The Average Nerdy Woman
Popular Culture: Looking In The Mirror Essay
March 8th, 2015
A nerd is defined as someone whom is awkward and often wears unstylish clothes, or is feverishly interested and devoted into academic interests. When my parents hear the word “nerd” they are reminded of Star Trek and Star Wars, a world of supernatural and space that existed in their time. Both of my parents are in their forties. When I hear the word “nerd”, I think of me: conventions and comic cons, cosplay, fandoms, action figures, and intelligence. The idea of nerd hasn’t necessarily changed, but the way we define it does. What once may have been that weirdo with quirky clothing waiting in line for a movie premiere, now appears as an icon. Sure, nerds still wear quirky clothing, and have a passion for comics and books and fandoms, but they’re no longer “weird”. There are and always will be subcategories of nerds, but when one walks into stores like Macy’s or Hot Topic, nerds are welcomed whole-heartedly into the community with graphic tees representing movies, comics, and vintage sci-fi. Nerds used to be the speed bump in stereotypes, but the new light in the nerd community is women. Women nerds are sexualized in the media, and while they appear awkward or strangely dressed, they are often desired by men. Not all women nerds are sexual by nature, if anything we are the opposite. I have been living within this community since I was roughly nine years old, and in no way has media portrayed us correctly. We are not all the same. We are not all fashionable, nor are all female nerds awkward, but media has decided to portray female nerds as these two stereotypes.
I broke out into the nerd community when my mom first read aloud Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Following, I continued to read chapter book after chapter book, and had swallowed up the words of Bilbo Baggins, Shakespeare, and Huck Finn by the time I was eleven. I was originally what many say is the typical, nerdy girl. Now, the quiet, bookworm has extended its wings to become a full-fledged nerd. In the community of nerds, the social media has focused on the sexualized and bashing of female nerds. In her thesis, Sonnet Robinsons focuses on the portrayal of female nerds in the media, and “the harassment of women both online and in-person and about representation of women in nerd culture” (Robinson, 1). For instance, television portrayed nerds as the glasses-wearing, rolled pants characters of Steve Urkel from the TV show, Family Matters. Now, not only are nerds portrayed much differently from 30-something years ago, women nerds are also highlighted in shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Supernatural, and The Guild. Media has made a step in the right direction by insisting that women nerds do in fact exist-a myth and dream of male nerds whom believed it was impossible they’d ever find someone of the opposite sex with similar interests. Then, in swooped the character Codex of The Guild, a female PC Gamer, who not only spent every free minute of her time in online gaming, but was also attractive. Not only nerds play games, but TV hadn’t seen a female so intensely intrigued by this sub-culture of online gaming, and thus, the female nerd became pretty, skewing the results of female nerds either being extremely attractive, or the Steve Urkel edition.
After the introduction of Codex, many other female characters followed in close pursuit of similar, strong female nerds. Soon after, we were astonished by the addictive TV show, Supernatural. While this is not necessarily a show about nerds, the show premieres certain characters, and in came Charlie. Also played by Felicia Day who portrayed Codex in The Guild, Charlie was a pretty, intelligent computer hacker who helped the two brothers in a few episodes, and became a character who popped up several times. While she helped achieve the brilliance of a female nerd, they decided that it wasn’t enough, and made her literally a character of unreachable levels: Charlie is a lesbian. Dean, the older brother of the show, expressed interest, but was shut down before he even got a chance when she announced her sexual orientation. If we know anything about male culture, woman-on-woman action is sexualized greatly in our media. Pros: women nerds are viewed as intelligent and attractive. Cons: sexualized immensely. To make Charlie even more unreachable, an episode later unveils the world of LARP-Live Action Role Playing- and Charlie is queen, doted on by all, and at the tier of both power and beauty. LARP is commonly tagged onto the nerd community, because it involved costumes, intense obsession with an era study, most people tag LARP on as a stereotypical interest of all nerds. Similar to Charlie is Penny from The Big Bang Theory. Literally the girl next door, she is sought out by all of the men around her. Not entirely a nerd in the classic essence of “unattractive”, she falls victim to the love of comics early on in the show, and later turns into a gamer. Going back to Codex, she is a clean, neat PC gamer, but Penny’s rise to PC Gamer is a slobbery session of multiple, shower-less days with junk food and angry obsession. Not all female nerds are classy and clean cut, but The Big Bang Theory proves that there are two sides to the gamer nerd, and not all pretty nerds stay pretty, nor are they perfect.
Like any other community, there are the outsiders: cosplayers who wear poorly made costumes, larger cosplayers, and what many recognize as the “fake nerd girl”. Because the nerd community was generally built of men, women who appear as fake or unrealistically normal are shut out. Female cosplayers who are simply dressing up as characters they love for fun and not competition are bullied or laughed at. I’ve been laughed at because I bought my jacket instead of sewing it myself. A lot of people think the nerd community is all welcoming, and most of the time it is, but there are people who are harsh and unwilling to accept all people, like other communities and cliques. A sub community of nerd culture involves conventions and comic cons. I have been attending these for 6 years now, and the Northwest has a great selection of them: Kumoricon, Rose City Comic Con, Emerald City Comic Con, and Newcon. It’s part of the convention life to dress up in cosplay, to pretend to be characters that you love and admire. In my six years of attendance, cons have been all about sexy cosplayers, women dressed up as characters in scantily-clad costumes. In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon, Howard, Raj, and Leonard go to a comic con in L.A, and they dress as Star Trek characters. Their costumes are not sexualized, nor are they tight-fitting. On the other hand, in the Sci-Fi TV show, Heroes of Cosplay, the show makes a point to illustrate that famous cosplayers like Jessica Ngiri and Yaya Han are sexual. They wear costumes that are revealing, and make women who are more conservative appear boring and lacking femininity. For instance, the picture above is Jessican Ngiri dressed as Ash Ketchum from Pokemon. Originally, Ash looks like the bottom picture, but it has become an unspoken “in” to take a character and not only cross-dress, but make it flashier and more appealing.
When I watch shows with sexually appealing characters, I wish we could settle back to the Urkel character. The intelligent, quirky, non-feminine nerd who doesn’t care that she’s awkard or abnormally obsessed with books or subjects of study. The closest to the safe middle ground of appealing and classic nerd is Bernadette of The Big Bang Theory. The loving wife of Howard and a happy doctor of micro-biology, Bernadette is beautiful and radiating, but quirky and intelligent. She is the closest to what real nerd women look and act like-aside from the yelling. She’s fairly feminine compared to most of my friends, but it’s not unrealistic to think that there’s a high percentage of female nerds who are feminine without being sexual or wearing revealing clothing constantly.
I made an online survey that I shared on my personal Facebook page along with the Kumoricon Facebook Group. The two questions and responses are as followed:
Question 1: How are women prominently portrayed in the media?
|–Awkward; inept at socialization||47.47%47|
Other (please specify)
Question 2: What specific community do you believe is inadequately represented?
|–Dorky nerds(movies, TV, books, comics)||26.53%26|
Other (please specify)
An interesting factor is the people who responded with other. When responding with “other” to the first question, majority wrote “both”, or something along the lines of “awkward but hot”. To the second question, 5 of the 8 who responded with “other” wrote “all of the above”. This survey is by no means accurate, because people chose whether or not they wanted to respond, and obviously a few people could have cared less about my survey as someone responded with “peanut butter” to both of my questions. Kumoricon is an anime convention, and unfortunately, they may not have the same media interests as I do. Over all, I have found that most people find that there’s a general over-sexualized nature in the nerd community by media influences. All superhero women are sexualized by the masks and uniforms you wear. From leather to heavy makeup, and one night stands, our community cannot change unless the world realizes who we truly are. We are not the “fake nerd girl”, and we are not Marvel’s “Blackwidow”. We are nerds, and we choose to show that however we feel fit.
Bickley, William, and Michael Warren. Family Matters. ABC. Sept. 1989. Television.
Cronin, Mark, Courtland Cox, and Dave Caplan. Heroes of Cosplay. SyFy. 13 Aug. 2013. Television.
Day, Felicia. The Guild. Youtube. 27 July 2007. Television.
Kripke, Eric. Supernatural. The CW. 13 Sept. 2005. Television.
Lorre, Chuck, and Bill Prady. The Big Bang Theory. CBS. 24 Sept. 2007. Television.
Robbinson, Sonnet. “Fake Geek Girl: The Gender Conflict in Nerd Culture.” Thesis. University of Oregon, 2014. Fake Geek Girl: The Gender Conflict in Nerd Culture. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.