High Femme and Geekery
One of my New Year’s blogolutions was to clear out my to-blog folder, and bring closure to my unfinished drafts by simply posting them as-is. This is one of those drafts. Disorganized paragraphs, unfinished sentences, and general incoherence enhance the natural character and beauty of a half-written blog post and should not be considered flaws or defects.
Draft date: June 24, 2008
The women-in-science-osphere has been trying to figure out what to make of this Newsweek article about “Nerdettes”, female engineering majors who make a point of displaying gender-normative behaviors like makeup. Fairer Science has a summary of reactions.
Perhaps I have missed the many teams of pudgy young women in ratty, one-size-too-large t-shirts that criss-cross the country, promoting science and engineering to girls who do not like to play dress-up.
Let me be clear that I am not concerned with any individual geeky woman’s desire to femme herself up as much as she wants. Rather, I am concerned with the way women’s fashion choices are presented as a natural subject for political analysis – femming out is revolutionary, or counter-revolutionary, or perhaps it depends on whether you are wearing heels or flats, or whether you’re in the lab or at a club, or whether Venus is in a fire sign or at quincunx to Jupiter. Failure to femme out might be a rejection of patriarchal norms, or a rejection of your sexuality/femininity, or a sign to young girls that brains and beauty are mutually exclusive. Whatever the case, it is vitally important that we uncover and vigorously enforce the correct social norms! The future of society hinges on women displaying themselves in an approved manner!
You know who can wear natty outfits or graph paper shirts or sexy bike shorts or the same green polo every Thursday without inspiring any political debate or unease? Men!
With girlishness and fashion, I submit that women are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. So the Nerdettes aren’t making lots of us uneasy because they’re somehow making the wrong choice. They make us uneasy because they remind us that we have no satisfying options.
As a kid, I totally bought into the brains/beauty dichotomy. I picked brains. I never worried about dating – I just assumed that I would eventually find a nice zombie who would love me for my delicious, spicy brains. Though I occasionally feel embarrassed that I never learned the basic womanly arts of eye shadow, and wonder what my life would’ve been like if I’d read
Women in science and engineering are occasionally stereotyped as sexless spinsters, but what happens much more often is that our presence and contributions are simply made wholly invisible.
Once – just once – I would like to hear someone excuse poor behavior with “aw, they’re just socially awkward geek girls, what more do you expect?”.