Math is hard, let’s go shopping

In case you were worried, fear no more, Newsweek has confirmed it: it’s okay for women to be smart now. In fact, it’s not just okay, it’s hot.

The Nerd Girls may not look like your stereotypical pocket-protector-loving misfits—their adviser, Karen Panetta, has a thing for pink heels—but they’re part of a growing breed of young women who are claiming the nerd label for themselves. In doing so, they’re challenging the notion of what a geek should look like, either by intentionally sexing up their tech personas, or by simply finding no disconnect between their geeky pursuits and more traditionally girly interests such as fashion, makeup and high heels.

I can’t quite put my finger on what makes this article so teeth-grindingly annoying for me. Maybe it’s the awestruck, overly congratulatory tone: “These girls have chosen to be smart and sexy!” Terrific, let me make sure I get all their names spelled right before I send in the nomination to the Nobel Prize commission. Or maybe it’s the fact that they’re treating it like it’s some sort of trend that we should embrace while we can before it goes the way of Uggs and acid washed jeans. Perhaps it’s because they mention at least a half-dozen times how attractive and feminine the girls they profile in the article are despite their chosen professions or academic pursuits, as if it’s some sort of handicap they had to overcome, like a one-legged ballerina. Or maybe it’s because despite the fact that the “Nerd Girl” revolution is clearly meant to be a boost for feminism, both the subjects of the article and the writers repeatedly use the word “girls” instead of women.

Maybe it says something about the quality of the men with whom I keep company, but I’m genuinely baffled at the notion that in the 21st century it’s still considered a hindrance for a woman to be intelligent. I’m also a bit tired of hearing beautiful women complain that they’re not taken seriously, but that’s a personal thing. I’m a solidly average looking woman, I can’t get too worked up over some Cameron Diaz lookalike who gets laughed at by her date when she wants to go to a museum instead of shoe shopping. It’s like the eternal obese vs. underweight debate: both are convinced that they are treated much more harshly by society than the other, and since neither knows what it’s like for the other, the issue will never be resolved. I’m not saying this isn’t a crappy attitude to have, it is, but we as humans are simply hardwired to care more quickly about situations and scenarios that we can relate to than those we cannot.

I’m all for young women aspiring beyond the traditionally female-dominated professions, but I’m not sure if this is the best way to encourage them. Let’s be clear, it’s not the fact that more women than ever before are pursuing science and technology as careers that’s being celebrated here, but the fact that more hot women are doing it.  It’s not the “geek” part in “sexy geek” that’s drawing attention.  Not every woman has a camera-ready face or a body meant for photo spreads in Stuff (you’ll note in the video included with the article that all of the “Nerdy Girls” are model-thin and conventionally attractive), so one wonders if all the wanking over “hot geeky chicks” is going to have the opposite effect by scaring away those less blessed with nature’s bounty. Think of it, Hooters waitresses will end up being doughy gals with faces that look like they were carved from a potato, and your computer will be serviced by a girl named Tiffanie. It’ll be just like Patton Oswalt’s Alternate Earth.

Further, the article brings to mind the question of what is “feminine,” exactly? According to the writers, it seems to have something to do with liking pink shoes and wearing bikinis. In other words, it’s about as stereotypical a notion as you could imagine. I kept waiting to see if they were going to mention that one of the “Nerdy Girls” writes out her theses in purple scented ink, dotting the i’s with little hearts. Makeup and clothes, that’s what being “feminine” really is all about, apparently. So where does that leave the women who feel comfortable with themselves without bothering with the trappings of traditional femininity, or to a lesser extent than the norm? Are they less “hot” by default, less “feminine”? Gosh, you know, the more you read into the article, the more it seems that there are just eventually going to be a couple more venues where women can be more concerned with duking it out with each other over who’s prettier, who’s sexier and who’s more desirable to men than with making themselves happy and succeeding in their lives. Is this progress? Well, I guess as long as a woman is being valued for her brains as well as her tits, it is a little bit.

If anything good can come out of this, besides young girls becoming less reluctant to focus their studies on math and science, it’s that maybe makeover shows will stop forcing their subjects who wear glasses to take them off, as if the makeover magically cured their astigmatism. A new haircut and a change in lipstick color can do wonders for your appearance, but it can’t make you see any better.

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2 Responses to “Math is hard, let’s go shopping”

  1. You’re funny! I love your cynicism and sarcastic wit.
    WC

  2. ticklingivory Says:

    I read that article actually, and I was not quite sure what to make of it. I am a sixteen year old girl who wears glasses and “geek-ness” proud, but models for an amateur photographer friend on the side.

    I think that the big part of it is that this generation has less girls willing to be a “geek” or out of the trends (Flashbacks to Sluttier Younger by Adam and Andrew). A big point of the article was what you said about getting girls to become less reluctant with their studies. A girl I knew last year who had better grades than me now puts on a short skirt and dumbs herself down. It’s really sad to watch.

    So while I agree with EVERYTHING you said, I think it’s important that showing girls my age (or at least the ones who will listen) that it is okay to be smart is a really big deal, despite the fact that the writer of the article didn’t emphasize that enough.

    Sorry for the long comment! I really did love this witty take on it. =]

    -AJD

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