I’m A Nerd Girl, Not A Manic Pixie Dream Girl
As mentioned in my previous article, being a woman and identifying somewhere within nerd culture is a difficult feat. This week I’m going to talk about something on the other end of the spectrum – when being a female nerd isn’t a point of contention, but is a reason to idealise and revere the woman in question. Consider it the Manic Pixie Dream Girl phenomenon of the nerd universe.
First of all, it seems necessary to provide a rough definition of the idealised nerd girl phenomenon. When a regular girl displays some degree of nerdiness, she becomes an object of worship in the mind of a fellow (generally male) nerd. While this doesn’t seem particularly harmful, in many cases it turns into something toxic and objectifying – turning a girl who is simply standing in line for the Dark Knight Rises midnight screening into everything the male nerd perceives to be attractive or desirable. Despite her actual needs and wants, the “idealised nerd girl” becomes an object to be desired and nothing more. The perfect nerd girl is the nerd subculture’s version of a stereotypical 1950s housewife – a perfect woman that possesses all of the traits desired by men, without having the cumbersome weight of an actual personality holding her down.
A perfect example of this stereotype is Felicia Day, an actress who has appeared almost solely in nerd media such as The Guild, Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Supernatural and Buffy. Searching her name on Google leads to the suggestion of “Felicia Day nerd goddess.” One of the first results for that suggested search leads to a short article entitled “Felicia Day: Warrior Queen Goddess of all Nerds.” Judging from all of the media surrounding her, it seems as though Day is the perfect example of a normal woman becoming a perfect, transcendent being without any personal interests, goals or opinions outside of the realm of nerdiness.
This is a pretty recent phenomenon, something that might have become interesting and cool around the time that people began wearing glasses without lenses, or when The Big Bang Theory first aired. Suddenly, if you could hold your ground and prove your worth (and nerdiness), your encyclopedic knowledge of Irish folklore is considered attractive, even by the male peers that may once have accused you of pretending to be nerdy just for their attention and affections! While it’s not as exclusive as the Idiot Nerd Girl stereotype, this phenomenon is equally dramatic and just as oppressive. When you become an idealised nerd girl your status as a human disappears, along with your flaws and quirks, and suddenly you become a perfect, nerdy woman.
I’ve personally noticed that among nerdy men there is a recurring theme of wanting to find the perfect, conventionally attractive, wonderfully nerdy girl to skip off into the sunset with.
However, it’s then that things start to become more sinister – women are viewed as less of a person and more of a blank slate with a neat check-list that sounds a little bit like a mix between Zooey Deschanel and Ramona Flowers. The contents vary, but the most crucial parts remain the same – she is beautiful and is interested in the same nerdy things you are, without much interest in anything beyond nerd culture. She is sexually and emotionally passive, and is completely and utterly safe. In a culture initially based almost entirely on being “uncool” (okay, people still laugh when I mention my love for Dungeons and Dragons) and enjoying things that other people might not, it’s easy to feel excluded, ostracised and rejected – but the entire point of this creation is that this woman, your dream woman, can’t reject you for this aspect of your personality, because she identifies as a nerd too. It’s great when two people with similar interests ifnd each other, but it becomes problematic when that aspect of her personality is the only trait she is expected to have.
Someone who might have been considered just a cute girl on the street suddenly becomes a canvas on which to paint your image of the perfect girl – and suddenly the girl in the comic book store holding Hellblazer has become something beyond a person. She becomes an object to be revered.
She probably liked Bioshock but thinks Infinite will be dumb, just like you. She will wear sexy cosplay, and has spent her life savings on the Steam Summer sale. She won’t yell at you or laugh at you for your interest in hentai. The perfect nerd girl has no discernible personality outside of your basic nerdy fantasies. This is what it boils down to: she’s a woman that has no flaws, but will not laugh at you for your own, because she is a nerd. Just like you!
But why is the idealised nerd girl such a prevalent idea in the minds of some male nerds? Everybody wants to feel safe, and what this ideal provides is just that – a girl who is interested in the same things as you will never judge your interests; someone who is hopelessly devoted to you will never leave you. Someone without a discernible personality or needs can always be moulded to be whatever you may want them to be at any given moment. When the woman you impose these ideals onto does possess strong and distinct personality traits, they will more than likely be palmed off as “cute quirks” while diminishing her personhood.
In the simplest of terms, this phenomenon boils down to wanting to feel safe because the woman you are dating is so incapable of human needs, desires (beyond sex and a copy of the newest Assassin’s Creed game) and flaws that she is incapable of acting on them. But it’s clear that this idea is unachievable.
Much like my previous editorial on women within nerd culture, this phenomenon degrades women and turns them into objects. While placing women on a pedestal might seem progressive, no woman can live up to the ideal of the perfect nerd girl who loves all the same games and comics you do while also being entirely passive and invisible. In the event that she fails to live up to these expectations, it can then circle back to “girl pretending to be a nerd in order to gain the affections of men” stereotype.
How can this be solved?
Again, nerd media – and even the media targeted at women – needs to be reassessed. Nobody can live up to the Zooey Deschanel standards of a woman who can be clumsy, nerdy and quirky, while never actually being awkward, nor can we live up to the movie star hair and makeup and flawless persona. It is necessary to provide nerdy women with something we can live up to – a nerdy girl who might not have perfect hair and sometimes people don’t get her Lord of the Rings jokes, but that’s okay. That’s the reality of a nerd girl, and it’s unfair to idealise (or tear down) an entire gender this way. While this is not an issue that is by any means restricted to nerd culture, it’s fascinating and important to explore the intricacies of this manic pixie dream girl trope within this culture.
Women – yes, even nerdy women – are just as interesting and complex as men. It’s time that the media incorporated this into more films, games, and literature instead of pushing us into an ideal that restricts our own personalities, flaws, quirks and opinions.
Written by Jessica Bagnall
Jessica is an 18-year-old student from Brisbane, Australia and Feminspire staff contributor
Opinions stated in our editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Feminspire and its staff as a whole, but instead reflect the opinions of the writer.