Female Nerdiness

[Edit] It has been pointed out to me that this rant ties in neatly with the hate supposedly “fake” nerd girls get from men, especially on the internet. Buzzfeed has a nice collection of memes dealing with the topic. Also, here’s another great collection entitled “taking back idiot nerd girl”.

I am currently teaching a tutorial class at Uni alongside several other almost-graduates accompanying the introductory lecture to English Literature. Our students are required to read Nick Hornby’s Juliet Naked. We’re talking about narrative situations, focalization and so on. I haven’t finished Juliet Naked yet, but so far I find it entertaining. (One of my students already described it as intensely boring though.)

Our professor introduced the novel in the lecture, saying that Nick Hornby seems to display a fascination with “male obsessiveness”. He was, of course, referring in particular to Hornby’s other novels, High Fidelity and Fever Pitch, creating three male protagonists who are obsessed with a rock star, music in general, or football. My professor didn’t outline his opinion precisely, but he made a comment on the nature of what could be called male nerdiness.

I am unable to reproduce his exact words, but he insinuated that men simply have a penchant for obsessive behaviour with nerdy topics. To add some context: he himself is a music fan (I deduce this from his choices in t-shirts). He also (in another class) already made comments in the direction of saying that, well, men are just different than women in that respect, aren’t they?

Remember how much time I spent trying to figure out Salem on my own? Pretty Nerdy...

This made me quite angry, as things always do that suggest anything in that direction. The thing is, it’s not really his fault. I really like that professor, he’s young and relatively open-minded. What makes me angry is simply the unfortunate fact that most people share his opinion.

And that is what it is: an opinion. Not a fact. “Men are more likely to be nerdy, geeks, obsessed with a single topic.” A statement that is meant negatively, that goes in the same lines as “Women are more likely to obsess about their appearance” or “talk excessively to their friends” and suchlike. Of course, many men and women accept the role that society allows them to play gladly. If you deviate, you have to live with the consequences – being called a freak, being an outsider, etc. As much as the cliché of the “outsider nerd” has become as annoying, it’s still very prominent.

Terraria - Hovel

Now what is a nerd, though? A person who devotes large amounts of their time to a single occupation that – at first glance – serves no direct purpose. Playing video games, learning the rulebook of a role-playing-game by heart, painting miniatures, going to LARPs… many things are called nerdy for exactly that reason.

Now I could end this story simply by saying: yes, there are also many women who are part of nerdy communities. Who play games (video or otherwise), read comics or get into heated Star Trek discussions. I might add that this description fits me very well, and I happen to be a woman. A grown-up, who is actually thinking about starting a family one day, and who has the same every-day troubles as everyone else. Now why would I be less likely to become a nerd for something or other?

Honestly, I have no idea. Maybe I turned out so geeky because I have an elder brother who was into these things first. I also recently noticed that my dad has certain nerdy streaks in him – he certainly taught himself how to handle a computer well and is making music videos with nerdy perfectionism. So it’s not an age thing, and it’s certainly not a gender thing either.

Grrr, Feministic Nerd-Rage!

I cannot explain why the things that interest me have such a fascination for me. I spent most of my summer holidays last year translating an obscure time-travel-role-playing-game into German, certainly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, just to be able to play it with a group of friends and find out it was almost too hard to play. Now I’m wrecking my brain over how to make it more playable and how to fine-tune the skill system. I love video games. I love board games and table-top stuff. I don’t know why – I’d like to think that I always need to occupy my brain to prevent myself from overthinking other things – but just because I prefer these things to going out to bars every other night “partying” doesn’t make me a freak. Nor does it make me an “unfeminine” woman or whatever.

I am pissed off with this whole idea that nerdy occupations are a man-thing, and a “childish”, “immature” man-thing at that. And I will always fight to be taken seriously as an adult woman, even though I like to run RPGs or obsess over cardgames. End of rant, thank you for reading. 

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7 thoughts on “Female Nerdiness

  1. Yes! To all 🙂
    I always found it funny,that amongst subcultures the Nerd/Geek was regarted as the most exotic. But that didn`t bother me much. Let them talk and such.
    What get me going much more, is the “modernisation” of the Nerd. As in: it is now chic to be Nerd. Little princess-pink girlies going “oh,look at my Nerdglasses (that stuff allone…),i iz soooo nerdy”.

    So hooray for real Nerdettes and people who don´t care about what label they have been given.

  2. First of all, let me say I totally agree with you. However, I feel the idea behind the whole “male obsession” thing is not that women cannot be interested or obsessed with “nerdy things”, whatever that means, anyway. The idea rather is that only men can or actually do dedicate an incredible amount of time, effort and maybe even money to get to know/collect/try everything there is about one topic. This, in turn, means that only men have the discipline and endurance to be fully taken up by something. If this is stated to be a men’s thingy, than what are women left with? Apparently, we as women cannot focus enough on one topic, we cannot make up our minds about what we really like, we don’t have the discipline to work on something dedicatedly for a long, maybe even a life time. And that is what really upsets me about a statement like this.
    I’m not a “nerd” in the way you describe it. I’m not into computer games or all this stuff that somehow qualifies as geeky. What’s this categorising of things all about, anyway? Honestly, why has nobody ever decided to call people who go clubbing every single weekend and are obsessed with the preparations for that all week nerds, geeks or freaks? That’s certainly not mainstream either. I mean, the idea behind this nerdiness thingy is, surely, that nerds are somewhat different from the “normal people”, isn’t it? Well, if that’s the case, then someone, please, explain me what on earth this “normal” should be. Why do we always have to run around and tell everyone how not so normal we are? Why do we have to be so different from a mainstream that does not even exist? Only because strange magazines suggest that going out every weekend is what people do does not mean that is actually what people do. So, in my opinion, this whole nerd-or-not discussion is really misplaced. Even worse, it does the same thing to so-called non-nerds than does the “male obsession” thesis to women. It excludes people who do not qualify as nerds from this whole idea of being able to be obsessed with something, being so taken up by a topic that they spend more than just their free time on it, and so on.
    Apparently, as I said, I do not qualify as a nerd, nor do I qualify as a man – so what is left for people like me? I’m just too stupid/lazy/whatever to be taken up by things, to invest time in one single topic. I just lack the discipline, endurance and dedication to do so? Well, maybe I’m just a boring mainstream chick, then? Honestly. This whole thing freaks me out. Why do people always have to categories? Why is it always “them” and “us” and “men” and “women” and “nerds” and “normalos”…?
    There is no such thing “male” obsession. I guess we can all agree on that. However, I really feel we should definetly start re-thinking our image of “normal” vs. “nerdy” – it just doesn’t make any sense…

  3. But Morphy, that’s exactly the problem: Why is it so much easier to label a girl “fake” as a nerd?! Do we even give them a chance to maybe enjoy geekdom? Or is “geekdom” just afraid that girls are entering “their” space, somehow distorting it? So let people wear nerd glasses, if they find it chic, I certainly don’t define myself over being allowed to wear certain glasses Oo

  4. And Sönne, as you know I wholeheartedly agree. I wasn’t even meaning to make this rant so video-game-specific. This is exactly my point: I’d say it is nerdy to spent hours and hours bent over a stamp collection, or being really really into a particular type of books, or whatever.

    I do, however, still believe that there is such a thing as a mainstream. And yes, some people just don’t have a particular hobby, whether nerdy or not. And I don’t mind that some of said mainstream is now considering it trendy to wear big glasses or superman-shirts. Why the hell not. It will not destroy anything authentic, just as authentic rock music wasn’t destroyed by H&M selling leather leggins. I can understand that there’s a certain hate towards people who are not “serious” about something – for example there are people who wear Che Guevara shirts but haven’t a clue who the guy was. Some people find this offensive, and I can understand that. But I am surprised that this kind of behaviour in women would result in so much hate from men. And the notion that only men are allowed or have the predisposition to become nerdy is of course ridiculous.

  5. hm,i think the whole “fake nerd girls” stuff is because of the “i wear the stuff, ergo i am the stuff” business.
    most men don´t care ore define themselfes too much abouth the fashion. (some) girls do that (more) often. and “we” don´t like that too much, because being nerd was never really easy. there were things to endure, predjudice to fight and ground to stand. and now one should be allowed to claim that title soo easy?never. *grabs his staff and wizzardhat* 😉

    also: there is a lower percentage of girls in the gamer-edge of nerdom.the nummbers are growing,but slowly.
    i have this female friend who is THE biggest nerd AND geek i have ever met. and she is constantly complaining,that where ever she goes (hackerspaces, game-parties all over the world) there are too few girls there.
    so yeah: chica nerdaea is a rare species to find in the wild. kind of a shiny nerdimon,if you will. ans there are a lot of fakes. but i think that will chance since gaming is becoming more and more mainstream (im looking at you mario with your “everything is coin” game -.-).

  6. But.. No! I don’t think that men, in general, care less about what their clothes say about them. Hell no! Look at all the nerds with their tshirts, rockers with explicit band shirts, and don’t forget about the hipsters! You can’t generalise here. I think, if anything, the whole “I wear nerd glasses, therefore I am a nerd” is a huge misunderstanding. I don’t actually believe “these girls” want to be taken seriously as nerds or whatever, they just think the glasses (and retro video games or whatever on a shirt) are cute. They are allowed to. I think the “nerdy” community waaaay overreacted on this one.

    As for the “title well earned”, I totally disagree again. Being nerdy isn’t something you earn! Goodness, you know how much the thought of not being nerdy enough has tortured me over the years?? I’ve always lived with the thought that I didn’t play enough video games or know enough or whatever. You know how many people have become OFFENDED by the fact that I never got into the Baldur’s Gate series? OFFENDED. As if someone, somewhere, laid down the rules of nerddom that I had to abide by, and the steps to take to become a real nerd. Earned, indeed.

    Yes, we endured. We were bullied or called freaks in school, but jeesh, that doesn’t make me “worhier” than anyone else who only got into games or series after they left school, free of all the “enduring”. I realise you’re exaggerating a little here, but still I’m sorry I have to contest that particular point of view.

    Sure, there aren’t many girls in this sub-culture, but there aren’t going to be until the community stops scrutinizing every girl that’s trying to partake like she’s at an airport check in.

  7. *just saw a tv announcement about a new show called “beauty and the nerd”…so yeah…*
    boy, are you getting fired up 🙂
    not everyone who is a hipster is a nerd, and not everyone who plays/reads/does something is automatically a nerd. i think the term is getting dilluted as it gets more and more chic to be nerd.
    i wouldn´t call myself a photographer,just because i can push a button. hence i wouldn´t call someone a nerd,just cause he/she/it can start a game under windows. now,if he/she/it could get a game going under ubuntu/commodore64/arduino? nerd it is 🙂
    (note:yeah,yeah, i know wouldn´t that be a gamer?)

    there is no golden rule which decides who is or isn´t a nerd. but the term is thrown around so much these days, everyone and their grandma is nerd nowadays. a fad,which i think, will die down in some time. (remember,when “skater” was THE thing to be?). until then, i WILL rage at everyone who tells me their favorite star trek charakter is yoda 😀

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