It’s a well-understood stigma: living in “mom’s basement” beyond say, one’s 20s is the universal sign of being a nerd. This special category of person is assumed to have a socially unacceptable obsession with/fixation on one or more of the following:

1. Star Trek/ serialized science fiction programs
2. Comic books
3. Role-playing games/ Dungeons and Dragons
4. Multi-user games (Second Life, World of Warcraft)
5. Anime and the like
6. Etc.

While women are certainly part of the “nerd” subcultures listed above, they are not corralled into the virginal terrain of the “mom’s basement”—a symbol, most of all, of refusing to grow up, and not having to.

Not to say women are not nerds (in the context of this post “nerds” and “geeks” are defined by excessive fandom), but they are in fewer numbers. The fairer sex’s few geeks seem to gravitate toward fantasy and historical genres more so than science fiction and superheroes (perhaps fantasy appeals to the romantic impulse?). “Goth” is a very feminized subculture, partly because of its emphasis on make-up and vampiric dandyism. The Renaissance Fair runaways, Celtic witches and Lord of the Rings devotees all are feminine nerd culture staples, but there is little association here with the desire to remain tied to the domestic sphere of one’s parents (if anything the imperative is to go outside—to the woods or some such place and, I’d imagine, wander about).

Most women who become devoted to domestic serialized fandoms select pop products like soap operas, celebrity gossip rags, or talk shows not because these women are without refined aesthetic, but because as they engage with the program or magazine, they’re often simultaneously performing domestic work. Stay-at-home moms work around the clock. Should they choose to watch a program, it needs to be simplistic enough to be able to walk away from– be it the baby is crying, the oven timer goes off, or her 40 year-old son wails from the basement that he wants a sandwich as he clicks away on game controllers. She can’t exactly be watching “hour 17” on 24 if she’s going to tend to her charges.

One might think with more or less limited options in life, women would gravitate toward the escapism Star Trek and the like offer their followers. Yet the amount of energy and time required to truly take part in this kind of demanding subculture prevents her from participating because (most) women don’t have expectations that they will be served by others. Even when husbands act as breadwinners, women earn their keep in the household, often becoming a domestic service/care worker.

This, I propose, is also why “subculture” in its many forms is often masculine, whereas mass-culture is highly feminized. Yes, it would be nice to have an impressive underground No Wave record collection, but more often than not, adult lower to middle class women have to worry about wage-working, cooking, cleaning, raising children (all unpaid work that takes place after so-called “real” work) staying thin and beautiful, seeing family (the elderly often fall into her charge as well), etc. etc… how can she possibly have the time? Oprah’s convenient stamp-of-approval, easily digestible pop hits on top 40 radio, and photo-caption based news will appeal to the consumer who doesn’t have as much disposable income/free time as the sneering connoisseur.

Being part of a subculture, like being a nerd, is a luxury.

Geekdom is a measurement of class and social status. This is why white men dominate nerd culture, but women and racial minorities are less likely to learn to speak Klingon fluently. The lower economic classes of both genders and all races may be completely absent from these hyper-involved fandom cultures. It requires money, time, and most of all, the care of another to be part of this elite club.

Of course, when these obsessions reach their extreme in adolescence, it’s endearing and sympathetic, but upon entering adulthood, the choice to remain in the care of one’s parents for the sake of Thorg, your World of Warcraft avatar exposes a social reality: the expectation of a woman’s (in this case mom’s) lifelong service.

Let’s be clear: I luv me some geekdom, but the social implications of this kind of fringe-culture excess do not, let’s say, escape my notice.

The successes of the feminist movement may very well be measured by women’s participation in geek culture. When women have a “dad’s basement” stigma, we’ll know we’ve made it.

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