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

Comments (109)

  1. I’d come down pro-Nerd Girls, myself — as, indeed, you might expect. :) Whether we like it or not, young girls deciding what they want to be when they grow up are inordinately influenced by peer pressure. They want to be hip, and cool, and yes, even pretty. So long as they aren’t BLAND, I think it’s a-ok. Sure, they’re going to be objectified to a certain extent, particularly in the male-dominated geek culture. But that’s changing. And the Nerd Girls are among those helping to change it, along with Annalee Newitz and Co. (She’s Such a Geek, io9), and the SkepChicks.

    I understand that our society’s constant emphasis on appearance is annoying, and smart girls shouldn’t feel the need to play into that. But sometimes we over-compensate in the other direction. As a former awkward nerdy brainy girl myself, I’ve learned (sadly, rather late in life) that being smart and having fun now and then with clothes, hair and makeup need not be mutually exclusive — in much the same way that I can enjoy cheesy Hong Kong martial arts movies and French New Wave cinema, and love both the latest crime thriller novel and Dostoevsky, The Kids in the Hall skits and Jacobean tragedy.

    What we really need to get over is this silly “either/or” tendency… :)

  2. Corey

    I love smart women. I love teh hawtness. When smart women bring teh hawtness, happiness abounds. 😀

  3. Corey

    … and what she said above. Sorry Phil, got caught up in the website. Hellllllooooo nerdies!

  4. madge

    @ Jennifer.
    Well said! As a lifelong Geek myself I am so proud that my nine year old and VERY beautiful daughter has announced her ambition to be the head of NASA when she grows up. She (like me) LOVES science and also loves lots of girly stuff too. One doesn’t have to preclude the other. It’s called being a well rounded person ( I have asked my daughter that when she attains her goal she gives her old Mum a job ) :)

  5. CJ Sevilla

    “Strippers for Science!” is the next thing I’m looking forward too.

    Everything that Jennifer said above is completely right.

    I have no first hand experience, so I don’t even know that smartness isn’t attractive or someone I find attractive isn’t also smart. I don’t even think I know anyone that thinks that way at all. I didn’t even know it was an issue. Any promotion of showing smart and attractive people as being really cool is great, no matter whether or not they’re playing to the “media” or “society” or whatever.

    Very much pro-Nerd Girls.

  6. Fabulous post Phil! I echo Jennifer’s comments, though I’m obviously not a lady.

    Now to make this a a truly equal-opportunity nerdom, we need to get that “Nerd Boys” site up and running… who’s with me?!

  7. Charly

    I am a self-proclaimed Nerd-Girl and proud of it. Not a “gorgeous” girl – more the “girl next door” type. I found that in high school, boys were more intimidated by the straight A’s and me taking the advanced science courses – I was the only girl in Advanced Chemistry and in Physics. But, when you outscore them on the tests, some guys take it as a personal insult to their manliness… a young age, I identified my dream-man as someone attractive, but a must was that he had to be at least as smart as me – and I luckily found him!

    I promote the pro-Nerd Girls, but also think we should not lose sight of the fact that there are equally attractive, male nerds. So, I am just pro-Nerd in general. While “Revenge of the Nerds” portrayed the stereotypical nerds, it is a far cry from who we really are!

  8. Andy

    “These young women are strong, smart, technically advanced, and also happen to be somewhat hawt.”


    I agree that you at least try to promote science and rationalist site run by women. However, it’s always bothered me that, quite often, when you do; you fee lit necessary to comment on the appearance of the woman. No matter how you attempt to justify it, this only helps promote objectification.

    Even if you did it with the same frequency for men, it wouldn’t be ok. There’s just no reason for it at all.

    I agree with you that intelligence and physical attractiveness are not mutually exclusive. They also aren’t related, however. That is, there’s no reason to point it out.

  9. Trocisp

    I’ve never understood the assumption that a group of people is inherently less talented than another. It doesn’t make sense.

    It’s like saying “Oh, a person drinking Gatorade killed a fellow with a knife. That means it must be time to repaint the parking lot!”

  10. Drew

    Let’s start out with, as a man, I have never met a woman who is not better at math than I am. I have even been tutored by my (sigh) 8th grade niece.

    I am all about equality of all kinds. However, there is one line I wish to comment on. Not sure where you were going with it, so I will just add my piece.
    “”It’s can hard to promote this. Society can sometimes just see women as sexual objects, which is unfair.””

    It is not unfair that sometimes women are seen only as sexual objects. It is their wish too. If I walk down the street and can:
    A- See your belly button ring
    B- See what color/style underwear you have on
    C- Do a 3/4 visual breast exam without you removing your clothes
    etc, then that is exactly how I will see you, as an object for my sexually viewing pleasure.

    I am not saying it is wrong to dress that way. I am not advocating a return to 1930″s era clothing. But please, do call me a pig if you look like fodder.

  11. My favorite Nerd Girl of all time is Danica McKellar who played Winnie Cooper in Wonder Years.

  12. Bill Glaholt

    I completely support equality of the sexes, and an event happened while watching the Olympics that made me realize that we really “aren’t there yet.”

    Watching the women’s beach volleyball, while the announcers were giving lip-service to how well they’ve done, and what their inspiriations were towards becoming a beach volleyball player, what was interspersed in the statements? That they were both “deciding to start a family.” Just like a good woman is “supposed” to do. Good gads, I looked at my wife (who is a high-level deputy director in her office) and asked if this was 1958 or 2008.

    Meanwhile, the (granted, deserved) media drooling over Michael Phelps covers his eating habits, his sleeping habits, the fact that he’s been swimming five hours a day, yadda yadda… Not once did the announcers talk about any love interests, whether he was going to get married and start a family, etc.

    Sadly, it’s still there. Our puritan heritage still remains.

  13. Dagnabbit, I don’t believe it! My office has blocked the Nerd Girl site as pr0n :-(

    Nerdy girls are great. I fell in love with my wife when she casually mentioned she knew how to use a Unix command-line.

  14. It’s amazing how insidious and unconscious the assignation of gender roles can be. For instance, isn’t there a better way to describe your wife than as “Mrs. BA.” I understand that you’re (quite rightly) protecting her anonymity, but couldn’t she get her own acronym/nickname, rather than having to be Mrs. You?

  15. BaldApe

    First, even if there were a difference in the average intelligence between the sexes, it wouldn’t justify any difference in how individual women people are treated. I have known quote a number of women whose math skills are better than mine, and I’m not (quite) a moron.

    Also, we have to be careful that permitting women to do things doesn’t become requiring them to do them. I worked with a manager (a woman) who regarded women who chose to have children with contempt. If anyone (man or woman) said that they had family concerns that conflicted with her scheduling convenience, her response was to say “Nobody forced you to have kids.” I think I heard her refer to women with kids as “replicators.”

    Another concern is with jobs that, due to admittedly controversial differences between the sexes WRT aptitude and preference, are traditionally held by women. If a girl says she wants to be a nurse, she is often told, “Oh no, you want to be a doctor.” I strongly suspect that this is an important reason for the shortage of nurses in America. It is a well-paying profession, and American students just don’t seem interested.

  16. hale_bopp

    Yes, Michael. I was going to mention Danica McKellar also. Her new book Kiss My Math is just being released and she was interviewed last week on NPRs Sciene Friday and you listen to the interview in their archives.

  17. Gnat

    I prefer “Geek” myself, but “Nerd Girl” will work! :) I eventually went into Chemistry, but I think if I was less intimitated about being the only female in Physics, I would have changed majors. Please know, I’m not trying to “blame men” about intimidation and Physics, but lets face it…most people feel self-conscious when they are the only one of their kind in a room. Now, I’m old enough to have the confidence to handle it, but I’m also too tired to go back to school! I’ll just have to work on my niece!

  18. wb4

    Your idea of promoting gender equality is stressing sites that predominately are run by, cater to, and identify with people of one specific gender? What kind of double-speak is this? 😉

  19. Jan

    Those are no real nerd girls. Read this:

    > Downtime:
    > I like dancing all kinds of dance styles, rollerblading, running, or doing anything outdoors.

    No nerd girl. Some don’t even have a “favorite game”.

  20. Duane

    “However, millions of years of evolution is hard to deny…”

    Is it? 😉

  21. Not Jesus

    If I had a nickle for every time this site played into the “internet nerd that will trip over himself at the mere mention of a female” stereotype I’d be able to build my own space elevator. I can’t count how many articles and blogs get plugged simply because they’re written by women, and would otherwise get absolutely no attention at all from this site. I’m all for women in science so I can almost overlook this one, but honestly this site at times makes me quite ashamed of my gender. Especially when it’s veiled with the usual “all-in-good-humor” shroud, so everyone can simply say “LAWL, we’re just kidding around” and play it off.

    “OMG, nerdgurls, hawt”


  22. It’d be easier to take your alleged feminist-friendly views seriously, Phil, if you didn’t automatically invoke the “But I think you’re f**kable!” crap at every turn.

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

    Oh yeah. You say you want more women in science, and that you want women treated better, but all you can do is continue to force them into the trap that being sexy is a measure of self-worth. Every time you refer to arealgirl or rebeccawatson as hot or something on Twitter, you reveal yourself as the male-privileged asshat you are.

    Wanna help women get more interested in science? Stop treating your female colleagues on the internet as other chauvinist white-collar guys treat their secretaries.

    And no, this is not somebody trolling as the Aerik you’ve spoken to before. This is the original.

  23. Them “Nerd Girls” may be able to lots of things. But it looks like they got a guy to design their website! Wow, that ain’t pretty!

    A geek female friend of mine seems to constantly talk to me about Linux related issues (i.e. when she isn’t talking about something else). But she is so wrong about Slackware. Slackware is awesome, bitches!

  24. Andy, I’ll let the BA answer that one for himself, but I think it is OK to make comments like “teh hawt” when the photos are clearly aimed at making the girls look sexy. The Nerd Girls website is offering much more than this, but their sexuality is definitely part of the package. To allude to this in the context of a thoughtful essay is perfectly acceptable.

  25. BA:

    more options will be ope to me

    It’s can hard to promote this.

    That medicine you took for the shipwide illness must be taking its toll. Time for a break?

  26. SteveG

    I’m right with you BA, – I’m not sure how I feel about this.

    It’s true, as a BA reader I’m smarter, funnier and – well, two out of three ain’t bad, but I’m really not sure just what this ‘club’ is trying to say. The website looks like a bad movie. I checked out the profiles and only three of the six girls – women – mention education or credentials. One WANTS to be an executive in tech industry! Hey, me too! Small world… so what’s your sign?

    And while they may be trying to dispel stereo types and prove that (self-described?) pretty girls can be smart, they are surely perpetuating the stereotype that to be smart, you have to wear horned rimmed glasses.

    All in all it looks kind of phony.

    Pamela Gay, now she’s a perfect role model. I don’t see any hot pink borders or pig tails on her site.

    I should add that I have a 16 year old daughter who is a great student and whom I encourage to dream big. As a math and science nerd and an advocate of women’s rights, I not only stress the wonder of science but I also emphasize the equality of women, even though it is not always apparent in our society.

    And when I tell her why I am so proud of her, I never mention her looks. She is in fact very pretty and I tell her often enough, but when I mention why I am proud, why she should be proud, I tell her she is smart, strong, funny, kind, athletic, etc. I just never mention pretty.

    Most young girls need to feel pretty and you probably can’t tell them too much. But I stress that she’s a pretty because of who she is, as well as how she looks. We all know beautiful people who are rotten. That’s ugly. It’s the whole complicated package that makes us pretty and looks are only part of it. Brains and self-confidence are part of it too.

    If us guys started behaving like grown men instead of high school boys, we’d find that it’s rather easy to see.

  27. RL

    Maybe this is the not quite the right place to say this, but I have a hard time believing that referring to girls as nerds is going to have much positive effect with a larger population. My wife, who is one of the smartest people I have ever met, would in no way want a label like that (or geek or anything else). This is despite the fact that she loves gadgets, is handy with computers and the like. My young daughter is the same way. Positive role models ARE extremely important (for both sexes). I just don’t think playing being a nerd is helpful.

    I would suggest this research topic to figure out how to get more girls interested in the sciences: Why do so many women go into law school now days? It used to be that law school was filled with men and a few women attended (almost as bad as engineering school when I went there). Then things changed and now a many schools have more women than men enrolling. ABA stats show that women were 47% of enrollments this year. My wifes graduating class had over 50% I think. What changed? It is a different field than the sciences, but something happened to change things from male dominated to equal or more.

    The best way people (especially parents) can support womens rights on an individual basis is to encourage/teach daughters, students, sisters, whoever, that they are smart, strong and take grief from no one (male or female) who says or acts differently. If this doesn’t start in the home, its a lot harder to convince kids outside the home to be smart and strong.

    (And of course its equally important for boys, too).

  28. I’ll have to check out the MSNBC interview and see if it is any better than the Newsweek one that came out back in June. That one was bad (and I got into it over on my blog, look for Nerdy Girls, or Girly Nerds for those interested).

    There are many points about this. One is the use of the word “girls” instead of women. Is that just for fun? Or does that help make them seem not as threatening?

    Also, having a group of women who study together can help. It’s been mentioned already, about being the only person in a class. There was a study released recently, The Athena Factor, that addressed the large number of women who leave engineering, science, and IT fields. They found the primary reasons are sexual harassment and isolation (being the only female in an all male shop).

  29. RL, could it have anything to do with having TV shows about law firms? The Ally McBeal effect? In that case, there should also be an uptake in women studying forensics (the CSI effect).

  30. I think that Jennifer said it all in the first post. I was also pulled into the tomboy role due to a number of factors, one of which being surrounded by “da boyz” in math and science. I realize now that they were accepting of me anyway, but I learned too late that I CAN like skirts and high heels and make-up. I think the Nerd Girls are less about being “pretty and smart” and more about being “girly and smart.”

    And yes, our fashionable nerd boys need some loving, too.

  31. Eighthman

    Ditto on what Andy said. I was just about to post something saying the exact same thing.

  32. Pieter Kok Says:
    RL, could it have anything to do with having TV shows about law firms? The Ally McBeal effect? In that case, there should also be an uptake in women studying forensics (the CSI effect).

    Ironically, I read this before I got home and saw the BABlog:

    # Michael L Says:
    August 15th, 2008 at 10:58 am

    My favorite Nerd Girl of all time is Danica McKellar who played Winnie Cooper in Wonder Years.

    Did you also listen to her talking about her second book on Math on NPR?

    Nerdy old man….

  33. Zar

    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 ope to me).

    I think one of the best things a man can do is to just point out sexism when he sees it. Or to give a rat’s patoot about it at all. A lot of people tend to marginalize it even though it affects half of humanity.

  34. RL

    Pieter, you could be correct about that. There are certainly good examples of role models for lawyers on TV. One thing I would note though, is that many women and girls I know who entered law decided at a very young age (before they started watching Ally McBeil or LA Law or other shows). I do think there is more to it than that. But I’m no sociologist. With the advent of shows like Mythbusters and Smash Lab, I’m wondering if any effect may be seen in engineering and science.

  35. Charles

    Smart women are sexier than are not-so-smart ones. They’re more interesting. They’re more informed. They’re more accomplished. They’re never boring. And so forth and so on. At least that’s my experience, and I am fortunate enough to have married a woman smarter than myself.

    She may choose to dress in “sexy” clothes – the usual heels, stockings, come-hither lingerie — or not. Her choice. Doesn’t change who she is, doesn’t negate her accomplishments, doesn’t change anything, except that she is outwardly trying to toy with my sensibilities and convey a message to me.

  36. Kat

    I’m not sure how I feel about this, either, but I will admit to feeling reassured when told that it is okay to be an engineer who happens to like watching gymnastics (as well as hockey) and who owns too many shoes, as well as too many books. Letting young smart, technically savvy women in on that secret earlier will just make it easier for them.

    Also, a slightly tangential response. Baldape said:
    [Nursing] is a well-paying profession, and American students just don’t seem interested.

    Actually, as the big sister of an aspiring nurse and the friend of two others, I can attest that there is a lot more interest in nursing than spots in nursing school—even for well qualified (an MIT-trained biologist, an MIT-trained chemist) students. The nursing shortage has lead to a really severe shortage of nursing instructors, which further exacerbates the nursing shortage.

  37. Brian

    I think this DOES have the potential to be a rallying factor. It makes me think of the Republican National Convention a couple years ago when they would cut to shots of the crowd and it made you go, “Holy crap, the republican girls are actually hot!” It somehow justifies the decision you’ve made in the psyche. I don’t get the feeling that this project is intended to give women more RESPECT in the science field but it does show girls (hopefully) that you don’t have to be one or the other. You can be a cheerleader AND a bookworm.

  38. Utakata

    Every nerd girl should have a copy of Fullmetal Alchemist in their resume.

  39. duffytvs

    I don’t know if anyone here has heard of Dr. Leonard Sax, but he is becoming a big player in education in both Canada and the U.S. What Jennifer, Gnat and Nicole and others have all pointed out is that the girls aren’t going into the maths and sciences because they feel uncomfortable as these areas don’t fit their traditional gender role. Dr. Sax argues that it’s actually not society’s ‘roles’ that cause people to go into certain fields, but the fact that certain courses are taught in a way that take advantage of learning styles differently. In the case of women, the sciences are generally okay, except for physics and math, which tend to appeal to boys, based on the way they are taught (refer to things like Sax’s or his books). Look at the cover of a high school physics textbook. It’s usually a picture of a boy doing something ‘extreme’ like snowboarding, windsurfing or skateboarding. Sax argues that these appeal on a psychological level to boys more than girls.
    I teach English, and, from a young age, we ask people to tell us how they ‘feel’ about what a character in a book does. This doesn’t appeal to boys in general, hence the reason we have much more difficulty with boys in English than girls. It really has nothing to do with aptitude, but with teaching style.
    Someone mentioned Danica McKellar as a great example. Sax doesn’t like her, but I think she’s cool. Sax’s female physicist of note is Lisa Randall. Very few could argue that she is one of the most influential people in theoretical physics these days.
    Finally, Sax points out that far more women are going to university than men. It’s only in highly technical subject areas (engineering, math, physics, computer science) where women seem to not be catching up. I pointed out some reasons above, but I encourage you to take a look and see what you think.
    I agree with a few of the commentators that Phil has every right to comment on the appearance of these women, as clearly it’s an aspect that they’re using to sell their website. Does that make him a chauvinist? Nope. Well, maybe in the eyes of a social scientist who thinks that every comment a man makes about a woman’s appearance is somehow a sign of their chauvinism. I would say a chauvinist is someone who doesn’t believe women deserve to occupy the same positions as men do in society. Phil clearly does not fall into that category. In fact, I find it ridiculous that people would accuse Phil of “treating [his] female colleagues on the internet as other chauvinist white-collar guys treat their secretaries.” Phil should be offended by such ridiculous comments, but I know he’s too cool-headed a guy to let that get to him.
    Thanks for the link, Phil.

  40. I have mixed feelings about the whole “Nerd Girl” phenom. On the one hand, I agree with Jennifer that girls shouldn’t be made to feel that they shouldn’t dress up or like traditionally feminine things, just to prove their smart credentials. On the other hand, women constantly receive the message that they must be both competent and decorative to be a success, while men are allowed to be merely competent. All the attention the “Nerd Girls” are getting seems to feed into that notion – they are more worthy of attention the other smart and geeky women because they wear eye shadow and miniskirts.

  41. As a young-looking woman and a physics professor, I am constantly seeing situations where my students judge me on first sight, and dismiss me as not the professor – every semester on Day One students walk up to the prof leaving the classroom to ask if they can transfer into my class; every semester at least one student tells me a month later that they thought I was another student on Day One; and I’ve even had students who acted significantly differently on days I dressed better (slacks or skirts, as opposed to jeans).

    I am at times thankful that my students are forced to stay in my class despite that first impression. With time they learn that I know my stuff and they come to respect my knowledge. I have also had some good experiences where female students told me they were glad to finally have a woman teaching them physics.

  42. Chelsea

    I don’t like the idea of Nerd Girls at all: the women are still portrayed as objects; albeit smart objects, but their intelligence is almost an afterthought. It takes only a moment to look at the design of the website to see that these women are still women who’ve donned a ton of make-up and kitschy accessories to get some attention. They may be smart but they’ve still bought into society’s mantra that women must still be sexy even if they’re smart because being smart as a woman is not enough. Women have to be sexy first–being smart is just a bonus. These women may be smart but socially they’re perpetuating a stereotype.

    I guess I’m in the minority. I find the term Skepchick highly offensive and I’m shocked that more women don’t. But then again, I’ve also refused to ‘doll myself up’ to get attention. The funny thing is I’ve managed to gain enough attention at work and in school due to actually voicing well-informed opinions without using sex appeal. I don’t think how I look should even be mentioned when talking about academia, but thanks to ‘role models’ like Nerd Girls, it’s apparent that science is still very much a man’s world.

    I’ve also got to agree with Andy–Phil, I’ve had enough of the comments on how ‘hawt’ women are–for someone who thinks he’s for women’s rights, you’ve got a long way to go, buddy.


  43. zandperl, I too (as a man) notice the difference in how students address me depending on whether I wear jeans or a shirt and a jacket. (And no, it’s not either top or bottom.)

  44. JD

    Women can do experiments just fine, but they still have yet to prove their creativity at the top level. Scientific innovation has always been overwhelmingly dominated by men.

  45. John

    I’m not a big fan of society, but I am a fan of XKCD.

  46. Not A Skep-anything

    I think Ouellette is wrong about ‘either / or’ tendency — that’s more about self-esteem in women IN GENERAL, rather than a specific women in science issue. Or even women in skepticism. Women in the arts, women in business — all can be successful due to talent and grit. What if what really makes a difference is the money, equity in career and getting published? Pump those up and raise the profile of getting into science and then see what happens to facile ‘but what if my glasses are nerdy?’

    Just some grabs that are probably true of quite a few attitudes I’ve had in person and online by skeptics. I’ve rarely had my qualifications or ambitions to contribute as a skeptic asked of me, but sure have had ‘so, you partying in Vegas?’ {roll eyes}

    “It’d be easier to take your alleged feminist-friendly views seriously…” if more than a limited number of sites were mentioned every time too that significantly up the cheesecake factor.

    “However, it’s always bothered me that, quite often, when you do; you fee lit necessary to comment on the appearance of the woman. No matter how you attempt to justify it, this only helps promote objectification.” And the only man-crush is Wil Weaton. What the?? 😀 Do it for the boys more often, huh? Equal opportunity leering!

    And…”I checked out the profiles and only three of the six girls – women – mention education or credentials. One WANTS to be an executive in tech industry! Hey, me too! Small world… so what’s your sign? And while they may be trying to dispel stereo types and prove that (self-described?) pretty girls can be smart, they are surely perpetuating the stereotype that to be smart, you have to wear horned rimmed glasses. All in all it looks kind of phony.”

    Agreed. Ever notice that the women who actually GET IT DONE in skepticism, who are published in Skeptic Mag, Skeptical Inquirer, are authors in peer-reviewed journals and are actually qualified in science, writing academically or running conferences and not just ‘enthusiasts’ — and they AREN’T taking part in that stereotyping of hawt? Blackmore, Kelly, Stollznow, Tarvis, Scott, Hall, Linse, Druyan, Loftus, Swoopy of Skepticality, Angell… the list goes on.

    Perhaps the ‘prime directive’ of skeptics should indeed be focused elsewhere, where the need is greater — paranormal and pseudoscience and the ramifications of dangerous beliefs. Believe that glasses limit you? Well, there does seem to be MORE than enough other well-established and organised legitimate non-profit groups (like those mentioned by bloggers in Scientiae plus regular discussions by women AND men who write on sites lik Science Blogs) who tackle the issue of gender equality that touch on image with backed up stats. When do those get mentioned? Linked?

    Last — ‘I don’t get the feeling that this project is intended to give women more RESPECT in the science field but it does show girls (hopefully) that you don’t have to be one or the other. You can be a cheerleader AND a bookworm.’
    Wasn’t that the point of feminism all along? Be what you want? Pieter Kok just wrote then that looking good as a man gets respect, so isn’t it again self-esteem for EITHER gender?

    I’m wondering if women are that narrow-minded in their choices — and perhaps actually PAYING a decent wage or making a link to career progression and opportunities that can open up would be a better rallying cry:

    “Got Science? Get credibility and support through hard cash and knowledge that your contributions count. Wear what you damned want, as long as you can support yourself at the end of the day”.

  47. Aerik, I’m curious: have you looked at every post I have made refering to women (specific or otherwise) and then looked at how many I refer to based on their attractiveness? Sure, I readily admit I do that, but the frequency of it (and how often you might deem it inappropriate) may not be as often as you think. As it happens, several women have commented in this thread, many of whom are regular readers, and did not mention it.

    As I have said many times, and as I pointed out very specifically in this post, physical attractiveness is just one of many qualities in a person.

    Oh– I corrected the typos. They creep in, and can be difficult to find sometimes. Remember, it’s just me here. :)

  48. I’m all for gender equality (search for ‘Equality’ on my blog for a rant) but I’m not sure what this Nerd Girls website is aiming for. Are they trying to get image-obsessed teenage girls into science and technology, or are they trying to encourage girls not to shy away from their dream profession because of their gender? It looks like the former to me. And I for one think that the latter is more important.

    As a female engineer, it’s comforting to know from previous comments to this post that I’m not the only one who has had to rediscover her femininity after years of being treated like a boy, simply because engineering is a boys’ subject. At the end of the day, I’m lucky that my male friends respect me for my intellect rather than my looks (I’ve had male colleagues who have discarded my views simply because I’m female), but now I’m starting to realise that image and intellect can coexist.

    I think the best way to achieve gender equality is to take gender out of the equation completely. True gender equality implies that you have the same chances in life, regardless of whether or not you have any Y chromosomes. Gender shouldn’t matter at all.

  49. BaldApe

    Perhaps being slightly pedantic, but

    the women are still portrayed as objects

    strictly speaking, at least from my materialistic point of view, all people are objects.

  50. Wendy

    I’m sick of not being physically attractive. It’s a constant struggle. And the more standardized beauty we have jammed down our throats (like these Nerd Girls), the harder it is to be me. :(

  51. Not wanting to be negative here – but why in the profiles of the nerd girls do they all have glasses on, whereas in the title page they don’t. Why do even they have to portray the sterotypical “scientist”.

    For school the other day, mini-cusp (6yrs old) had to dress as a scientist for school assembly. Mrs-Cusp (who is also a physicist) and I put him in a pair of jeans, runners and an “Aspen Center for Physics” t-shirt I got him when I was there last. No white coat, no glasses, no geeky, socially awkward mannerism – just a person who does science, (and he took a copy of Berry’s General Relativity book with him too).

  52. Fascinating comment thread. I would just point out that Chelsea is the prime example of a smart woman over-compensating in the other direction…

  53. madge

    I don’t look to other people to tell me how I should look or what I should like or what I should and shouldn’t be good at. I’m just happy in my own skin. Happy being ME ( nobody does it better ) :)

  54. Daniel

    Now Phil…Are we trying to make up for that astrology snafu? methinks thou protesteth too much! 😀

  55. Carolyn

    I wouldn’t feel comfortable being called a nerd or a chick. It just doesn’t feel right. And I wouldn’t come under the category ‘hot’ either 😉 Geek’s OK.

    How much does family background count? My Mum, my younger daughter and I all have A level maths and physics. My Mum got a degree in maths from the Open University after she retired. I have a degree in astronomy and my daughter has a place to study physics with computing starting next month. My elder daughter is very knowledgeable about video games.

    My elder daughter was once asked how she got interested in games – grandmother who likes maths and crosswords, grandfather keen on railways, her father is a Star Trek fan, her mother (me), been interested in astronomy as long as I can remember. Thanks to her grandfather she was using computers from an early age (BBC B!).

  56. OT: Can I just say that the delayed appearance of comments with hyperlinks really impairs the discussion.

  57. I have a question – how many have listened to the Skepticality episode where Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson briefly touched on this issue?

    Swoopy – “Have you seen Dr Pamela Gay, she’s hot, so…”

    Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson: “Well, the ‘hottest astrophysicist alive’ is only for men…no, it is fair, because if you look at the history of it, People Magazine wanted to have a way to objectify men in the way that women had been objectified in all the other publications. And so, they only have it for men. … It’s the sexist man alive in all the other categories.”

    I think it was best summed up by his earlier comment anyway:
    “I don’t do it as a mission statement, I just do what I love and if it happens to break a stereotype, then let it be so. There’s too many stereotypes in the world.”

  58. Gah, that should be ‘sexiest man alive in all the other categories’… damned lack of edit… I blame Phil! 😉

  59. crashed

    Most of them like being outdoors, that’s like 50 nerd point minus. *Hisses at sunlight*

  60. MoMan

    This has been an excellent exchange of ideas and insights, one of the better ones of recent.

    I like to think that I established my credentials as a man who was trying to promote equality forty years ago when I ran an Outward Bounds type program. Women were given realistic tasks for their sizes, not their genders, and were expected to pull their weight. Most of the time, we were all equally miserable.

    Many women loved it immediately (attitudes like that were not common in those days, as we seniors know so well), but some preferred to be treated as the weaker sex, and they got a lot of scorn. One woman even tried to sue me for bruises she got on a rope course. Bruises. The suit didn’t fly because she couldn’t get an attorney to take the case (but perhaps that was because she only talked to male attorneys?). So, yes, Phil, this is a complex issue, and we have come a long ways on an even longer path.

    I am in agreement with those who give you a hard time about your references to women or men in any sexual connotation, whether it is “man crush” (an incredibly wierd term to this old fart) or hot chicks, skeptical or otherwise. Can’t you just talk about them without even mentioning their gender or attraction index? Let us see a picture or read what they have to say and decide for ourselves how we feel about them. Of course, all in all, your blog is tremendous. You are simply one of us…a human…who is imperfect, but you are far above average in your idealism and hard work when it comes to promoting a better world, so we must salute you in all your imperfectness. Standing by.

  61. Chanda

    Sigh. What childish rubbish. Nerd GIRLS is right. I want women in science not people still wishing to play with Barbies, even if the Barbies are strapped to a home made rocket pack. Hmm, well maybe a rocket pack that exploded due to a malfunction.

    If you really want to consider women as more than sexual objects, just do it. Nerd Girls are not doing anyone a favor.

    What that video said was: “I’m smart and I DESPERATELY want you to think I’m cool/beautiful/popular/whatever too.”

    Desperation is not cool/beautiful/popular/whatever.

    Want to see beautiful? This WOMAN.
    is beautiful.

    If you don’t think she is even mildly beautiful—you probably do only think of women as sexual objects no matter what you pretend.

  62. Chanda

    Chelsea has it right. She’s a woman after my own heart.

    Jennifer Oullette what? What overcompensation in the other direction? Where do you get that? Please quote exactly what you mean. I think you can’t.

  63. madge

    @ Chanda
    I’m sorry but I don’t understand why some women get hot under collar when they are called chicks, birds or gals or whatever. I find none of these terms offensive. Do men get offended if they are called blokes, lads or guys? We have a rich and colourful language why not use it. I am likewise unoffended if a guy like Phil mentions that he finds a female attractive. I think He, Chris Lintott, Brian Cox, Johnny Depp and various other men are VERY easy on the eye and am happy to say so. I would hope the compliment would be graciously accepted. I ALSO think each of the above named males are intelligent and talented individuals. The two things are not mutually exclusive :)

  64. madge

    @ Chanda
    You might not want to mess with Jennifer who is not only SUPER smart AND jaw droppingly BEAUTIFUL she also holds a black belt in Jujitsu :)

  65. I don’t know. I’m not sure the Nerd Girls are adressing a real issue. Yeah, the dichotomy between “hot” and “smart” is kinda weird, but it’s not really a gender-rights issue. Guys get it too.

    I can’t remember a time when “pretty but dumb” wasn’t used to describe men, and haven’t you ever heard a man referred to as “strong as an ox, and dumb as one too?”

    From the other side, you have the nerd stereotype itself. It has nothing to do with gender. If you’re smart, you must also be ugly, weak, socially awkward and malodorous.

    Actually, geeks are often seen as being effeminate, which is just one more reason it always baffles me that people expect women not to be geeks. I live in a place where as many women as men come to the sci-fi/gaming conventions. I’m not sure we can do much better than that, except maybe finding a way to export our culture.

    Calling a woman “hawt” (or any variation thereon) is not misogyny. It’s a compliment. Especially when it’s just one thing in a laundry list of qualities. Villifying a man for noticing or commenting on a woman’s sexual attractiveness is misandrism (look it up) plain and simple.

    To you sight-advantaged folks complaining about the “smart=glasses” stereotype, I don’t know what to tell you. It happens to be true. 😛

  66. duffytvs


    I seem to recall having seen several pictures of George W. Bush wearing glasses. Take from that what you will.

  67. There is an exception to every rule. Including this one.

  68. Nin

    I see nothing nerdy or geeky in their website. They are faking it and it is very sad.

    read here to get the idea of the kind of “nerds” these girls are.

    oh and they are certified in MS office! It would only take a genius to learn that!

    more fun.

    Women have been getting away with too much nonesense and now they are trying to lower the standard of being a nerd to fit themselves in (since being nerd is now, like, totally, like hawt lol) .

  69. Zar

    JediBear: simply calling someone attractive isn’t the problem. It’s evaluating a woman based on her appearance when it’s an irrelevant issue that’s the problem. There’s a huge cultural tendency of judging women primarily based on how pleasing they are to men (lots of that has to do with looks). Take the current election. I’m not asking you to like Clinton, but surely you’ve noticed the disproportionate amount of attention she got based on her looks. Newscasters—not laymen or shock jocks, but mainstream newscasters—were dissecting her outfits, her haircut, her thighs, her breasts, her ankles, her wrinkles, etc. If a woman is disliked for some reason, she often isn’t criticized for whatever is actually wrong with her. She’s criticized for her looks. She’s either too ugly to be liked, or too pretty to be taken seriously.

    So focusing on a woman’s looks isn’t a big thing in one isolated incident, but it’s part of a larger, problematic pattern. It is a drop of rain in a flood.

    duffytvs: I have heard of Leonard Sax. Sax’s science is questionable at best. His methodology is sloppy and careless. His misrepresents his data. There are some great posts about him at Language Log:

    Be wary of sex difference studies. A lot of these guys are just modern phrenologists.

  70. Gary Ansorge

    Definition of “hawt”:

    Someone who turns me on,,,

    ,,,and that is someone who is:
    2)healthy(physically and mentally)
    3)possessed of bilateral symmetry

    ,,,and of course, there are a million other attributes one could list, depending on your particular tastes,,,

    “hawt” people leave offspring.

    ,,,’nuff said,,,

    GAry 7

  71. Phil,

    With all due respect…

    Why not simply refer to good posts wherever you see them no matter the gender of the writer? You wouldn’t say something like “Gee,read this post from (insert male name here), a male writer! He’s hawt!” would you? So, why single out female writers by their gender? If a person’s writing or ideas are good enough for you to notice, the gender shouldn’t be the issue — it should be the ideas or the article, and maybe the person’s personality (and gender should be LOW on that list of things to talk about).

    This kind of reminds me of the old Heinlein saying about the waltzing bear and talking about how gracefully it waltzes. Singling out writers for special attention because they’re female CAN look like you’re pointing out NOT how gracefully the bear waltzes, but rather condescending to note that the bear waltzes at all! And female science writers (and scifi writers) face enough of that already…


  72. Cathy

    As an educator, I work with a lot of kids, and I find that A LOT of girls say they HATE math and the physical sciences (and even science fiction). I struggle valiantly against their claimed antipathy toward math/physical science/science fiction, but teen girls, especially, often seem to cling to, and even express pride in, their hatred for these beautiful and amazing fields.

    By the way, from where I sit, it does seem to me that a lot of girls are interested in biology and animals and all the various medical fields.

    I am interested in reading some research findings on why so many girls are anti-physical-science (and anti-science-fiction), and I appreciate duffytvs’s reference to Dr. Sax’s books. I do feel that educational systems shoulder some (not all) of the blame for girls’ bias against math and science, and Dr. Sax seems to agree.

    (Of course, I also recognize that there are girls who *don’t* hate math and science [thank goodness!], boys who do [boo hoo], and that cognitive science, education, and sex differences/sex roles are all very complex topics!)

  73. Another thing: you can’t list hot/attractive separately from smart one second, then pretend that to you hot subsumes intelligence the next second. Don’t you get it? Phil and the lot of you DO separate intelligence from allure all the time. That’s why every time Phil can only turn into paris hilton going “you’re hot, that’s hot, what you did was so hot, nyah nah nah” when he’s chatting online and doing videos, he is conveying sexism whether or not he intended it. And considering how rarely he brings up gender inequality in science, he’s not exactly a champion in spite of that crap, either.

  74. And there’s a word for that crap you do with separating and jointing hot and smart on a whim: moving goalpost syndrome.

    I’m out. You turds aren’t doing a very good job polishing yourselves.

  75. nino

    And what do these “nerd girls do except pose for the camera?

    They are clearly faking it my friends.

  76. Dylan Armitage

    I have a friend with the exact opposite gender problem: she’s very good at math, but is worried that she’d never meet an attractive man in any related field. So she wants to forgo math for something that she still likes, but would also be “better off socially.”

    I’ve been nudging to her that she should really do what she’s good at regardless of social standing, which currently is math-related, but she’s still wary about it.

  77. @ Cathy: Re your ‘ I am interested in reading some research findings on why so many girls are anti-physical-science…’

    My first response is:

    But you might like to try my following posts too:

    You should also check out recent research on the closing gaps –

    In fact, just sign up for Scientiae blog carnival to see more on these issues by a wide variety of women in science and women who research gender issues in science.

    I would like to know what supports your ‘girls being anti-science fiction’ in recent years (my first response is to refer to this article: ! 😀 ) – I think it would be more accurate to say that it’s a literacy problem in general. Seen the enthusiasm for Rowling, Meyer (especially nowdays –, Pierce, Lackey, Jacques, in your teaching experience of girls?

    I could point out that perhaps a link between what sci fi they are viewing can then encourage sci fi reading – as reflected in letters here: – this was usually how I got my female students into reading in general, let alone sci fi.

  78. That’s great. Make a stupid remark, call everyone names, and then leave before anyone can respond. THAT’S a fair debating tactic.

    There’s no moving goalposts here. Components can be considered seperately or as part of a whole. Take the tires on your car. They are tires, and may be considered as such, or they may be considered as a part of the vehicle. Cars make pretty crappy vehicles without tires, but a car can be pretty good with even poor tires. A car might therefore be considered to be awesome, as well as posessing excellent tires. Each would be worth mentioning of its own accord, even though the quality of the tires can be considered as subsumed in the overall quality of the car.

    What some men here have claimed (and I agree) is that intelligence is a component (and only a component) of sexual attractiveness. Stupid people are repulsive (to me,) regardless of any other quality they might posesess.

    However, it is generally considered that intelligence and sexual attractiveness are seperate and unrelated. Note how many of the commentators on this thread (and even Phil) have said as much. Because of this varying definition, we cannot assume for the purposes of communication that “smart” is subsumed in “hot.” Thus we say “smart and hot” for clarity. I don’t believe I’ve ever noticed Phil describing a woman as hot without also describing her as smart.

    And while we’re at it, subsumed degrees of intelligence doesn’t necessarily correlate to degrees of attractiveness. It serves more as a minimum (or more famously as a maximum) requirement, and if a woman greatly exceeds that requirement, it may seem worth mentioning seperately.

    (i.e. “she’s hot, but she’s even smarter than she is hot.” or if a man belongs to the other school “she’s hot, but MAN is she dumb.”)

    And then there’s context, which is a whole different can of worms.

    In short, you’re seeing sexism where there isn’t any. Or, dare I say, striking at mental apparitions like a drunk on a vacant street. I expect that’s because you’re sexist yourself.

  79. There are two aspects of men calling women “hawt” that have not been disentangled so far: First, there is the need to do so. It is part of the complex human behaviour (driven to a large extent by sexuality and ranking in the pecking order) that cannot be completely suppressed. And this is gender neutral. Women just as much as men feel the need to comment on the other sex’ appearance , as anyone who has ever waited on a hen party can attest. Second, there are the individual sensibilities of people that vary widely. As we have seen in the comments, some women find it objectionable being called “hawt”, while others don’t.

    The range of sensibilities should be a guide to what is deemed acceptable when commenting on appearances. We cannot put the bar at “no woman should be offended”, because that would even the mildest comment unacceptable, and this can ultimately backfire badly. The other extreme of unbridled sexism is clearly unacceptable, so we have to find some middle ground. To complicate matters, this also depends critically on the context. As a guide, one should err on the side of caution, because that means some reflection has taken place.

    @ccpetersen: I don’t want to presume to speak for the BA, but I have noticed that whenever he refers to a person he admires (whether male or female), he always adorns his writing with certain adjectives. And it is not that all women get the “hawt” label, men get subjected to his “man crush”. 😉

  80. Grand Lunar

    It is helpful for girls to be encouraged that they can do whatever they want.

    I see this at my marine mechanics school (I know, not exactly a place of higher learning, but still rather technical).
    The population is mainly male. But a few females are present, one whom can definately be considered attractive.
    A similar situation existed when I was in the navy, in the boat shop.

    To me, it shows that there are women that can break through the preconceptions that society has.

    As Pieter Kok says, extreme femnism is wrong. A great series of videos on this exist on YouTube (one of the few quality series that goes on).
    Moderation is key.

    What society ought to understand is that there’s nothing wrong with seeing the oppisite gender as a “sex object”. What can be wrong is when that’s ALL that’s seen.

  81. duffytvs


    I disagree with the premise of your argument, as what Phil says about women and what is said about Hilary Clinton are not, in my opinion, part of the same problem. Phil is not sexist; the mainstream media appears to be sexist. They also appear to be ageist, based on critiques of McCain. Oh, and racist, based on Obama coverage. I’m also pretty sure I’ve heard a lot of women talking about how attractive Obama or Edwards (pre-affair) are. I just don’t think the political line of argument is going to work here.

    I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that Phil is playing into this sexism because he comments on how attractive a woman is. That said, I’m not a woman, so I have no idea what it’s like to be a woman. I do know, however, that male eating disorders on the rise, due to the need to fit a certain look. I also know that men often worry about their appearance as much as women do. Are they judged by their appearance? I think in many areas they are. I don’t have the hard evidence, but I know there are studies suggesting that overweight men are less likely to get a promotion. So, that suggests that appearance matters for everyone. The fact that appearance matters does not make us superficial sexists; it makes us human.

    As for your information about Dr. Sax, well, it’s greatly appreciated. I’ve read the pages (briefly), but enough to see that Sax’s methodology is somewhat questionable. Thanks for the heads up. I’ll definitely be taking that into school with me.

  82. This discussion inspired me to write my own take on the matter over at Cocktail Party Physics, rather than leaving tons of individual comments on the thread:

  83. Brian

    If you really want to consider women as more than sexual objects, just do it. Nerd Girls are not doing anyone a favor.

    Isn’t it possible to think that a woman is SEXY without automatically turning her into a sex OBJECT?

  84. @Cathy: ‘As an educator, I work with a lot of kids, and I find that A LOT of girls say they HATE math and the physical sciences (and even science fiction).’

    Cathy, I’ve responded to your comments (and quite a lot of this original post) at length on my blog – since I put in too many links last time in my comment.

    I disagree with your summation about girls and science fiction – but that’ll be a post for another time! :)

  85. As a blogger who’s chosen the moniker “sciencegeekgirl” I could hardly keep from expression some deep opinions on this post. I’ve written in some depth in a post on my site (see link) named after my bumper sticker, “Flirt Harder I’m a Physicist.” Here’s the crux of the issue for me as it pertains to this post and some of the comments.

    Guys (of course, I surround myself with nerdy guys) are generally not dismayed to find out the “smart + sexy” equation applies to me — there’s generally this sort of “hey cool, that’s hot” look that passes over their face. But one thing that strikes me is that my smartness seems to play second fiddle. I can’t think of a single time when a man has looked deeply into my eyes and said breathlessly, “Stephanie, you’re so smart!” But they do tell me I’m beautiful. I look at them all googly-eyed and croon about how smart *they* are. Why this seeming double standard, even among men who value the fact that I’m smart? I’m with Phil Plait on this one — how can we expect ourselves to “rise above” millions of years of evolution? Men are attracted to me for the traits that we’ve been bred to be attracted to — those which signify fertility and health. You know, big hips, rosy lips, symmetric facial features, etc. I’m attracted to them because it seems they can outsmart the antelope. We’ve got these big ponderous brains that let us think about the nature of consciousness, the universe, and gender differences. But that doesn’t mean those brains can completely override those gender differences, even if we’re aware of them. We should be easy on ourselves.

    The unfortunate result is that I’m much more confident of my looks than my brains. I accept compliments about my appearance much more gracefully than those about my smarts, where I tend to minimize, “Oh, I don’t really know physics that much.”

    I’ve seen this too, this “girly stuff is demeaning” attitude. It bothers me. A lot. Because “boyish” stuff, like trains and hunting and barbeques, don’t have that same negative connotation. To me, the embarrassment we’ve got about girly stuff has to do with our negative attitudes towards women. Period. We think that handbags and high-heels don’t belong in a textbook (or anywhere serious) because they’re related to women, and we don’t value women. I don’t usually state such strong opinions, but there it is!

  86. Don Snow

    Thanks for this thread.

    I read all the posts, before I started this. I’m reminded of two of the things, my mother told me: 1. Son, appearance is important.
    2. Son, first impressions are important.
    My puppy love, we were sophomores in H.S., and she was my first steady girl friend, was smart and good looking. I asked her, what attracted her to me?
    What made her notice me? Boy, did her answer surprise me: the hem to the buttons on my shirt; my belt buckle; and the hem of my trouser’s placat; all lined up.
    (In Jr. Hi, I was in marching band. My father [USAF for 29 years] taught me how to wear a uniform. I applied those principles to my civilian clothes.)

    My parents were right. People do go a lot by first impression and by appearances. I think, that’s because that’s all we have to go by, until we get to know each other.

    Since my laptop does not do well with videos, I have learned not to try to download videos.
    But, I have read all of this thread.
    There’s a Clairol shampoo commerical, the little song that goes with it. which I love: “Every woman’s beautiful, in her own way.”

    I’m surprised none of you have mentioned that true beauty is more than skin deep. I think that any person with a loving heart (male or female) radiates a kind of beauty, for example.
    A person may also have a beautiful singing or speaking voice.

    In closing, I think it’s going to be awhile (in decades), before sexism washes out of societies. I have nothing against memebers of either gender appreciating the appearance of an attractive person of the other gender. That’s not my idea of sexism. I’m talking about lewd comments, not taking “no” for an answer, staring and other types of sexual harassment as sexism.

    That’s my two cents worth.

  87. writzer

    Why is it that to play the smart part women must wear clunky, unfashionable glasses? (In fact, scrolling back through my mental pop culture files, it seems that ‘brainy’ types are almost always portrayed wearing unfashionable eyewear. Eyestrain from scanning tiny type in massive tomes by the light of a single guttering candle?)

  88. Jim

    Years ago I worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance company in their Personal Insurance Actuarial Department. Most of my coworkers were Actuaries or Actuarial students. About 40% of the students were women. They passed actuarial exams at about the same rate as men. (no disernable difference) We did have quite a few women who had passed the full set of Actuarial exams. Let me assure you that there was NO favoritism or dumbing down of the tests for women or anyone else. There wasn’t any affirmative action in the test taking. The Society of Actuaries put out and administered the tests world wide and they made every effort to provide extremely difficult but fair tests and testing. (for those tests which were not multiple guess, the graders only saw a candidate number, no names, no information about the candidate .)

    The Actuarial exams take on average 7 years to pass. Those women (and men) are very smart and competent. I am fairly sure that the women in the program were on pay parity with the men. A women Actuary (and men actuaries to a lesser degree) has her choice of employment due to legal requirements for large companies. There are very few incompetent actuaries; so companies want to get and retain them.

    In addition, to working with highly intelligent women all of them were very attractive. If I have to work with someone my first choice is that they are intelligent and work well with others. If they happen to be attractive it is a bonus. (I am not on the hunt, happily married for 27 years so far.)

  89. Christine P.

    Really interesting points in the discussion here. As a woman with advanced science degrees (and some degree of attractiveness, I’m told), I try to strike a balance between smart/sexy. I appreciate compliments on either aspect.

    I haven’t been offended by the tone of Phil’s posts. Of course, I tend to fall on the not-easily-offended side of the spectrum. After all, I’m also a general aviation pilot and I wear a “Chicks Fly” T-shirt with a really cute baby chicken wearing scarf & helmet. :-)

  90. V

    I am not offended when Phil comments on someone’s attractiveness, especially since he does not do it to harass or marginalize anyone. He also does it to men. I think he’s passed the “not a misogynistic a-hat” test.

    I don’t agree with anyone who wishes women would snuff out all aspects of their femininity. It may sometimes make them seem superficial and frivolous, but aspects of masculinity also may make men seem power-obsessed and egomaniacal. Both things are not very complimentary on their own, but they are only facets of who the person really is.

    What you have to do is realize that solely masculine men aren’t very interesting either. Their pursuit of money and sex isn’t laudable. A woman who devotes her life to being hot isn’t interesting, and her pursuit isn’t laudable. When you comment on her attractiveness, it’s simply feeding this empty pursuit. But a woman who is hot and smart–hot because she’s smart, or hot separately from being smart–has more laudable pursuits than her own attractiveness. Phil does a good job of noting that advocating skepticism is the good thing someone does, and disregarding any notion that a woman’s contribution to the world is her smokin’ hot body. In the same vein–I’d like a woman to think that her work is more important than her appearance.

    But I don’t bar anyone from falling in love with shoes. Nerdgirls included.

    Let’s not pretend that tall men and attractive women don’t get the better side of life. We cannot force people to conform to some imaginary ideal of political correctness–for them to disregard sex and appearance altogether, and not make anyone feel bad. But we can also remember that people can do much more useful and interesting things than look good–and it is these pursuits which really matter.

  91. Santoki

    I don’t think the problem is bigots or that women aren’t smart enough to cut it in nerd fields, but that they just don’t have any interest in them.

    When I was in the engineering program at Berkeley, the ratio of guys to girls was something like 99:1. I met a lot of smart girls at Cal, but few of them really wanted to be engineers. That’s what’s “holding them back”: desire.

    I now make video games for a living, and both at Rockstar games and EA the ratios of guys/girls was just about the same as in school. Poor me :(

  92. Miranda

    This was a great post. I am a geeky girl, an electrical/math engineer by trade working in software development.

    Let me first say that Phil is so obviously not sexist that it’s shocking anyone could thing he is. Sure he describes sceptical and science-y women as “hawt” but when have you ever heard him apply that term to someone who’s into UFOs or chemtrails? I mean, come on, he even chastised YOU guys when you make breast puns about the well-endowed astrologist during the LA earthquake. He himself made no such references. And on the flip side, have you ever once heard him describe any nerd-girl as “plain” or “unattractive” or “poorly dressed”? Ever?

    And I have to agree with Stephanie Chasteen and Jennifer Ouellette. I don’t see why we should have to renounce our femininity just because we’re geeky. I have grown up being told how smart I am but almost never has anyone told me I’m “beautiful” (the opposite of Stephanie’s situation). As a result, I always considered myself to be ugly and suffered from ridiculously low self-esteem despite being smart. And for a long time, I resented any links between beauty (of pageant standards) and intelligence for reasons all of which have been discussed here.

    But it turns out I’m not ugly. None of us are. And that certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy compliments about how we look nice or how we are “hawt” (which I am!). If we denounce appearance as indiscriminately sexist or irrelevant, doesn’t that just make us ashamed of our appearance, albeit from the other side of the coin?

    Frankly, the more women who look like average people are called pretty or beautiful or hawt by the likes of people like Phil, the more average women will stop comparing themselves to supermodels and start to feel beautiful for who they are. And women who like themselves will take up careers that interest them, rather than careers that make them seem more desirable. At least that’s what I think… :)

  93. Jim

    I do volunteer work for an organization in Oregon called ORTOP Oragon Robotics tournament and Outreach program. It runs the Oregon Lego Robotics program and in addition to running the Robotics tournament tries to encourage girls and minorities into the engineering field. They do a great job. They work with the Girl Scouts and other organizations to try to lower the barriers and stigma of engineering. (and fight the myth that girls can’t do that)

    It is heart warming to see the youngsters working in teams to do the program.

  94. Magda

    re-Don Snow and others :
    My boyfriend does tell me that I am smart, but always when I feel I have deserved it (and lists it as n°1 reason as to why he stays with me).
    But if you ask him why he was attracted to me in the first place, the answer is : you had quite a cleavage in that dress, and you looked hot in that bathing suit… I am frankly not the stuff supermodels are made of (and I agree with Miranda’s last paragraph all the more), but this kind of sincere praise did a lot for my self esteem, and the more I felt at ease the more compliments I also got from others.
    I decided to stop worrying about being considered dumb after I got my PhD. But I would really have liked to be told I also had the right to worry about my looks earlier…

  95. amphiox

    With regards to Clinton, personally I see no problem with discussing things like clothing, hairstyle, etc. These things are voluntary, and is a reflection of an individual’s choice and judgement, perfectly valid points to question of anyone running for office. Things like wrinkles, weight, etc, however, or not acceptable to me because they are natural attributes beyond an individual’s control.

    For better or worse, it seems to me that the trend is towards increasing scrutiny of appearance and dress in male political figures as well. At least in Canada where I followed these things, I well remember the Stockwell Day speedo incident, and the interminable saga regarding Prime Minister Harper’s expanding waistline.

  96. Santoki:
    “I don’t think the problem is bigots or that women aren’t smart enough to cut it in nerd fields, but that they just don’t have any interest in them.”

    Actually, the current thinking along the lines of why there’s more men in science than women is not that women aren’t talented or interested, but that girls start off just as interested and scoring just as well, but social pressures (peers, media, even parents) begin to push them out of the field starting in middle school. Even when parents try to encourage their daughters – for example a mother saying “I don’t know where she got her math skills from, goodness knows I can barely balance my checkbook!” – it unfortunately often does not get absorbed in the way it was intended – in this case the girl could absorb “my mother thinks math is only good for balancing checkbooks, and that girls shouldn’t learn more than that.”

  97. Robert Reppy

    The sexiest, most beautiful woman on the Internet is also one of the smartest; Marina at HotForWords. She’s a philologist, has one of the most-viewed sites on You Tube, is accurate, reliable, and drop-dead gorgeous. She is a most excellent example of a woman who knows how to use what she’s got to teach what she knows. Worth checking out if you haven’t yet. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you’ll probably learn something. If you’re a man, you’ll probably drool over your keyboard. But you’ll still learn something.

  98. curious

    another nod to Andy’s comment.

    for the most part, i really enjoy this blog. and then every once in awhile, i have to wince when the BA introduces some skeptic gal with a helpful aside about her physical attractiveness. because obviously we can’t judge a woman’s thinking unless we know whether she’s hot or not, right guys?

    PLEASE reconsider this habit.

  99. people here are focused on “being smart” as a very valuable thing in life. Fine.
    I prefer other attributes like “intellectual”, “brilliant”, “beautiful mind”, which for me means something more than math and keyboard skills. It means making use of intelligence at different levels and cross-thinking capabilities among the several dimensions of life. It also implies willingness and courage in life. It doesn’t necessarily implies a PhD.

    Nowadays “Beautiful minds” are more rare than “smart people” but very probably they are equally distributed among women and men. In the past they appeared in different sectors (and in science almost only men) mainly due to historical and sociological reason. Nowadays there are female BMs in science, business and politics.
    I also think, BMs (both women and men) are very attractive by definition. It simply has to do with beauty, real beauty.


  100. Alex, I do not think you are being fair in your appraisal of how other commenters here interpret “smart”. I think most of us consider the broad version of smart; what you call a “beautiful mind” (although I always think that is a eufemism for the mentally insane…).

  101. Pieter,
    thank you for your answer.
    I probably expressed my thoughts in a bad way. With “people here” I was referring to the mainstream “average” people and not to specific persons who leave comments here. I apologize for unintentional “lack of fairness”. Nevertheless I think it is right to question about the meaning of “being smart” and nobody did it so far.
    Of course everything depends also on the meaning we give to the words, and this is also influenced by the mainstream way of thinking. For me “beautiful mind” has a positive meaning, because I put more worth on Prof. Nash being genious than beeing sick.
    I don’t like to reduce intelligence to functional intelligence which act within schemes, I prefer the broadest possible version of the smart attribute, including cross-thinking and creativity. For example, take the difference (which for sure you know better than me) between building a new theory and just solving equations, or between “engineering” circuits or discovering the transistor. One can impress people by quickly solving equations and “they” think he/she is “smart” because “fast” is “smart”. But just solving within schemes or predefined frameworks, no matter how fast, for me is less worth than being able to disrupte such schemes and create something really innovative: intelligence should have more to do with creativity and indipendent way of thinking. Take Einstein, he was known for being a slow thinker. (
    But don’t get me wrong, I am not saying everybody should be a genious which is quite ridiculous of course. I am just saying, let´s take as models big thinkers and real innovators instead of “nerds”.
    best, AZ

  102. Oded

    I’d like to discuss a bit these proclaimed “nerd girls”, specifically the “nerd” part…
    I might just be arguing terminology, but to me, “nerd” means “socially inept”, or in that general direction. More specifically, inept in “real life” social activities, the kind that involve body language, etc.
    Being a nerd is not the same as being smart, though they are usually correlated…

    Above comment here said:
    “I agree with you that intelligence and physical attractiveness are not mutually exclusive. They also aren’t related, however.”

    Absolutely agree. However, I think: being a nerd is positively correlated with being smart, and negatively correlated with being attractive. The reason for this is that attractiveness causes social skills, because of rare outcasting, and frequent social approaches. This is why, I take it for very low chance that any of the attractive girls in this website are truly nerds.

    The post talked about the stereotype of “pretty women aren’t smart” – this is of course a false stereotype, BUT, there is a lot of truth to “pretty women aren’t nerds”.

    Of course, you can consider all this just a terminology issue and include “nerds” as anyone inclined to technical and scientific worlds.

    BTW, this might be a cultural/country thing, this blog post seemed to be very concerned with hot women being objectified as dumb and not taken seriously – I must say, this is the case NOT the case where I live (Israel). I don’t think there is any significant stereotype here correlating sex/beauty and intelligence…

    Another note regarding sex and intelligence – I hold the belief that on average women are as smart as men, but that women have a much narrower intelligence bell curve than men do – meaning, there are a lot more men idiots and men geniuses, where as most women just fall average. I don’t have any firm evidence to back this beside my own personal experience, so I am certainly open to refute…

  103. Zygar

    “And if it gets men to think of women as other than just sexual objects, then that’s a good thing.”

    From the way you made that “point” it seems like you’re having trouble doing that yourself, Phil.

  104. Steve

    Well, as a guy in the tech industry I’m 100% all for women finding acceptance and success in the technological disciplines.

    However, I’m just not seeing it happening, and it’s not from lack of trying from the industry to both promote it in the classroom and encourage it from women in the workplace.

    Take the place I currently work. We’re a collection of software engineers that help oversee a certain Antitrust case against a certain HUGE technological corporation. We try to find female and male applicants to fill high tech roles and I’ve helped carry out the interview process on dozens of candidates. For every 10 or 15 men we get one woman.

    Me, I’d love to see women flood the tech workplace, believe me, the lack of gender diversity is wearysome in the extreme. But even with companies bending over backwards trying to find female candidates, they’re just not appearing in the tech market place. And mind you, this is from up here in the Redmond, Bellevue, and Seattle Wa area, one of the tech capitals of the US.

    Maybe you should consider asking women and girls who aren’t in the tech field why they aren’t trying to get into it? The pay is great, the work is intellectually challenging and rewarding, and you get to work with some of the brighter variety of the male gender.


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