her to bring up her feminist views or activism. See Breaking the Unicorn Law.