Should we abandon nerdiness?
If you look up ‘nerd’ in the Online Oxford Dictionary, I believe there would be good reasons to reject nerd culture, of any sort. But you would also have to produce arguments on why the ‘struggle’ - and yes, it is quite fair to use this term - to reclaim the notion of the nerd should be abandoned.
The attempt to claim this notion and re-define it has been and is a positive, inclusive struggle that transgresses petty social categories like gender, ethnicity, and class; the struggle is about the right to be your self. To allow a personality type that feels at home when she or he gets the opportunity to dwell in interests of hers or his, without being labeled as a ‘geek’, ‘freak’ or having to face the L sign.
What does the Oxford Dictionary say about nerds?
A foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious.
The Dictionary continues the explanation with more precision: ‘A single-minded expert in a particular technical field (i.e. a computer nerd).’
The Oxford Dictionary also contains quite interesting phrase that gives us a hint on why we perhaps should hesitate on using this term:
I was a serious nerd until I discovered girls and cars
The ‘I’ of this sentence is, I would say it’s safe to conclude, a man. Let’s face it, it doesn’t have to be a man but it’s very probable, given the context.
Is nerdiness a male experience?
No, I say no. However, depending on the definition and how you think about words contextuality, It certainly has been (with few exceptions) a male experience, at least it would seem this way if we would take the definition literally.
Women have been excluded from almost all, if not every, a field that has been branded ‘nerdy’. In this sense, it would be quite safe to conclude that is has been a male experience. But is this true of this age?
Yes, some areas that are associated with this notion is still dominated by males. It is very important to realize this if we want our society to progress. But it’s also important to realize the differences that have emerged.
Female nerds - yes, in a blog post we are free to generalize - of today are more dominant in fields that most would deem with less ‘prestige’ (teachers, librarians and so on). The prestige part must change. One simple means to control this is better salaries. Yet, I actually think it’s an even bigger problem that statistics demonstrate that females in a higher degree than men avoid ‘tech’ subjects. Why is this? Areas of nerdiness
Another interesting question is why certain subjects get associated with nerdiness at all, while it’s almost impossible to be labeled a nerd in others.
Even if we would exclude - words should have a clear meaning - physical activities from this notion, it’s still very unclear why one can be a nerd in the humanities, within computers or within mathematics or physics (and other ‘similar’ subjects) but not be a nerd in the same sense within economics and such subjects. Have you ever heard of a stockbroker referred to as being nerdy because s/he knows every little detail about company X? No, most likely not.
Well, I for one think you those people should be labeled nerdy. ;) Admit this: if you wet your finger and hold it in the air, you’ll less often hear of someone being labeled a nerd in human resources and economics (…). The ‘similar subjects’ of the sentence above is therefore at the same time ‘familiar’ and ‘strange’.
To me, this is a sign saying we should question this: Why is this? Is it a chance and some sort of historical contingency? Has it, for instance, to do with what our society labels as practical/theoretical? A distinction that doesn’t hold if you would reflect upon it. I don’t know, I don’t even want to guess. But I’m sure that most would agree upon this; and if not, check your nearest encyclopedia or spend some time at DuckDuckGo.
We have to make a choice. Either we make use of a more affirmative, inclusive and generally speaking nice and positive use case for the word ‘nerd’, or we walk the path of the schoolyard bully who finds it to be geeky when people find feel passion for mathematics, the arts or philosophy (or any other subject). The alternative to wholly abandon the notion seems too far-fetched, even though I would actually welcome this.
A more reasonable definition of nerdiness
If one looks up ‘nerd’ in the Urban Dictionary the meaning of the term is quite another:
An individual who: 1. Enjoys learning 2. Does not adhere to social norms
I think we should focus on making this definition more ‘established’, so to speak. And why? I think it would be better to focus on using an affirmative, positive and inclusive use of the notion of the ‘nerd’ (and ‘nerdiness’ in general’). We should never ever assume that someone working within tech is a male, of some particular ethnicity and of certain class background. This is the liberal stance; the way of Enlightenment.
Surely, however, there are (or is this just a prejudice of mine?) male nerds who form small male informal ‘clubs’. Some people (male and interestingly, also female) tend to be ‘harder’, more ‘skeptical’ whenever a female says something. This is wrong. But it got nothing to do with nerd culture. And as I implied, I am not sure if this is a prejudice of mine or a correct observation.
A more affirmative, positive, inclusive task, I think, would be to ask how to change this without attacking nerds, without attacking people who are passionate about knowledge.
I believe that a diverse, heterogeneous group is better than a homogenous group, although it’s even better to not even think by the metaphor of a group, using the notion in a descriptive manner, since we’re all firstly individuals and only secondly group-members. This is, of course, another metaphor, but a more productive one. I especially hold this to be true in this context: the largest problem being that we think too much by the use of groups: male/female, ‘white’/‘nonwhite’, middle-class/working-class and so on… also ‘nerd’/not a nerd’.
The concept of the nerd (with my definition) doesn’t say anything relevant about who you are. It just states that you’re an individual who really likes to dig into stuff, debate, express your opinions on that subject and feel strong love for a subject matter (or subject matters).
Being a nerd is not about what clothes you wear, your appearances or something else. I propose that a nerd only should mean what I’ve implicitly stated above. This is also, in general terms, what the ‘nerds’ struggle has been about. Enter, The Nerd Wars
The struggle is about the right to really be interested in something, without being bullied by people who find it geeky to discuss stuff on a deeper and higher level. I would want to exclude any social aspect of this; my personal experience might be that nerds, being curious in general, lesser than others tend to think in terms of gender, class, ethnicity (and so on) but that’s not really important in this context.
A way not to get trapped in another discussion about the mysterious ‘we’ (and yes, I’ve also used it in this text) would be to concentrate on the positive parts of the content.
Of course, there are nerds who are not very nice. But that’s true for all of humanity and we must also ask if this has got something to do with being a nerd? I think not.
And if those who can agree upon this, should also agree upon that the nerd subculture (or actually a cluster of subcultures) is quite harmless. People who are inclined to go the root of problems in discussions, artists, scientists, journalists, programmers and lots of other people should not be viewed as geeky and be bullied.
Passion? Yes, passion.
If nerdiness has an essential attribute above all others, it would be passion. And passion transgresses our petty social categories. It’s a human, universal phenomenon, something all or most people have within themselves. The only difference between different people is how much and concerning what, a matter of degrees.
This is, unfortunately, an age of short-term solutions and quick-fixes and some ‘modern’ people nowadays object to the use of ‘nerd’ in the positive sense, holding by the old definition implying it’s a geeky male and so on.
But by putting a stigma on the notion of the nerd, you’re most likely contributing to a very instrumental view on language and notions. The Oxford Dictionary (or another dictionary) doesn’t own the word nerd. Words change meaning all the time; there is always a lagging here.
I believe that words matters. And because words matters, how you define words and how you relate to them is an important topic. If someone would feel excluded from a subculture, even though they’d want to join in, that’s a problem. But that has got nothing to do with the nerd, being a nerd or nerdiness in general - or rather, it shouldn’t have to.
A possible counter-argument would be that we don’t even need this word. True, in a sense.
But you should think about this: why do you think nerds started using this word in a positive sense? Surely, they knew the meaning of the notion. The only reasonable explanation is that they came up with a strategy: they call us nerds, geeks, and freaks - let’s use this notion by ourselves, let’s reclaim this notion! It’s nothing wrong with us. It’s not wrong to feel a passion for a subject.
I believe we need to have the power to be an ‘I’ and that we should feel free to romanticize about how we are, regardless of our gender, sexuality, ‘race’ and other categories we are imposed with.
We can all contribute to a better world in everyday life. And when we’re all done, then let us please abandon the notion of the nerd. :)
/ Random nerd