One of the most amazing items missing from the two recent books on nerd culture (American Nerd & Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them) was the difference of the nerd experience of girls and women compared with male nerds.
I was thinking about how easy it would have been to include examples of female nerd culture in these books — the differences in ways of discussing and experiencing pop culture, fanworks (fanfiction, fanvids, and slash), the difference in marketing to girl and women (shoujo /shojo versus shonen anime and manga, especially mahou shojo, the magical girl subgenre).
One other real-world example of the gendered difference in nerd culture is Icanhascheezburger.com, the home of lolcats. While there are male fans and non-nerd fans of lolcats, lolcats is a generally female nerd phenomenon. But why?
First, the gender issue — lolcats are based on cute pictures and it is socially more acceptable for women and girls to be involved with cute things. One such example is the Japanese penchant for all things cute, called kawaii, like Hello Kitty.
Secondly, the nerdyness — lolcats “talk” in their own form of English, based on leetspeek, used primarily by computer programmers.
Those two elements put together (and in my personal non-empirical experience) show the reason why many of the fans of lolcats are female nerds.
For example, look at the picture below — filled with cuteness, yet with oddly stated language. If this would only have the picture, it could be directed at anyone who likes cute or cats; if it only had lolcat speech, it would be directed at anyone interested in subculture speech patterns. But the combination of the two demonstrates that lolcats is directed at those in both groups — female nerds.
The spread of lolcats is detailed in a history page, describing the process by which the cat speaking oddly picture became an internet meme and a website. There has even been detailed analysis, trying to describe what makes lolcats what they are.
Ican hascheezburger.com also has a significant economic role on the internetz — according to Business Week,
A week of ads on Cheezburger, via Blogads, starts at $500 and tops out at $5,400 for a premium position. … It recently ranked No. 26 on the most-linked-to blogs list on Technorati. [Ed: As of this blog post, it is the 13th most popular blog on Technorati.]
According to the Times (UK),
In March , icanhascheezburger reached No 8 in a UK newspaper’s 50 Most Powerful Blogs list. [The week of October 12th], it was recording about 5.5 million hits every day.
The spread of lolcats and its staying power for an internet meme, specifically Icanhascheezburger is quite amazing. Time quotes the site’s creator
“The breadth of cultures [lolcats] has spread to is mind-boggling,” … “We think it has evolved beyond Internet subculture and is hitting the mainstream.”
Time magazine says
The striking thing about lolcats–besides its amazing fecundity and variety and the fact that, unlike a lot of Internet cat humor, it’s actually pretty funny–is how little else like it there is online right now. …
We may be witnessing a revolution in user-generated content, but the more mainstream the Web gets, the more it looks like the mainstream: homogenous, opportunistic and commercial. It’s no longer a subculture; it’s just the culture. And don’t we have enough of that already? Are we facing a future without a weird, vital, creative phenomenon like lolcats? Say it with me: “Do not want!”
Icanhascheezburger is now a book, I Can Has Cheezburger? A Lolcat Colleckshun, by Professor Happycat, “full of kittehs and win!”