One of my personal goals as a geek is to lead by example, which in most cases means following “Wheaton’s Law“. In fact, I’ve always taken pride in trying to include anyone who might want to be more geeky. The way I see it, the more people we convert, the better. “Geek” isn’t a members only club, it’s a term to express a devotion to books, games, television, movies, et al; and is in now way meant to exclude an individual. Which is why, when my friends Nathan and Beth Laws visited me recently they told me a story about their daughter Rachel I found myself angry, quite frankly. After that passed though I realized I wanted to make this into a story. When I pitched the idea to Legion of Leia founder Jenna Busch, she told me to get in contact with Nathan immediately as she felt, just as I did, this story needed to be shared.
Read on for Rachel’s Story
Legion of Leia: If you’d don’t mind, could you tell us a little bit about Rachel?
Nathan Laws: Rachel is a very energetic seven-year-old girl. She was diagnosed with autism when she was three but is considered “high functioning.” Many people who know her superficially don’t even realize that she has any kind of developmental disorder, but she does have sensitivity issues and has difficulty relating to people, which makes it hard for her to form interpersonal relationships.
Rachel loves all kinds of athletic activities. She loves to race and play on the playground. She’s very interested in basketball right now and likes riding her bike every chance that she gets. She also has roller skates and a scooter. She loves anything that allows her to go fast.
Rachel is also incredibly bright. Although she had some speech delays, when she started talking she talked in whole sentences. She reads at a fourth grade level. In fact her teacher let her take the old school library encyclopedias home because they are going to electronic versions. She likes to be able to look up anything that she wants to at any time. She also loves art. She loves to draw, sculpt, and paint any chance that she gets and one of her many dreams is to be a painter someday.
Legion of Leia: So why did Rachel love Superheroes so much?
Nathan Laws: Rachel absolutely loved the Flash because he was silly and because in her words, “he can run fast, just like me.” She also liked Spider-Man and Iron Man a lot because she thought they were funny and smart. She also really liked Supergirl because she felt like she could identify with her because they kind of look alike and because Kara is different from everyone around her and doesn’t like to be told what to do. I remember that she cried a lot when she stayed in the future in Justice League Unlimited.
She also enjoyed the bonding time that we had watching the various shows. From the time she was 4, she and I watched through all of Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, Batman:Beyond, and Justice League/Unlimited. We also watched the 90’s X-Men series and The Spectacular Spider-Man series. She really seemed to enjoy the adventure aspect of the stories.
She also used to really like Transformers. When I asked her once why she likes Transformers she answered with “they’re vehicles that change into robots” as if that was all the answer that was needed. She inherited my 80s Transformers that I’d kept in storage from when I was a kid and she named her closet “Cybertron” and kept them all there in well ordered formations. She would take a few out at a time and really loved transforming them. Grimlok was her favorite character and she cried when Optimus Prime died in Transformers: The Movie.
Legion of Leia: If you could, tell me why Rachel stopped liking geeky things.
Nathan Laws: On her first day of school in first grade she wore a Spider-Man backpack and brand-new Spider-Man shoes with lightup eyes. Before the bell even rang, three boys from her kindergarten class approached her and asked her “why do you have Spider-Man stuff? You’re a girl. Girls don’t have Spider-Man stuff.” We know this because my wife was there and saw it happen.
Over the next few days many other incidents like this happened. Rachel became very upset because they wouldn’t leave her alone about this. After a while she started telling us that she had “changed” and she didn’t like “boy stuff” anymore. Because of the gap that that left in her life she threw herself into other geeky pursuits that were considered more appropriate for a girl. Right now she’s a big fan of My Little Pony, Frozen, and Sailor Moon. Thankfully she hasn’t given up on geeky stuff completely, but she is abandoning anything that she considers to be for boys.
Legion of Leia: What has been your reaction to this?
Nathan Laws: We’re fine with her liking things like My Little Pony, Frozen, and Sailor Moon but we don’t like the fact that she thinks that she can’t like other things because “she’s a girl”. If you ask her she’ll tell you that she decided to do this on her own, but the fact that the timing is right after she was harassed makes me think that she’s making a change just to satisfy the kids at school and that makes us really mad. We don’t want to force her to like things that we like but we also don’t want her to be forced not to like those things either. It’s really frustrating because she already has difficulty finding ways to express herself and she knows that she’s different, so any time the kids at school point out another difference she gets very upset and agitated about it.
Beth has tried to be a positive geeky influence as a woman by wearing her many geeky shirts to show that it’s ok to like superheroes and that there’s nothing wrong with that. She’s trying to show her by example that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. From time-to-time I’ve tried to get her back into watching superhero things with me, but she keeps refusing. Her Sailor Moon and Wolverine dolls did get married a while back though, so maybe I should just tell her that she has to spend some time with the in-laws.
Legion of Leia: Has it been hard supporting her decision to step away from these things she loved so much?
Nathan Laws: We want to support Rachel in the things that she wants to do, but this feels like something that she feels forced to do. We’ve tried not to push it with her and have just tried to use opportunities to tell her that these gender distinctions are arbitrary and that she doesn’t have abide by them. She isn’t really convinced because we’re “mom and dad”, so it has been difficult. We’d love for her to share in things that the rest of the family enjoys and it’s difficult because she’ll complain if we want to watch or do something that involves something that she’s been told is for boys only.
Legion of Leia: If you could talk to the parents, or really any parents out there about bullying kids, what would you say?
Nathan Laws: Parents really ought to be careful about what they teach their kids even in passing comments. We’re supposed to live in an enlightened age when boys and girls can all enjoy and be involved in the same kinds of activities, but it’s obvious that somehow these old-fashioned ideas are being passed on. It’s not just parents though. We get frustrated anytime that we buy geeky stuff for our girls at a store and the cashier asks us how old our “boys” are like they assume that no one else could want a superhero themed pair of socks, pj’s, or backpack. That kind of thing can really influence a small child. While it’s great that geeky stuff seems to be better accepted by adults these days, it seems to be that people think it’s only acceptable for boys unless it’s defined as a series for girls.
When I was a boy I watched Rainbow Brite and JEM. If a girl wants to watch Spider-Man, Transformers, or even Silver Hawks; who are we to limit them? Who does it help to set such arbitrary rules? They’re a means of entertainment. You wouldn’t want anyone giving you a hard time for liking your favorite series, so why do that to anyone else? Just let people like what they like.
If you see that your kid feels that girls can’t like certain things or even worse if you know that they’re bullying other kids about it, then it’s your responsibility to sit down and talk with them about it. It’s not harmless. It can really cause some lasting scars for the kids that they bully and it may make it hard for your child to hold such out-of-date views as they get older. Save everyone a lot of heartache before it happens. Also, if you’re the parent of a kid who is being bullied make sure and support them. If it’s about liking geeky things let them know that it’s ok and that they should like what they want to like regardless of what kids at school think about them. It’s up to us as parents to fix as much of this as we can. School is a testing ground for how kids will be when they grow up and we want our kids to be happy and we don’t want them to grow up to be douchebags.
Shaun Rosado is creator and host of a weekly geek podcast called “Shauncastic!,” where he and a rotating cast discuss everything geeky, nerdy and pop culture-y as well as the creator of “Meet At The Tavern,” a blog dedicated to RPGs. He is also a frequent Twittering fool (@Pneumaz). He is married, has a dog, is a massive fan of The Flash and owns a spaceship. One of these is not true.