Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Nerds and Nerdettes

The archetype of the nerd has become an integral part of US-American popular culture: eyeglasses with thick lenses, boring, physically unattractive, socially underdeveloped, mentally overdeveloped, with an affinity for science and technology ... and male. In fact, nerd status is - in popular culture - overwhelmingly associated with males who fail "to measure up to convential standards of American masculinity". Most of the early scientific papers on nerds focus on male ones (Bucholtz, 1996).

At US-American high schools, nerds opt out of the dominant heterosexual matrix. For instance, they do not wear highly gendered fashions (jacket with sports insignia for him and tight baby-doll T-shirt for her) (Bucholtz, 1996). According to Kendall, when depicting male nerds, media emphasises stereotypical feminine traits such as lack of sports ability, small body size and a lack of sexual relationships with women (Robinson, 2014). "The Big Bang Theory", for instance, has the by now largest concentration of nerd characters including two hyper-nerds. The show "takes stereotypical nerd characteristics and hyperbolizes them to the point of parody" (Mastley, n.d.). So-called masculine traits of nerd identity are technological mastery and a lack of feminine relationship skills. Maleness is achieved through relationships with women. These stereotypical male characteristics manage to partially "rehabilitate nerd identity" (Robinson, 2014).

Belonging to this group is a "social disaster" (Bucholtz, 1996) for males and females but nerd stigma seems to affect females more heavily and keep them from putting more effort into math performance since fear of social exclusion prevails (Chau, 2014). In addition, nerd communities are currently criticised for sexist behaviour, for using sexist representations of women in games and comics (Robinson, 2014) and harrassing female gamers (Maisonave, n.d.). Nerd communities accuse some females of being "fake geek girls" who are only seeking the attention of male nerds. There seems to be a discussion within nerd communities about who is a legitimate nerd that is partly based on gender (Robinson, 2014).

Women and cliché femininity (expressed through beauty, fashion, social skills and sexual desirability) seem to be incompatible with nerdiness. Nerd women are portrayed as undesirable and masculine (Robinson, 2014) and male nerds seem to negatively stereotype female nerds, too (Maisonave, n.d.).
Nerd girls violate gender ideologies. Some nerd girls have lower-pitched voices than "their cooler counterparts". And while the latter chose pseudonyms such as "Tiffany" or "Lumiere" for a study, nerd girls selected names such as "Fred" or  "Bob, Conqueror of the Universe". Their identities are rather linked to a disaffiliation with convential femininity than to maleness since nerd women are masculine "the wrong way": humorous instead of macho (Bucholtz, 1996).

- Bucholtz, M. (1996) Geek the girl: Language, femininity, and female nerds. In: Warner, N., Ahlers, J., Bilmes, L., Oliver, M., Wertheim, S. & Chen, M. (eds.) Gender and Belief Systems. Proceedings of the Fourth Berkeley Women and Language Conference. April, 19, 20, and 21, 1996.
- Chau, J. (2014) Afraid To Be A Nerd: Effects of Nerd Stereotypes on Women's Math Performance. Statesboro: Electronic Theses & Dissertations, Paper 1102
- Maisonave, N. (n.d.) Gender in Gamer Culture and the Virtual World. Stanford: MA, online
- Mastley, C. P. (n.d.) Relevance Theory and Constructed Female Nerdiness in CBS's The Big Bang Theory. Mississippi State University, online
- Robinson, S. (2014) Fake Geek Girl: The Gender Conflict in Nerd Culture. Oregon: Thesis
- screen shots via