June 2, 2010
Real nerd girls
Jezebel ran this today. A casting call is out for a new “reality” TV show, NERD GIRLS. “Smart, sexy, and tech-savvy? WE WANT YOU!”
Stuff like this always burns me up.
Firstly, they’re not really looking for nerd girls. They’re looking for wannabe reality TV stars willing to wear thick plastic cat eye glasses with their usual makeup and short skirts, “intentionally sex up their tech personas,” and embody a fetishized fantasy of what pop culture thinks a tech-savvy fantasy girl should look and be like. Here’s an example, right on the Nerd Girls website: http://www.nerdgirls.com/page/learn
Oh, here are some more: http://www.nerdgirls.com/profiles/
Secondly, they’re only further promoting, not undermining, hurtful and harmful stereotypes about real live girl nerds. The casting call quotes a Newsweek article from 2008 (which burned me up then, but I wasn’t writing a blog yet): “The Nerd Girls may not look like your stereotypical pocket-protector-loving misfits…”
In other words, Oh, but these girls aren’t like those girls. These girls are pretty. These girls are sexy. These girls are fun and flirty and know how to dress right–like real girls. Not like nerdy girls.
Those girls exist (we weren’t wearing pocket protectors anymore, though, even in the early ’90’s), only to the producers of NERD GIRLS, they’re not even good enough to be called nerds anymore.
I have news for the creators of NERD GIRLS. I was a nerd. I am a nerd. And it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t sexy. I wasn’t pretty; I still can’t stand the feel of makeup on my face. Things were not good for me, and nobody wanted me the way I was, for many, many years. But THAT is not what you want to make a TV show about, because that’s not what your audiences want to see and acknowledge.
“Why are Nerd Girls hot right now?” the website asks. But nerd girls are not hot right now. A romanticized, superficial and highly-sexualized fetishization of a fantasy girl pretending to be a nerd is hot right now. I’m willing to bet that things are just as hard as they’ve ever been, and completely not hot, for real girls who don’t fit pop-culture notions of what’s desirable. Who don’t fit in with their peers. Who love science, computers, or books but don’t also love makeup and fashion or look like a Seventeen model. Who can’t wear those shoes because they hurt. Who are odd, who are introverted, who don’t make friends easily. It’s lonely and hard to be smarter than everyone around you, or disinterested in stupid peer culture, or rejected because you’re not willing to pretend to be–not sexy. People don’t love you for it. They sure as fuck don’t want to put you on TV for it. The pretty plastic picture is easier.
NERD GIRLS claims a couple of different goals: To dismantle myths that boys are better at math and science than girls, and that “a female engineer is socially inept with no sense of style.” And, from the website (I’ll be done with this post soon, because I wanna barf every time I have to go look at that website again), to “celebrate smart-girl individuality that’s revolutionizing our future,” and to “encourage other girls to change their world through science, technology, engineering, and math, while embracing their feminine power.”
Okay, so just do that. It would be fantastic to see a series about real female scientists and their struggles in the school and work world, normal women with prestigious scientific careers. I would adore watching a series that really was going to deeply explore and debunk myths about girls’ mathematical ability and follow their journeys through school. But what you’re selling here is not individuality. It’s a pinup girl, just a different one than we’ve seen before, which has little to do with the real lives or feminine power of real girls. It’s nothing but pornography for people who would rather that real, awkward, smart girls were something prettier and more acceptable to mass tastes than they are.
This, NERD GIRLS, is hurting real girls. This is just holding up one more unrealistic, unattainable, beautiful package that they have to embrace or else be judged as not enough.
As an antidote, here a couple of my favorite real girl nerds:
Barbara McClintock, who discovered a type of gene called the transposon, which can jump between chromosomes. She was my historical scientist heartthrob in high school.
And Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote acclaimed, Nebula Award winning science fiction for many years under the pen name of James Tiptree, Jr. She was a Renaissance woman, also having worked as a watercolor artist, a satellite image reader during WWII, and run a poultry farm. There’s a fantastic biography of her out, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, largely about her painful struggle to be herself in a world that wasn’t crazy about who she really was.
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