Chris Hardwick is the co-founder of the Nerdist company, which over the years has grown from a podcast to one of the foundational sites for nerd culture. It would not be too far off to claim, that Hardwick along with people like Felicia Day, Whil Wheton, and many others founded the new wave of nerdism that populates our current pop culture mindset. That is why it is so disturbing to read the article written by Chloe Dykstra on Medium, that details his emotional and sexual abuse of her throughout their three year relationship. She does not mention Chris Hardwick by name, but the time periods match up and it has been confirmed by other sources who knew Hardwick away from the cameras. We need to remember that as nerds, we are not immune to the lessons of the MeToo movement.
Its a Hardwick Life for Nerd Girls
Chris Hardwick’s actions are indefensible, but in the name of journalistic integrity we must mention that he does deny the allegations. However, that has not stopped Nerdist from scrubbing all mention of him from their sites. Because of this truth coming out his star is already falling and the nerd community will move on without him, doing the same awesome, fun, and childishly entertaining things we have always done. Yet, there is also a deeper lesson to be talked about here. We cannot escape the fact that nerd culture -especially convention culture and video game culture– is pervasively anti-woman. Now do not get us wrong. The past few years have seen nerd culture come a long way, with many positive depictions of women, and even more so than with mainstream culture. As an entertainment industry we have always had our fair share of Ridleys, Dana Scullies, and Wonder Women, but as an inclusive and accepting movement, we still have a ways to go.
Nerd culture has a shameful history of machismo -or whatever is the geekier version of it- which has existed since its inception. Women are valued as characters, but undervalued as members of the culture. Nerd girls are seen as something less, or as imposters or invaders. Part of this -undoubtedly- comes from the insecurity of many geek men, but the larger and meaner part stems from a pervasive feeling of superiority and exclusion. There is a very tangible belief that something cannot be special unless people are excluded from it, and women are the easiest targets. After all, we are taught by society that women are supposed to be pretty and interested in hair and nails, while nerds are supposed to be ugly and weird. That is a hurtful stereotype, but also one we internalize.
That means nerd culture embraces the weirdness but treats women as outsiders, or just cosplayers looking for attention. This has led to GamerGate, harassment, intimidation, and threats made against women in the nerd community. When women are allowed into the club they are often reduced to their scantily clad body bits, and treated as objects for the men in the room. This is the part of the culture that Hardwick embodied, a place where offers of inclusion are merely meant as lip service made in front of a camera or microphone. Behind closed doors he was a controlling boyfriend who treated his girlfriend as nothing but a possession, an action figure he could bend and break at will. After all, Dykstra was a professional cosplayer, so to many in our culture she really was nothing more than eye candy with a cape.
We can do better as a community and as individuals. Now is the time where Hollywood, Washington, and all the rest are really beginning to wake up to the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct among the powerful, but we cannot forget about the misconduct of the not-so-powerful too. Nerd culture has been ruled by men since its inception and it is rife with the sort of problems that the MeToo movement is bringing to light. Chris Hardwick may just be the tip of a larger iceberg, and we have to remember to support those that come forward, no matter who it is on the other side of the accusation.
Last Year, Joss Whedon, was accused by his ex-wife of emotional abuse and cheating. It was a news story for about a week and then it blew away. This truth of Whedon seems to run counter to everything he has publicly preached for years, and yet not many people pounced on the story. Maybe 2017 was a different time. Maybe the MeToo movement had not yet fully taken hold. Maybe Whedon’s actions didn’t cross the imaginary line of outrage. Maybe we had other things to worry about at the moment, but for whatever the reason, there were no real professional repercussions for Joss. At least the same cannot be said for Hardwick. At least someone is being held responsible, but we need more of that. We need to show the women of our community and the mainstream culture at large that we are serious about inclusion and treating every member, regardless of gender/race/sexuality with the same value and respect that we show the fictional people of our culture. We should not treat Spock and Chewbacca, better than we treat Tina who works at the Ubisoft booth.
Full disclosure: the person writing this article is a white cis male, as is the majority of the people here at The NYRD, so maybe we cannot exactly talk to this issue with the nuance and investment that many women can. We apologize if we have over simplified any of the issues, but we also feel that it is our duty to point this out. Nerd men need to hold other men just as accountable as the nerd women do. Despite all he has done -and also because of it- Chris Hardwick is not above any woman or man or Hobbit. MeToo should be an issue for all people who claim to love a culture that includes heroes like Captain America, Superman, and Optimus Prime. Our fictional heroes would advocate respect and accountability, so how can we do anything less?