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
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?”