Nerd girls rule

Being a nerd has gotten complicated. It used to be that nerds were never cool. It was assumed that nerds secretly wanted to be popular, cool kids. Glasses were bad.

And now the hipsters have taken over Brooklyn, and are spreading throughout the coastal and urban areas like…healthy green algae.

People are buying glasses that don’t magnify anything, just for that sexy black-framed look. People are quoting philosophers they haven’t read and listening to bands so obscure even their members mothers don’t know they play instruments. Everyone is alternative everything. We’re all aware of everything. It’s this magical blend of wickedly sharp cynicism and blatant hope.

But I don’t know that the hipsters can take nerding for themselves.


I am a nerd, for example. And I don’t wear skinny jeans and plaid shirts all the time. I don’t listen to much alternative music. I find I don’t have the interest or energy to keep up with the hipsters and all their tiny, unspoken rules. It seems like they are working too hard to be “accidentally” cool (always deliciously ironic).

I say that I am a nerd because I am a particular combination of these things

1) Looking ill-at-ease

2) Being really interested in learning things

3) Admiring people who know a ton of stuff

4) Watching documentaries for fun

5) Being an avid, delirious, fanatical reader since a very early age

6) Feeling different from most other people and not understanding why they did the things they did but assuming (arrogantly and sometimes rightly) that that meant I was smart

7) Writing “smart” at the top of every list I made about characteristics datable boys should have

8 ) Writing fantasy novels

9) Raising my hand way too much in college classes where everyone else was trying to catch up on their sleep

Nerds are all different. We don’t all watch the same documentaries. But when I think of nerds, I think of smart people who are willing to be different, interested in learning pretty much all the time, and good at looking at the world in a highly detailed, specific, and informed way. I think of people who are willing to be weird. Who wear the wrong clothes, not because the wrong clothes are suddenly the right clothes, but because they either can’t quite remember what the trend is now, or they don’t care at all, or they are comfortable with what they happen to be wearing. I think of people who become inspired by a tiny topic that no one else cares about and set out to discover everything they can about it. People who constantly ask the world questions, who challenge all the premises that other people take for granted, but who do it without being mean. Who do it because they’re curious and because they like to push their own minds.

And nerd girls are the best.

The guy nerds at least have a space reserved for them by history. There have always been celebrated super smart men. There’s a certain tradition of masculine prowess that is all about being nerdy and specific and creative. Not so much for us.

So we’re cutting edge, we nerd women. We’re trailblazers. We break down boundaries by standing there awkwardly instead of being charming, or being charming and obsessed with entomology. Or by liking whatever we feel like liking, even when it’s not what we’re supposed to like. We’ve nerdified stereotypical feminine arenas like fashion by studying them and mastering them and writing dissertations on them and becoming brilliantly knowledgeable about them. We’ve jumped into nerdy male arenas like sci fi, real science, and ancient languages.

We’ve made nerdiness sexy and decided not to try to be sexy anyway.


We’ve worn big glasses so well they became fashionable. We’ve made advanced education an obvious option. We’ve demanded partners who can keep up with our brains. We’ve demanded partners who are OK with being weird. Who think we’re awesome for being weird. We’ve made it possible for little girls to raise their hands in class more and more often, and actually be interested. We can claim Olivia Judson as our own.

This is the age of information. Which is the age of nerds. And we definitely haven’t achieved full nerd or gender equality yet, but nerd girls rule.

*  *  *

Un-roast: Today I still love my really short hair. Seriously, I tried to think of another un-roast, but I couldn’t. I love it.

New post at Un-schooled, about trying to figure out how to answer the question “what do you do?”


Kate on January 18th 2011 in being different, feminism

46 Responses to “Nerd girls rule”

  1. anna and the ring responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    I love being the geeky person I am. (Nerd is just not my word.)

  2. Ashley responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    I used to be a nerd in school, with coke bottle glasses, but I wouldn’t classify myself as that now, nor would I classify myself as cool or popular.

    I personally can’t stand hipster fashion, not just for the way it looks but because it’s turned into such a trend and so phony, and so many walk around with smug looks on their faces and it just annoys me.

  3. Sona responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    What I love about being nerdy is that it means you are intellectually curious, an extremely admirable trait. My favorite thing about nerd-dom is that you can apply it to any subject. For example, in fashion – you can geek out over the fact that Rodarte won’t be receiving credit at the Oscars for their costumes for Black Swan since they didn’t work out the legal rights to receive “front credits” as the lead designer. Or you can geek out over the neverending potential takeover of Hermes by LVMH – corporate takeovers can be pretty fascinating. No topic is superficial when a nerd looks at it!

  4. Kate responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    Exactly! Well said.

  5. Deanna responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    I was a Geek long before being a Geek was cool. I didn’t wear glasses, but I always loved going to dinner parties with my parents at the home of college professors (my dad was one) and listening to them talk about literature, politics, social events etc. I read all the time and I watched the news. I was easily bored with my friends because they weren’t interested in these things.

    Now I watch foreign movies, still watch the news and read as much as I can. Of course being a nerd at the age of 197 doesn’t much matter…LOL…but learning is always fun.

  6. monika responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    because they either can’t quite remember what the trend is now, or they don’t care at all

    gosh. that alone could change the world. unleashing people to be themselves.

  7. Jess responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Beautifully said! Yay for nerd and geek girls! :)

  8. Mme Wong responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    As an adult, I love being a nerd. L.O.V.E. it. Not that it wasn’t the case when I was younger, but I believe I kind of escaped any categorization back then, aside from being considered weird by everyone, including the more “mainstream” nerds. And I believe I cared a bit more about being awkward, which I don’t so much nowadays.

    But as a nerd, living with a nerd and raising nerdy kids, life is sooo good (plus, with the Internet – which wasn’t quite around when I was in high school – my innate curiosity is rewarded with loads of instant gratification).

    Nerds are awesome.

  9. Kate responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    @Mme Wong
    I’m definitely planning on raising some seriously nerdy kids one day.

  10. Dana Udall-Weiner responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    I am too mainstream to be a nerd, and not nearly brave enough. Because nerdiness requires guts, and willingness to stand outside the middle, even when the middle continues to expand and threatens to co-opt nerdiness itself.

  11. Charlie responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    I’ve been a nerd since practically birth. I watch documentaries more than anything else, read for fun and am a ‘vegan-freak’. I think I’m cool, most of the ‘popular’ kids would be to differ.

  12. Christin@purplebirdblog responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    Yes. Everything about this post. Per your list, I am a nerd too. Even in massage therapy school at the age of 28, I am still fitting the nerd bill and have been called such by my fellow classmates. And that is awesome. Today I own that title. :)

  13. San D responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Why label? “Nerd” has a connotation, both visual and verbal that it not necessarily something I, who is definitely NOT commonplace, want to embrace. There are no words or definitions to pigeonhole me, although I wear glasses, dress uniquely, love learning, know a lot about a strange variety of stuff, and have a life sized Spiderman hanging in my livingroom.

  14. San D responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Meant “is”, instead of “it”…did I mention I speed read, and speed type?

  15. Kate responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    @San D
    Well, words are already out there, so I think it’s not a bad idea to reclaim them, give them new connotations, or play with them.

    I hear you about labeling, but honestly, it gets really, really difficult to try not to use any labels. And some of them are fun!

  16. Tabs responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Hear, hear! 8) <- that would be me with my awesome glasses.

    Seriously. Everyone's all over contacts. I like my glasses, even though sometimes I get scared that if someone throws something in my face, the plastic will stab my eyes. But… not enough to want to wear contacts!

  17. Tabs responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Also, hear hear on the short hair un-roast!

  18. Tabs responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    Also, my un-roast is that I love being a huge silent film nerd, especially when it comes to Charlie Chaplin. I have way too many books about him and feel far too deeply for the Tramp. But I love it.

  19. Just Josie responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    Love this! I am still young, but I have pretty much been a nerd for as long as I can remember. Except I am more of a shy nerd than a outspoken, raises-her-hand-lots nerd, but that’s okay. I think I’ll probably be different once I graduate. Hopefully? I don’t know; high school has thus far been/shall probably continue to be painfully repressive for me. I was a little shocked when “nerd” came into style. That happened around the time I was a wee-bitty seventh grader, I think. The “cool” kids at school had forever mocked me behind my back for my “nerdy” clothes, and then all of a sudden I noticed we were wearing similar clothes. However, as these things go, mine were still “bad-nerdy” and there’s was, well, just a passing trend of nerd-dom and therefore not truly the embodiment of nerdiness. I have had glasses since I was seven years old (on Halloween night, I remember!) and have been wearing my dad’s holey plaid flannel jackets since I dragged them out of our basement. But I am still a ragamuffin. :P I still get weird look when I wear shorts and leggings together, too — I guess maybe I’m not “doing it right”? Haha. I actually get a little annoyed when people go about calling themselves and each other nerds based solely upon their exterior — what is that, anyway? That’s not what nerd is about, you fools! :D So I am no longer considered nerdy (by silly, ever-evolving fashion standards of teenagers) merely because I don’t “mix bold prints” and wear fake glasses. Why, I ask, would anyone who actually wears real, prescription glasses buy a fake pair? I was completely confused the first time I ever noticed someone wearing fashion glasses. But I am okay with not being considered a nerd anymore, because it wasn’t my whole identity. I think that the “nerds” nowadays are trying to make it their whole identity, and that’s just silly. Also, that they think it’s individualism is absolutely laughable.

    One of my main irritation points with the whole “hipster” scene is the freegin’ VEGAN thing. I was vegan before I even knew what hipster meant, and I went vegan because I give a damn about animal liberation, not to fit into some dumb group. People will call me a hipster, and my reaction is just kind of, “Um, okay? You’re immature.” Then the hipsters who do talk to me all buddy-buddy-like delude themselves that they are some kind of animal rights activists, which they are not, are not, are not. Firstly, because vegetarians are not ARAs; secondly because they’ve no idea what TAL means and it is my (possibly somewhat prejudiced) view that if you’re in the movement for real, then you’d damned well better know what TAL stands for; and thirdly, they say things to me like, “Yeah, I’m vegan. I think it’s really cool of me, I mean, not a lot of kids our age are this selfless. I do sometimes eat ice cream though, and if we go to Pizza Hut I definitely get some pizza. And also I’ll eat like chicken or beef on special occasions, like my birthday…” NOT A TAL ACTIVIST!!! Also, I shit you not, I have had people cite their “special occasion” as a special at Taco freakin’ Bell’s. I wish I were kidding. But I’m not. The TAL movement is falling all to shit, and I blame PETA (and all the other faux-libs) and whiny emo bands (Bullet for My Valentine, anyway?) for young people thinking it’s cool to pose as a veg*an because it makes them look “cool” and “compassionate”. No, sweetie, it makes you look like a braindead toolbag, and it gives real liberationists a BAD NAME.

    Whoo, my apologies for the tangent, and I’ll gladly step down from my soapbox now. :P

  20. Christina (Dinner at Christina's) responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    If you have Netflix streaming they have some awesome and amazing documentary sections. Seriously, it’s like 90% of what I watch nowadays. I can’t get enough of them!

  21. Kate responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    I’m so there.

  22. Alex responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    I have commented once before. I read everyday, but im usually very shy, so I don’t say anything. However, this is something that bothers me too much. I can’t be quiet. I am a 17 year-old girl, and half of my friends are the so called “hipster” kids. They irritate me to no end but i love them so i put up with it. I just don’t understand why they have to act so fake and pretend to be so mature and intellectual when they really haven’t learned anything yet. I agree with you about the unrecognizable music thing. They only listen to sad alternative yuppy music. I get laughed at by my best friend because I listen to Frank Sinatra ( I’m listening to New York, New York right now) I totally agree with you on every point. I guess I’ll just have to be patient, and wait for them to grow out of it. I’m happy to be the cool nerdy kid. Atleast I’m my own person. :)

  23. Just Josie responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    P.S. My un-roast! Today, at the risk of sounding as though I’ve got a bad case of Special Snowflake Syndrome, I love the way I’m not all that predictable. I’m polar opposites and nobody really seems to get that, and I guess I like that I’m not that easily understood — after all, why would I want people who I don’t even like knowing all my intrinsic little weirdnesses? Of course, when I’m older, this may wind up hurting me, but not now; for now I’m just embracing it.

  24. Just Josie responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    What exactly does “yuppy” mean? Is that a term used in New England a lot? I’ve looked it up and heard it in context many a time but I’m still unsure as to what it actually means, lol.

  25. Erika @ Health and Happiness in LA responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    We got a shoutout from Aaron Sorkin at the Golden Globes – he said “Smart girls have more fun.” I think it’s true!

    I think the essential characteristic considered “nerdy” or “geeky” is a love of learning and being interested in and caring about intellectual and humanitarian pursuits.

  26. Amanda responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    Hi, hello. My first time Commenting on this blog, and I’ve become addicted to it because my sister, Alex, who commented earlier, fills me in on your hilarious wisdom every day.
    So…the hipster. What is it? I don’t know and I can give a flying flapjack! I consider myself a nerd and everything you listed above identifies me. Just like you, I look at the morons in my class and I beileve that I am more mature than them because I couldn’t understand why smoking pot and smoking yourself stupid could me fun or dare I say “harmless.” I would like to thank you! I dont feel 17 because supposed 17 year olds dont follow Swedish polar explorers in Twitter, instead they follow Justin bieber AKA the devil’s spaun!
    Wear glasses is a medical requirment. Not a fashion statement.
    Teenagers, especially Hipsters, roam around claiming they know everything about everything. When they don’t know shit about shit. I can honestlly say, I’m 17 and I dont know shadoobie about life. Why? Because I’m 17. “act your age not your shoe size” has never felt more appropriate.
    Love the blog, LOVE the hair.
    Keep us reading, and good job!

  27. Claire Allison responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 1:41 am #

    I accidentally started a hipster trend once… I broke my regular glasses (like a nerd) so I needed to wear my safety glasses as a substitute until the regular ones were fixed. I was sitting on the bus and the town’s notorious hipster girl, the one who was on top of it all, was sitting across from me, glaring at my fashion “choice”. I shifted uncomfortably. My safety glasses are big square and black, and have the little window shields on the arms, for the extra coverage.

    A month later, I saw that same hipster girl and her friends, wandering around town in dramatic safety glasses.

    Un-roast: I love my regular glasses. I get compliments all the time and no one has ones like them. They look like cat eyes.

  28. camelshoes responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 5:18 am #

    Hi Kate, I loved this post because it’s refreshing to hear how wonderful being different can be. I wish we could hear more of this viewpoint instead of the mainstream media’s tired stereotypes of what women (and men) should be like, what activities they should enjoy and what clothes they should wear…

    I’m a shy nerd girl. Who likes reading (especially fantasy novels) and playing computer games, who loves learning and has studied ‘hard’ sciences, who feels shy and awkward in social situations and who wears glasses in order to see properly. Who found a (smart) boyfriend via the internet that likes me *because* I’m weird and not like ‘other women’.

    I used to wish I that I was like everyone else; now I’m happy that I’m not.

  29. Mandy responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 9:14 am #

    Just Josie:
    Yuppie is an acronym for “Young Urban Professional.”

  30. Pam responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    Firstly, Kate, I love this blog. Your writing is warm and generous, and thank you for keeping it fresh with your frequent postings.

    I’m in my forties, and have always been a nerd. Except for the part about writing fantasy novels, every item on your checklist applies to me. In the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s there was no positive image in the culture for nerd/geek girls and women, so I really felt like a misfit.

    Through my life experiences, I have found that in the deepest, most meaningful parts of life I and non-nerds have much in common. Talking about the satisfaction we get from doing meaningful work. Sharing our feelings of joy and awe holding our newborn babies. Grieving together over the loss of a parent, or the anger over the discrimination that all women are subject to, or our fears about the economy. What bands we listen to doesn’t even come up.

    Like Kate say, a true nerd is someone who openly is herself, and doesn’t take on artifice to project an identity or fit in. Nerds can reach out to hipsters, or anyone who struggles to know and be who they truly are, and show them how satisfying it can be to be yourself.

    Best thing about being a nerd – I don’t hide or downplay my intellect in order to be likeable to men or to fit in with others. I’m a great role model to my intelligent nerdy daughters. All of us nerdy females can show the younger generation of girl nerds how to be proud of their intelligence and passions, and not give in to pressures to be something else or to achieve less. (That’s the feminist in me!)

    Just Josie: I want to add to Mandy’s correct definition of Yuppy. The “py” at the end of the word was added so that yuppy would be similar to the word “preppy.” Another variation in the 90′s: “buppy” was “black urban professional.” “Guppy” is a species of freshwater fish.

  31. Kate responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    @Mandy and Pam
    Thanks for defining yuppie for Josie! I meant to and then got distracted.

    And Pam, I love what you have to say about nerds and non-nerds agreeing on the important things.

  32. MWN responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    I don’t usually think of myself as “nerd” but rather “weird.” Weird to me is a compliment, because who wants to be normal? Normal means you’re boring and don’t have the backbone to challenge conformity.

    I’m weird because I think it’s fun to check out different religious services, and I laugh at my own (hilarious) jokes, and I talk to strangers, especially those in the service industry who happen to be helping me, like waiters, cashiers, etc.

  33. Just Josie responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    @Pam and Mandy: Thanks! That makes more sense now. I was unsure before, because I’ve heard books, people, regions, cell phones, and even chocolate-covered ice cream described with that word, so I was like, “What?!” But I get it now. :P

  34. Debat144 responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 7:00 pm #

    On reflection, it seems to me that the popular people peak in high school. Most Nerds’ lives keep getting better and better.

  35. Lovely Links: 1/21/11 responded on 21 Jan 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    [...] Kate has declared that nerd girls rule. Here’s why. [...]

  36. Katie responded on 21 Jan 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    Speaking of unschooled, there were a couple great links in a recent Center for the Future of Museums post. You may already know them, but just in case…

    One of the reasons I love being a museum curator, and working in museums, is EVERYONE is a nerd. We couldn’t do what we do if we weren’t.

  37. MH responded on 21 Jan 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    My best friend in high school was the hipster wannabe (before there were the plaid-shirt-hipsters term came about) About 10ish years ago She purposely picked out oversized, shredded clothes from the local thrift stores once we got into high school, giggled as she tripped all over herself and accidentally broke her glasses etc. I kind of kept my nerdiness on the down low because, I was a shy, real nerd! It wasn’t cool to like video games, or weird tv shows and old 80′s movies, and dinosaurs (dinosaurs had to stop being cool after grade school for non-nerds) and I remember getting made fun of for liking David Bowie in the Labyrinth. And now all of it’s stylish, and cool. Dinosaur hair ties are hip, plaid shirts, David Bowie, “emo nerd glasses” are the new cool.

  38. Wilma Jean responded on 21 Jan 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Thank you for putting it so eloquently. When my friends and family say I’m a nerd, they mean it as a compliment. Cause that’s the only way I’m gonna see it. Otherwise, why would they always ask for my help with random things no one else could possibly know how to answer/do?

  39. Dionne responded on 23 Jan 2011 at 12:05 am #

    Love LOVE this post. (Wandered over here from Already Pretty) The only thing on that list that didn’t fit me to an absolute T was writing fantasy novels. Does it count if I just read ‘em?

    In my family we use the word geek more often than nerd. Yup, I am definitely a geek, married a geek – Dilbert was right, engineers get sexier as they get older – and am raising geeky teenagers. And I’m having a blast doing it.

    The older I get, the more I enjoy being me.

  40. Emelie responded on 28 Jan 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    I love this post. Quoted you on Facebook. Jumped around, showing everyone what you said.

    I need glasses. I wear the dorky kind. Some like these:

  41. Nerd girls | whycellothere responded on 11 Feb 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    [...] the damn cake’s post (from a few weeks ago) “Nerd Girls Rule” made me really happy [...]

  42. Emmi responded on 15 Mar 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    In Massachusetts we’re tend towards the “geek” moniker rather than “nerd”, but regardless of the word choice I am also a proud ‘un! Though often geekiness implies a certain level of discomfort with awkwardness, whereas I am not only totally comfortable knowing that I am awkward I am confident despite it :)

  43. Eat the Damn Cake » On second thoughts responded on 19 May 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    [...] both needed some time off and probably, sooner rather than later, would want to go back to school.  I’m a nerd – I like to learn. Academia is sexy.  And I knew that after a year of working service industry jobs, I’d probably want to be thrown [...]

  44. Mila responded on 06 Jul 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    Nerds Rule! I’m a band geek, book worm, anime lover, history obsessed, science crazy, and I really don’t care if I’m weird because people like my quirkiness. And I think hipsters aren’t nerds, there a trend. (Something people do to fit in to a group) I don’t dress like one or act like one, however I LOVE the glasses…. They just look cute on me. lol I just be myself and I wish others would do the same.

  45. Kat responded on 03 Apr 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Hi, this the first time I’ve read your blog. I got to say I love your definition of nerd. When I was younger I used to try to deny my nerdiness, but as I got older I really found how much I love it. I’m an awkward person but I probably have the distinction of being the only student in my AP History class to have watched several of the documentaries before the class. I’m a total movie and TV nerd and the Hipster trend has annoyed me to no end. I like those glasses in the article above, not because they’re in style, but because they look like Clark Kent’s glasses (I like superheroes too). I’d also need them to, you know see. And I like those big old cardigan’s because I love the original Starsky and Hutch and Starsky had one of those sweaters.
    Also Just Josie can you explain what TAL is? I tried looking it up and I wasn’t really getting anywhere. How long have you been a vegan? I’ve been a vegetarian close to two and a half weeks now and this is my third attempt. I come from a big meat family so its been difficult.

  46. vanessa responded on 22 Oct 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    im a true nerd myself