Nerd Girls

By Phil Plait | August 15, 2008 9:52 am

The issue of women and technical topics is a complicated one. A recent study showing girls are no worse at math than boys caused a minor stir, and while most people said "duh" to it, I’m glad it came out: it’s more ammo against bigots.

The situation is a little more complicated when you introduce things like gender roles, sexual roles, and misogyny. For example, I am a strong supporter of women rights in general, and do what I can to promote equality of the sexes in my own fields — but I’m limited in my ability at this exact moment (though I suspect in the near future more options will be open to me). Mostly I try to do it by default: for example, by linking to other blogs or articles that I support, and a lot of which happen to be by women. But I can also go out of my way to encourage gender equality by stressing some places like Skepchick and Teen Skepchick (and coincidentally, Teen Skepchick has an article on this topic up as well!).

It can be hard to promote this. Society can sometimes just see women as sexual objects, which is unfair. I prefer to think of people as being very complicated, and sexuality is just one part of a complex and rich structure. However, millions of years of evolution is hard to deny, and attractive people tend to get more attention. But the converse is that sometimes attractive people get stereotyped as dumb, or useless, or whatever.

So I think I support the Nerd Girls. These young women are strong, smart, technically advanced, and also happen to be somewhat hawt. This can actually be used to debunk two stereotypes: that pretty women are dumb, and that smart women aren’t pretty. And if it gets men to think of women as other than just sexual objects, then that’s a good thing. It’s a part of a far more interesting whole.

See for yourself: they were interviewed on MSNBC recently.

I like the interview, but there are ironies abounding. For one Kathy Lee Gifford is — how to say this politely — not known for her intellect. I could have been happier with a better interviewer. Also, when I saw the video, it was followed by a segment on… wait for it… wait for it… beauty makeovers! Sigh.

Like I said, this issue is complex, and I have enjoyed many discussions (OK, some arguments too) with others — including Mrs. BA — on this topic. My mind is still not entirely made up if this sort of thing is good for women or not; it may be that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

But it’s well-known that my readers are smarter, funnier, and more attractive than the average person. So what do you say?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Piece of mind, Science

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