In Search of the Elusive She-Nerd
This post was supposed to be something else. It was supposed to be a Top Ten list of Nerd Girls in Pop Culture. A quick Google search can give a wide variety of gorgeous geek girls in real life, but there is a very different story when you look for them in fiction.
The idea for a list came from watching season one of Primeval. The sexy biologist Abby was trying to help nerdy Connor with his women troubles by letting him practice his pickup lines on her. When Connor goes off on a tangent of his passion for comics, Abby scolds him for even mentioning the topic, telling him, “Girls don’t like comics!”
Naturally, I took offense.
In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sam Sparks is a weather girl who feels she needs to hide how smart she is because, apparently, there’s something wrong with a girl wearing glasses, a ponytail, and showing her nerd side. This was news to me, and I couldn’t help but wonder if young girls watching were getting the wrong message. Sure, by the end, Sam embraced her true nerdy self, but it was still clear that a girl being a nerd was an undesirable trait.
We can’t confuse “nerd girls” with “smart girls,” something mainstream media is more than happy to show us. There are plenty of lady doctors, scientists, technicians, so on. But which of them are nerds? When I think nerd, I look at the male nerds that are prevalent. Socially awkward, obsessed with various sci-fi or fantasy worlds, love of science and technology, often befuddled by the opposite sex.
Taking these traits into account, my top ten list is stuck firmly at four: the aforementioned Sam Sparks, Lisa Simpson, Leslie Winkle of the Big Bang Theory, and Codex of the Guild.
The “smart girls” in movies and TV are still sexy and cool, and would no doubt be insulted if anyone ever labeled them a nerd. They are nearly always a side character and romantic interest, with zero geek interests outside their specific smart specialty. Is NCIS‘ Abby really a nerd by these definitions? Veronica Mars? Willow? Ugly Betty?
These days it’s quickly becoming hip to be square. Everything nerdy and geeky is being embraced by the mainstream, and the awesome show Big Bang Theory shows that geeks can be sexy and make loyal friends and terrific partners. Male geeks.
It was here that we met Leslie Winkle, played by Sarah Gilbert. She is the perfect counterpart to Leonard, and for a show about nerds, she’s the only female one we’ve really gotten to know. She’s bright, eccentric, and yes, sexual. But that doesn’t make her any less of a nerd. She’s comfortable with sex, but not with relationships. She’s got her own social quirks. It’s refreshing to see a woman flawed in this way, and we don’t get nearly enough Leslie. The show’s writers admitted that they didn’t know how to write for her.
Codex was going to be number one on the list of female nerds. Admittedly, she isn’t mainstream being a character in a web series. Codex spends most of her time in her room in front of her computer, gaming. Her only relationships are online with people that she’d never met face to face until the events that kicked off the terrific series, when Zaboo showed up at her doorstep. She’s neurotic and not all that confident in any setting, but still sweet, loving, and cute. Is it any surprise that Codex was created by lady nerd Felicia Day?
What is the point of this? Why do we need to see more socially inept women in the media? Isn’t is a negative portrayal of woman to see them as dorky shut ins?
It’s a realistic portrayal. Male nerds are everywhere, and men are being told increasingly to embrace their nerdism, but women are more often being told to change. That geekery isn’t sexy, feminine, desirable, and it sure as hell isn’t going to catch you a good man. Get rid of that ponytail and those glasses! Hide your quirkiness and nerdy passions. Get a makeover!
All this, in turn, tells nerd men that a decent women will never share their interests, and tells media makers that women don’t like nerdy interests and we are largely ignored when it comes to things like video games and comics. It is a vicious cycle that hurts everyone involved. While the media is only now catching on to the reality that nerd women exist, everyone else has female friends and relatives who are absolute dorks, and chances are they are loved, quirks and all.
Girls read comics, Connor. We’re out here in the real world.