Category Archives: Women’s Studies

The One Where I Geek Out about Title IX

So, I know it has been absolutely forever since I wrote a post, but I’m back because I finally feel like I have the brain space to write and a topic I’m psyched to tell you all about!  Last week, on Tuesday, June 23rd, the White  House held a roundtable discussion to celebrate the 37th anniversary of Title IX and through a lucky convergence of events, I was able to attend the celebration!  I’ve been fairly obsessed with Title IX since I wrote my senior thesis about it in college, so I was RIDICULOUSLY excited to get to go to the White House event for it!  As it turns out, the roundtable also is a perfect excuse share some thoughts on why I am so in love with Title IX.

For all of you who aren’t Title IX geeks like me, Title IX is Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments and it states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  It is most famous for getting women and girls into sports, but we also have Title IX to thank for removing admissions barriers in higher education (for getting more women into college), barring discrimination against women teachers, administrators, and professors, and prohibiting sex discrimination in schools.

(Above: The video of the event).

So, back to the event.  It was nice to get to go to an event for something where I got to do all that and get to feel pretty jazzed and emotional about the topic at hand!  Here are a few of the event highlights:

  • It was in the OEOB.  I’m kind of a nerd and I always wanted to go to the OEOB.  Unfortunately, my efforts to snag a souvenir OEOB appointment badge failed miserably.
  • Birch Bayh, the former Senator from Indiana, who sponsored Title IX back in 1972 was there.  I didn’t realize he was still alive, so that was pretty cool.  In his brief remarks, he seemed to care very deeply about Title IX and that was cool to see.  I wrote a lot about Senator Bayh when I was doing my thesis and I always thought of him fondly from the way he came off as I read hearings from the 1970s, so it was cool to see that he actually was a good match for how I imagined him!
  • Billie Jean King was also there and that was very cool.  It’s hard to be a woman who likes sports and not think Billie Jean King is pretty awesome.  She was pretty emotional about how much Title IX meant to her and actually seemed glassy-eyed at times, so that was quite touching.  I also want to share this BJK quote, “Nerds rule!  I love nerds the best.  They’re smart and fun!”  Nothing says we should keep educating women at the highest levels and get them into science, technology, math, and engineering fields quite like that!
  • Dominique Dawes is absolutely jacked.  I felt out of shape just looking at her.  Though, I am out of shape so maybe I just felt out of shape from being out of shape.
  • Russlyn Ali, who is in charge of the Office of Civil Rights, our friends over at the Department of Education who enforce Title IX, really encouraged people to bring Title IX complaints and she talked a lot about how they want to vigorously enforce Title IX.  Fun to hear that after the Bush years!  WOO!

I took some notes on the whole event with the intention of writing a blog post that would basically be a recap, but now that I am writing and the whole thing is on YouTube, I feel like I would rather write a bit about why I care so damn much about Title IX.

The whole time I was sitting at the OEOB listening to all the amazing speakers talk about Title IX, I could not help but reflect on my own feelings about the law.  I first got interested in Title IX one summer during college, it must have been the summer of 2002 (the 30th anniversary of Title IX) when ESPN was showing all kinds of specials about Title IX and when I was trying to think of things that could be fun thesis topics.  I remember talking to one of my professors about how I wanted to write about how women’s sports and Title IX were not killing men’s sports, and my professor encouraged me to instead write about why we only talk about Title IX and its impact on sports.  What about its promise for women in education?   In retrospect, that might have been one of the more important questions someone has ever asked me.  I ended up answering that question in my thesis (we focus more on sports because the discussion about Title IX sports focuses on gender differences than the discussion about education and Title IX).  The question also prompted what I think will be a long and fulfilling relationship between me and Title IX research.

Since that project forced me to learn all about the broad applications of Title IX, I really gained an appreciation for how much Title IX has made me what I am.  At this point, it’s pretty clear that I am going to be in school forever, ideally earning a PhD and becoming an academic and I’ve been playing sports ever since I was old enough to wear a hat that was way too big for my head and hit a ball off a T.   I remember reading about Title IX and realizing how much my generation took for granted.  Before the law, colleges had quotas for how many women they could accept, textbooks were packed with sex stereotypes, women scientists had their experiments sabotaged, and women’s sports received little support.  It just blows my mind to think about that.  Where would I be if I couldn’t have completed something like 18 years of education?  What would I have studied?  What would I have done with all my free time instead of playing field hockey or soccer or running or ultimate frisbee?  I just literally I have no idea what I would be doing as I feel like my life has so often been defined by my need to learn and research and my love of sports.  It’s crazy to think that if I had been doing all of this like 37 years earlier I might be a totally different person.

I’ve still been writing about Title IX, most recently on the Bush Administration’s regulations that allow for single sex education under Title IX (we need to revoke those, by the way).  I also feel fairly certain that once I start a PhD program, I want to write my dissertation on the subject.   So, I thought that this White House event was the perfect opportunity to talk a little bit about why I care about Title IX since it’s something I plan to continue to work on for quite some time!


Leave a comment

Filed under Feminist Stuff, Grad School, Politics, Sports, Women's Studies

It’s a Post about Academic Theory and Outrage!

As part of my morning routine, I always watch CNN while trying to will myself out of bed and this morning I was reminded of a story that’s been making my head want to explode.  Last week a story came out that Georgia Republicans are trying to ban “sex courses” (I love their use of scare quotes!) like queer theory.  Here’s the thing, I love queer theory and school, so this is the kind of thing I can really get going about.  Here’s a list of everything that is absolutely outrageous about this policy:

1) The press, I’m looking at you CNN, has embraced this language of “steamy sex courses” to describe queer theory.  Have any of these people ever,  you know, picked up a book?  It’s like they want you to believe that queer theory is a guide for how to have gay sex.  It is not.  It IS compromised of many awesome theories about how to see gender and gender identity as socially constructed.  It asks us to think way outside of the box and move beyond thinking of gender and binaries.  And my personal favorite part, is that it is actually very inclusive in mind, because it pushes for an understanding of gender that allows for a diverse array of gender identities and sexualities.  It challenges people to think in new ways and that is never a bad thing.

(I know, you’re so pumped about this theory now that you want to know where you can read more.  I’d suggest starting with Gender Trouble by Judith Butler.  It will blow your mind!)

2) Here’s what’s cool about academia, if you don’t agree with a theory, such as queer theory, no one is saying you can’t argue against it, you just have to do it on solid academic grounding.  I realize queer theory is pretty radical and some people are going to disagree with it, but to those people I say, why don’t you read some queer theory, do some reasearch, and give me a well-thought out position against it.  Just banning the teaching of ideas is a totally insane way to discredit an entire field of solid academic work.  Also, I’m pretty sure queer theory could come out on top in this academic debate!

3) “Our job is to educate our people in sciences, business, math,” said Calvin Hill, a vice chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. He said professors aren’t going to meet those needs “by teaching a class in queer theory.”

This kind of narrow-minded thinking is a huge part of the problem.  It’s upsetting that those legislators cannot see that maybe there are some flawed assumptions in how those subjects are taught and embracing new theories like queer theory, feminist theory, etc. could help provide better understandings in all of those fields that would result in greater knowledge and improved policies based on that knowledge.

By the way, for anyone keeping track out there, I like the way this guy mentions that the purpose of education is limited to science, business, and math, 3 of the most gendered, male-heavy fields I can think of.  Are we also not responsible for teaching people about English, history, social sciences, the humanities, etc?  I feel like there’s a dangerous undercurrent in this that says education is only legit if it focuses on fields that have been traditionally associated with reinforcing a system that overwhelmingly privileges white, heterosexual males.  This is key, because banning queer theory could be a slippery slope.  What’s next?

4) I think there’s also a Title IX argument to be made here.  For those of you who are not obsessed with Title IX like I am, Title IX states,”No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”   The law covers all areas of education and all programs at institutes of higher education.  While this has not yet been tested in court and policy recommendations do not yet exist on the issue, I would argue that banning the teaching of queer theory (or feminist theory or whatever else conservatives decide they don’t like) could be considered a form of gender discrimination.  I know if GW (where I am currently a student), decided to up and ban the women’s studies program, I would feel as though I was being discriminated against for wanting to learn more about issues related to my gender.

OK, I feel better having gotten that out!


Filed under Feminist Stuff, Grad School, Politics, Women's Studies

This is Why I Do What I Do

I would say on a fairly regular basis people ask me why I’ve gotten so into this feminist thing.  Usually, when I answer, I ramble on mentioning how my mom was the kind of feminist who didn’t like Barbies and how I was (and really, still am), kind of a tomboy.  I always kind of felt like I grew up with it so it’s just part of who I am.  Anyways, I often forget to mention that there is a lot of really messed up stuff that is still happening, and this interview I just read on Feministing is one of those things.  The interview is with a man who is crusading against women’s rights by suing Columbia University.  In a fairly short interview, he manages to prove he knows nothing about women’s studies, demonstrates that he either knows nothing about violence against women and/or does not take it seriously, and gives the definite impression that he believes women are good for nothing but sex.  It’s pretty ridiculous.  It just blows my mind how people can still think stuff like this, especially people who have actually been educated.  Anyways, trying to make life difficult for troglodytes like this guy is one reason I do what I do.


Filed under Feminist Stuff, Women's Studies

Book Review: Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl

In a move somewhat shocking to me, I decided to pick up a little feminist theory/gender studies reading “for fun” to read this week (you just can’t keep me away from this stuff, even if I was feeling burnt out at the end of the school year!) and I feel like I have to recommend the book I just finished, Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on the Sexism and Scapegoating of Femininity (Seal Press, 2007). Serano’s book was one of those rare books that made total sense and blew my mind at the same time. Ever since I’ve started reading different feminist theories, I have been sort of obsessed with trying to nail down my own feminist philosophy and I think Serano’s work manages to discuss feminism and gender roles in a way that is dead on. While the book assumes some background in feminist theory, specifically an understanding of the sex versus gender and some familiarity with queer theorists such as Judith Butler, I think it could be an interesting read for anyone who is willing to be challenged by a book. Serano does an excellent job laying out and defining terms, making some what complicated theoretical concepts fairly easy to understand. She also refers to her own experiences which makes the book more relatable on a human level. That being said, here is what I loved about Serano’s work and why I loved it.

One of Serano’s core arguments is that feminists must work to reempower and reassign values to the notions of femininity and masculinity. She correctly believes that masculinity is pretty much constantly valued over femininity and asserts that feminists have not done enough to ensure both concepts are valued evenly. Instead, she argues feminists have embraced masculinity when they could have empowered femininity. I think Serano is right on here. In my own life, I have always been a bit of a tomboy and I can almost trace that back to a specific moment. When I was in second grade, I was made fun of by other kids for wearing skirts pretty much everyday and for being too girly. So, I quickly entered the tomboy phase of life. I played sports and I pretty much wore sweatsuits and umbros until I hit middle school. At that point, it was 1993 and grunge was happening full force, so I pretty much got to continue dressing like a tomboy through most of my teens, the only difference was I traded in my sweatsuits for jeans and flannels. So, it was easily college before I started to embrace girlier clothes like skirts and I can honestly say I didn’t really become OK with the color pink until I was 25. In my mind, this all goes back to the second grader who learned early on that it was stupid to be girly and who internalized that belief until quite recently, when I decided to say, you know what I like some girly stuff, and damn it, that’s OK. I believe many feminists can fall into this trap because it’s easy to want to avoid buying into all that crap that seems to marginalize women, so I think Serano is right on point when she says that the problem isn’t women enjoying some feminine things, but that it is that we are taught that those things are not valued or respected in society.

I also find her intrinsic inclination model, which basically attempts to weigh in on the feminist version of the nature versus nurture debate (gender essentialism versus social constructionism). Basically, Serano uses this model to argue that people have subscious sex (mind) and physical sex (body) and that those two things interact in a variety of ways to create a diverse spectrum of gender. According to Serano, people make all kinds of choices that align them somewhere along the gender spectrum. Some of those choices are driven by biology and some are driven by what people think and feel. I think that’s a pretty cool model. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely felt the whole biology versus social construction form of thinking quite limiting. I think once I finally finished puberty, I started to realize that there are some “feminine” traits that have become stronger – mostly emotional stuff (I’ve gotten more emotional) and realized it is harder to fight those feelings. I’ve also realized that I have made a number of conscious choices about what aspects of femininity and masculinity to adopt. So, I think it makes perfect sense that people combine a bunch of complex genders in complex ways resulting in many, many forms of gender expression instead of just two of them.

Ultimately, Serano’s book was cool because it encouraged feminists to think beyond traditional feminist and queer theory to come up with new ways to end gender oppression. It was also truly fascinating to read the perspective of someone who has lived as both a man, woman, and many other forms of gender in between, to really see how complicated gender can be. I’d definitely recommend the book to Women’s Studies students, philosophy nerds, people who just wanted to be challenged, and anyone who is curious about the kind of stuff I read for school and work!

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Women's Studies

In Honor of Tourist Season: Notes on Women and Museums

Anyone who lives in DC will tell you that June and July can be an interesting time in the city as it gets packed with tourists, even the kind of tourists who are all wearing matching lime green Disney World t-shirts.  Sure, they can clog up the Metro and make it impossible to quietly enjoy the Smithsonian for awhile, but it is certainly true that DC is a prime destination for people coming to learn a little more about American history, culture, and politics.  As such, many feminists have long hoped for a museum that would celebrate Women’s History as part of American history and many have been working for years trying to build the National Women’s History Museum.  The museum has a pretty cool website that does an excellent job highlighting women’s roles in American history, but to date, there is not a physical museum.  The group recently spent $100,000 trying to submit a bid for an empty Smithsonian building, was named as a finalist, and then received word that review committee decided to hold off on putting anything in that space.  It would have been a great space as it is right on the Mall and it was disappointing because so much time and effort had been put into the bid.  On the bright side, the group seems to have found a second location that might be better and they are trying to work with Congress to secure the space.  I’m really hoping that they have some success with that effort for a couple of reasons.

1) The National Museum of American History (part of the Smithsonian) is currently being renovated.  Prior to the renovations, I spent a very extensive day there checking out the museum and reading almost every plaque (I love history museums).  Much to my disappointment, women were not all that well represented.  Sure, there was the First Ladies exhibit, but mostly that focused on their inauguration dresses or other fashion choices.  Some popular fictional characters, like Carrie Bradshaw, got a nod as well.  But, the museum seemed to lack an overall sense of women’s place in American history.  At the time I thought that might have been due to the fast approaching renovations, but recently I have heard that the renovated museum eliminated a women’s history exhibit (supposedly there was not enough room) and abandoned their plan to show the First Ladies as more than women in dresses.  Meanwhile, I’m sure the museum has perserved its incredibly large and detailed exhibit on American military history.  Just what we need, more guns, less focus on actual people.

2) It’s also worth noting that other Smithsonian museums, notably the National Gallery also have a bad track record when it comes to including women.  According to Ms. Magazine, 98 percent of the artists displayed in the National Gallery are men.  Yes, you read that right 98 percent!   Unreal!  At the National Portrait Gallery, you can visit the Hall of Presidents and see portraits of 42 men (George W. isn’t there yet) and not a single exhibit on women in American history.  Sure there are some women scattered about, but they are definitely underrepresented, partially because women were excluded from historical records for so long and because they have been left out of leadership positions.

3) I have actually seen some other museums in the area do an excellent job of incorporating women, most notably, the spy museum.  Throughout that museum, women are remarkably well-integrated and I believe the museum gives you the impression that just as many women are spies as men (which makes sense if you think about it!).  I love the Spy Museum because it is super fun, but it is also interesting learning about the important role women have played in espionage and it’s pretty cool to see what spy gadgets were designed especially for women.

Ultimately, then I am saddened that the Smithsonian has been unable to do a better job of incorporating women into it’s vast collection of information on American culture, history, and politics.  It’s disappointing that for the most part, women are only shown as trophy wives (First Ladies in dresses), pop culture characters, painted nudes on the walls of the National Gallery, and stereotypical depictions of women as housewives beginning with the Puritans and continuing right on through most of our history.  I’m glad that the National Women’s History Museum is putting pressure on the Smithsonian to change that and I hope that they will have great success in the near future!

If you want to write Congress to help make this happen, go here.

Leave a comment

Filed under DC, Feminist Stuff, Politics, Women's Studies

National NOW Conference: Day 1

Turns out, one of the things I love the most about being a professional feminist and student of feminism, is the opportunity to go to feminist events and hear amazing speakers and chat with other awesome like-minded women, so I wanted to give a brief report from the National NOW conference that is being held this weekend in Bethesda, MD.  So, here were today’s highlights.

“Indoctrinating” A New Feminist

(Deb and I, feministing together)

In a very pleasant surprise, one of my best friends was in town for about 24 hours so I managed to bring her along to the conference today!  We both helped sell DC NOW t-shirts and bags and attended some excellent sessions on Title IX and the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on women of the Gulf Coast.  My friend seemed to really enjoy the sessions and getting to meet some of the crazy characters that the feminist movement seems to attract.  Also, it’s so rare to get to see friends in their working environments, so it was really fun for me to show my friend what kinds of stuff I work on everyday and what kind of environment I get to do it in!  Obviously, I have been in love with my feminist workplace as of late, so it really was a treat to share what I love about working with feminists with a good friend!  I also got a huge kick out of watching the Treasurer for either Massachusetts or Boston NOW trying to get my friend to sign up for a membership by telling her it is cheaper than illegally parking in the greater Boston area!

Wonder Woman!

Upon arriving at the conference, I learned that this year’s theme is something like Feminist Super-Women Unite!  As a result, all the program books have an awesome illustration of a NOW “Wonder Woman” on the cover.  I think the cover is fascinating.  It is clear that NOW intentionally designed a Wonder Woman that had as much of a universal appeal as possible.  Thus, her race is very ambiguous and I would guess that many women could see their identity reflected in the Wonder Woman.  As my friend noted, this Wonder Woman is shaped like a natural woman, unlike recent depictions of Wonder Woman.  In terms of hairstyle and clothing, this Wonder Woman also resembles the Wonder Woman of the Golden Age of comics, meaning she has not been oversexualized like Wonder Woman of today.  So, it’s pretty cool that they put so much thought into this character.  Though, it is also interesting that it is a very patriotic Wonder Woman, which seems to suggest she is American.  I am curious about that choice?  Why focus only on American women?  I know it is the National (meaning American) Organization for Women, but NOW does focus a lot on global women’s issues, so that was interesting to me.  I suppose that’s enough about the program book.  But, I think I might have to steal a second one so I could cut off the cover and frame it or something.

Feminist Men

Just a brief note here.  I was really impressed with the number of feminist men I saw today.  These guys are awesome.  They look like die-hards.  They all have these NOW t-shirts which are probably at least 15-20 years old and many look like old hippies who could easily live in VW buses in Vermont.  I wanted to get a good picture of one of these guys, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it without seeming like a stalker.  Dad, consider yourself on notice, if you really want to be the awesomest feminist dad, you already have the Vermont thing going for you, so we just need to get you a feminist t-shirt and get you to the NOW conference!

Young Feminists, Where Are You?

(I’m pretty sure I was one of like 3 people under 50 in this room.  Sad!)

I will say I was slightly disappointed that I did not see more younger women today.  I hope that is because many of them are on the way tomorrow and simply could not get out of work today.  I feel like I talk to young feminists a lot about how they feel like the older established movement does not always listen to them or address their issues (a feeling I have definitely shared at times), but I also feel like that criticism is unfair if younger feminists are not engaging by attending events like this.  NOW goes out of its way to make the conference affordable for all women, offering registration on a sliding scale and providing scholarships so they are definitely trying to help young women get there.  Also, the NOW national conference is where women can come and vote on the issues the organization should focus on, so it seems like a perfect opportunity for younger women to voice their issues and concerns!  As President Bartlett would say, “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

Some Title IX Facts I Thought I Should Share

  • 81% of secondary school students and 89% of college students say that sexual harassment is a problem in their schools.  That’s an amazing and horrifying statistic!
  • The Supreme Court has made it incredibly difficult to hold schools liable for sexual harassment in schools because those bringing suit must prove that school officials knew about harassment and were indifferent to it.  Also, that harassment must be severe and objectively offensive to people.  That means it is harder to prove sexual harassment happens in schools than it is in the workplace.  I find this particularly troubling in a culture that largely teaches boys that girls are there for their sexual pleasure.  Exactly when kids should be learning that is unacceptable, it seems the Court is sanctioning a “boys will be boys” attitude (in my mind, anyways).
  • While single-sex or sex segregated classes are only supposed to be allowed if they are voluntary and an equivalent co-ed class is offered, in reality, schools are setting up single-sex and sex segregated classes, mostly as they see fit in the absence of strong research on the educational outcomes of such classes and the absence of enforcement of the voluntary and co-ed regulations.  Unsurprisingly, South Carolina is the worst state in the union in this respect, as it actually endorses curricula that recommend boys should toss balls and girls should write with colored markers to keep them engaged.  It’s unbelievable the way that these ananchronistic programs seem to want to turn the clock back 36 years (pre-Title IX) and bring back wildly outdated sex stereotypes!  Get outraged!
  • In 2005, the Courts ruled that universities could prove that they were in compliance with prong 3 of the Title IX regulations, which requires schools to accomodate women’s interest in sports, by emailing women students to see if they are like or want to play sports.  Meanwhile, boys are not asked to prove that they are interested in sports, since that is obviously a given.
  • I’ll also note that this session was packed with older women.  How can we teach young women about these issues that are happening on their campuses?  That divide MUST be bridged.

Women and the Gulf Coast

The session on the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on women was packed with interesting information, but I just want to focus on the one piece I find most interesting, which is the importance of housing in that area.  Many of the speakers noted that women are having a hard time returning to the area because housing has become wildly unaffordable and they refer to this as women being “doubly displaced” (once when they had to leave NOLA and once when they had to leave their housing).  Many renters cannot afford to return home and many homeowners faced health risks in FEMA trailers and high costs of rebuilding.  Consequently, many women (many – 65-75% of those displaced from public housing were from female-headed households) have been forced to live with friends, acquiantances, relatives, exes, etc.  In many cases, this means that women have had to return to potentially abusive partners or have been in such strained situations that formerly healthy relationships have become abusive.    I think this is an interesting way of understanding how complex the issues many women of the Gulf Coast face.  It’s amazing how interconnected these issues can be and it really reveals the way that policymakers MUST be able to hear those women’s voices and understand these unique circumstances if they are going to have any hope of rebuilding in a positive way.

Last Note

I’ve never thought of myself as one who enjoys schmoozing and networking, but for some reason, it’s super fun at these events.  Further proof why I have definitely found the right career path!

Ok, I think that’s a good wrap up for today.  It’s been a long day full of feminists (and then The Dark Knight) so it’s time for this kid to get to bed!

Leave a comment

Filed under Feminist Stuff, IWPR, Politics, Women's Studies

A History of Nerds (and some Gender Stuff)

Now that I have some free time again, I’ve finally gotten back to reading for fun.  It’s a novel (hahahaha…I slay myself) concept and I’m currently reading American Nerd: The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent.  The book is about exactly what you would expect, the history of nerds in American culture and for anyone out there seeking a little trivia Benjamin Nugent is the boyfriend of Mindy Kaling (The Office’s Kelly Kapur and a writer for the show).  So, I went into the book with high hopes and I would say for the most part it has been an interesting, though definitely boy-heavy read.  When I applied to college and asked what one word I would use to describe myself and why, I wrote that I was dork and that being a dork is pretty awesome, so I was a little bummed by the book’s omission of more information on girl nerds.

On the bright side, I felt like the book did address the way that nerddom has long been about a crisis of American masculinity, which I felt partially explained why there’s not much out there for us female nerds.  (Even with the recent popularity of Tina Fey and the long history of female nerd comedians, like the writer of the early Saturday Night Live nerd sketches, and the presence of Willow in Buffy in the late-90s we always seem to be left out!)  Nugent explains that nerds (though not yet deemed nerds) and their jock counterparts appeared as stock characters in American culture in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries, a time when the US was rapidly transitioning from an agararian economy and moving away from rugged frontiersmen bound for the West.  As a result, Christian masculinity, as embodied by Teddy “Walk Softly And Carry a Big Stick” Roosevelt became the ideal American male.  These men reacted against increasing industrialization and the popularity of machinery by embracing athleticism and sensuality and in the process defined tasks such as thinking, learning, and working with technology as what I’ll call proto-nerdy.  Thus, the first American nerds were working men who didn’t work like men of the past (getting dirty and being rough outdoors), freaking everyone out and leading to a renewed appreciation for brute masculinity.

When hearing about nerds in these terms, it starts to make sense why we don’t hear much about female nerds.  How can you conceive of them when the whole thing seems to have its roots in the correct way to be a man?  Does that mean that female nerds rejected the traditional notions of masculinity and femininity and pursued careers, education, or other nerdy pursuits instead of putting on make-up and trying to attract jocky men?  If so, does that mean early feminists were female nerds?  I also think that it’s interesting that “nerd” seems to have a long history of being defined as not properly male.  It’s no wonder outcasts such as nerds have long been tormented with terms like “fag” or “dyke.”  I’m also intrigued by that thought.  If nerds are so often linked with Others (in relation to the hegemonic order, in this case white, rugged masculinity) such as women or homosexuals, whether they embrace it or not, nerds have long been doing one of my favorite things, queering (or blurring for any of you out there who haven’t recently become fascinated by queer theory) the distinctions between masculine and feminine.  That’s so cool!  I love finding out there are even more reasons to appreciate nerds than I already knew!

The rest of the book is interesting, but it was really this history stuff that got me going because I could see so many connections to queer theory and all the stuff I know about gender roles from my work/studies/research.  It goes on to explain a lot about nerds in pop culture (SNL, Freaks and Geeks, etc), nerd subcultures, and the way nerds and becoming cool (apparently, everyone likes the way nerds are doing their own thing).  It’s been an interesting read that I would definitely recommend to someone who is nerdy enough to like a book about nerds.  It’s too bad it doesn’t get more into nerds who are not necessarily white boys, but it is still cool to see how the idea of nerds has been socially constructed and depicted in the culture.  I could almost imagine reading it in an American Studies class.  In the meantime, maybe I’ll just have to do some of my own research on the history of female nerds!

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Feminist Stuff, Pop Culture, Women's Studies