The prototypical nerd is a surprisingly complex figure. Think of Screech from Saved by the Bell or Steve Urkel in Family Matters. These are the geeks I grew up with (and yes, I know that nerd and geek should not be interchangeable but for sake of simplicity, let’s go with that) and characters I identified with more and more as I entered adolescence. Sure they were smart, creative, and helpful but they are mostly remembered as being scrawny, uncharismatic, and having a terrible time at getting girls to like them (again, something quite relatable for me and many others). They were put out there as the opposite of the regular male in a complete sense of Otherness. Brain vs brawn, compassion vs aggressiveness, loyal vs player, crafty vs blunt, chivalrous vs misogynist. These and others are the dichotomies of maleness. The second half is expected and the quintessential image of what our mind evokes when we think of the patriarchy and how boys our conditioned into this outdated goal of “manhood”. The other aspects are seen as what a man should be. One might be the expected boyfriend but the other was a proper husband. This was the narrative that television shows, films, video games, and even good old books put forward and I ate it up. Even as I studied about gender roles and feminism evolved, this was still my ideology of the world I lived in. Then I started seeing it from a new perspective in the wake of something terrible.
I was distracted by real life over the last week to put any attention to the Internet or anything happening in the world outside of my very small bubble. By the time I heard about Elliot Rodger the outcries of #YesAllWomen had already peaked as a response. There are a lot of voices from really smart people out there that speak to the idealistic chaos and revisions of our outlook that speak to certain aspects about the tragedy and how they are not an outlier of society but what happens when the beliefs of a patriarchal/misogynistic ideology go way too far. This blog on the importance of feminism for all is pretty cool and I recommend you give it a good look. This other one really spoke to me and helped me refocus the points of the previously mentioned nerd vs jock narrative into something closer to reality. It is from that new perspective that I wish to add my thoughts to the conversation.
From what little I have read about this young man who killed six women and injured many more before taking his own life is that he was seriously messed up. Just a few glances around the many blogs and news sites reporting on him and you can seen that he had major issues long before you hear about the 140 page manifesto on his hatred of all women or other incidents where he was violent to others. The outcry that this was a mental health issue began to take priority and the agency of his cruel act was taken away as the blame was shifted to his parents, teachers, friends, therapists, and others close to him for not controlling him better. As his personal life became more clear the idea that the media, that those narratives I had grown up on, and all those violent video games he virtually killed people in played a role in that deadly day taking place. As the news keeps finding a new place on which to affix its spotlight, the Internet cried out with #YesAllWomen and that his actions were more akin to a hate crime or a terrorist act, as this article claims. As I learn just how deep misogyny goes (and finally learned how to spell it correctly) I see that both sides of the coin of maleness that I mentioned earlier on unfortunately contribute to a mentality and an ideology that will end up hurting more people down the line.
First off, let me clarify that #YesAllWomen and pretty much every non-radical/militant feminist has made it perfectly clear that misogyny is not an issue caused by all men, no one has claimed that from what I know, but even in the supposed harbinger of equality for all that is the USA the system is still pretty bad if you don’t have a Y chromosome. The narrative of nerdiness is one that has always stated that we geeks respect and treasure women far more than the macho guys who treat girls like crap and yet somehow get to go on dates with pretty ladies all the time. That’s okay because no matter how much the smart, kind, and overall nice guys would get friendzoned somewhere down the line we would earn our just rewards and the girl of our dreams would finally appreciate us. As noble as it may seem, this is actually just another form of misogyny that took me far too long to realize. It fosters a sense of entitlement that patience, kind gestures, and an overly long/complicated plan would get anyone to fall in love with us. Trust me, this was my rationale and modus operandi for pretty much forever. Ask anyone for an interesting Gabe story and you will probably hear about the time there was a pretty girl far out of my league in which it took me months to declare in an overdramatic fashion that I liked her only to get shot down hard. I always envisioned that all I needed to do was keep doing the same thing and the right girl would eventually find my quasi-stalking and hard work to be endearing and love me back. That was the dream and I recently realized that it wasn’t exactly a noble endeavor.
When I read about how the world has now marked Elliot Rodger as the “Virgin Killer” because he still had not crossed that threshold of manliness at the young age of 22 I almost felt sympathy for him (“almost” being the operative word). At that age, a third date for me would be a miracle and the dark corners of my mind would utter some of the hateful BS that this deranged young man said. Or course, when I thought to myself that X girl would regret not liking me back, I put it into the context of that she would end up with some dude who wouldn’t treat her right, never in a super villain style “rue the day” soliloquy. The narrative that as women mature they will favor intelligence over strength and wisdom over charisma is something that gives nerdkind hope but it’s just not true. With what little relationship experience I have I know that this it is something that will always be complicated regardless of the circumstances to start and maintain. The only exception I could think of is an arranged marriage where both partners are pretty much perfect for each other from the get go but I can’t imagine them not arguing even once. Hell, Marshall and Lilly from How I Met Your Mother, are considered to be the perfect couple and were lucky enough to have found each other at the start of college but they still worked hard to keep their relationship alive. Starting a relationship, for someone who barely has the courage to talk other people much less ask one out on a date, seems pretty much impossible and daunting. If rejection comes even after months of “hard work” part of you gets jilted and the inward depression of not being good enough starts to turn into outward conceit that no one deserves you. Again, I am not condoning or excusing Rodger’s horrible actions but it hurts to admit that I and maybe a lot of nerdy folks like me have entertained the thought for a millisecond or two before being disgusted.
I have spent a lot of time thinking and metathinking towards my thoughts on relationships and a perceived correspondence to hard work. This is where the gamer factor kicks in. No matter what kind of game you play, there is an expected level of return on investment for time and energy that we translate to other parts of life. Spend 100 hours in an RPG level grinding and you can defeat the greatest of monsters. Practice combos for days on end in a fighting game and you can go up against champions. Construct the perfect strategy and you could conquer the world. Memorize every detail of a level and you could beat it in record time. This mentality makes sense to a degree in a lot of other facets of reality. Taking good notes + reading the material = good grades. Practice a musical instrument and you get pretty good at it. Perform a particular skill long enough and you become a natural at it. Even something as terrifying for nerds as doing exercise turns into actual results of getting in better shape. Telling someone you think he/she is pretty and learning everything about him/her does not translate into that person fawning all over you. In everything except interpersonal relationships there is a pretty well-defined system of cause and effect. We feel frustrated when our emotions aren’t reciprocated but after putting so much effort into something happening only for an awkward sigh and a pitiful “no” just makes it feel that there isn’t just something wrong with you, but that there is something wrong with the world.
I focus on an entirely male heteronormative perspective because this is what I know. While my story and feelings are not a reflection of masculinity as a whole, from my experiences I see that these cases are more common than not. I honestly have very little experience with this from a female perspective or through any spectrum of LGBTQQness but I’m sure they go at similar levels. I hate to oversimplify gender norms but I honestly feel that my case is not an outlier. Any nerdy guys out there who want to prove me wrong I invite to add your voice to the conversation come on by. Hell, let’s get the rest of the population involved. For now, let me wrap up a few more thoughts on the subject.
I like to think that nerds like myself are more respectful of women but deep down I came to realize that this is more based on a fear of rejection than anything else. I had a particular form of pride in the fact that I would not touch a female (outside of a standard greeting/goodbye hug plus cheek kiss as is customary in my land) without some expressed form of consent. I considered myself quite the feminist for not holding or potentially groping anyone at any time because I placed that tactile distance as a form of respect. Then it came to me that it was more lack of confidence than anything else that kept me from doing any kind of “moves”. I’m not quite sure if I’ll ever get that kind of confidence or just be slightly less awkward but I know that I still wouldn’t do something in that particular moveset. Not because I’m afraid of rejection or of someone classifying me on the other side of the manliness dichotomy but because it’s the right thing to do. There is a certain “go until she says no” mentality that I believe exemplifies the misogynistic ideology that pervades society on all sides. Pretty much it means that she is “asking for it” until she says no and you can get her to change her mind. Nonverbal signals of advancement are pretty hard to read, especially for the nerds like me who are illiterate in womanese, but complexity is no excuse for advancing beyond anyone’s comfort levels.
It would be easy for me to say to girls that “nerds are weird but will treat you right” like the narrative that the media has pervaded for years so let me take the hard route instead. Nerds, we need to get off our high horses that we are better than jocks at not objectifying women. In fact, we might be even worse at it because we believe that sex or even a relationship is something that we earn and are entitled to. We cry “friendzone” when emotions are not reciprocated and juvenilize women because they “don’t realize what a great catch we are.” Getting a date is hard, I know the feeling all too well, but rejection from a single girl doesn’t mean that all females are typical shallow stereotypes. People might change their minds as to whether they like you or not but this is not permission to pine over someone for years and just make them feel terrible after a polite but firm “no” has been declared. Keep being you but don’t settle on being “just you”. Think of Kung Fu Panda, a film that clearly states that Po didn’t have to change but that he could be better with the right training and determination. Level yourself up not for a girl you like (though it is quite the motivation) but because you want to be better. Invest in yourself, try new things, and maybe you’ll find the right person. Or maybe you won’t. We keep insisting that having a girlfriend is a mark of success and manliness but solitude should not be overcome just to attain a new achievement in life. It’s not easy and for the ones that make it look that way it isn’t either. Misogyny has crept into us because we grew up thinking that saving the world means that the princess would love us automatically. We might not notice it, but as we place women on a pedestal we turn them into trophies and rewards. Girls are people too and they are just as weirded out by the complexities of relationships as you are. Even jocks have it hard too so don’t think yourself better or worse than anyone.
Oh and this stick figure webcomic has a pretty cool moment where they explain the basics of relationships. Learn and grow people.
Girls aren’t DCs to be overcome, they are people so stop trying to add circumstance modifiers because asking someone out on a date is not a diplomacy check.