Monday, June 9, 2014

Girl Geek Chic: --Let's Change What's Cool

Last month on National Astronomy Day, I was at the Clay Center Observatory signing copies of How Do You Burp in Space? And Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know.  After inscribing a copy for a young boy, I looked up at his older sister.  
“Do you want to go to space, too?” I asked.

“I did once,” she said.

“What happened?”

She gave me a small smile, a Mona Lisa smile—that is, if Mona L. were a just-budding adolescent proud of her newly acquired sense of condescension. 

“Oh…other things took over,” she said in a tone that implied I couldn’t possibly know what she meant.

Oh…but I do. Having been there and done that, I was actually thinking about something else.  Do these other things that "take over" really have to edge out wanting to go into space or a daily check on favorite animal cams?  Is this really an either/or situation? Do the hormones make us want to pack away those childish things?  Or, despite so many strides, do we still think there’s only one type of girl that does those hormones justice?

This last question still on my mind, I later googled “nerds becoming popular” and immediately clicked on the images page.  I already knew that Sheldon’s chic and Zuckerberg’s billions have brought those three words in close company.  What I wanted to know was how many pictures of girls I would see sprinkled in among the guys wearing pocket protectors and suspenders.

Discounting “popular” girls torturing geeks, here’s the first “nerd girl” picture I came upon.  I was hopeful.  What a fool I was.  Once I clicked through to its home site, here are the words I found:  Who would have thought that being a nerd would be cool?  Well the time has finally come. There is nothing more fashionable that an over-sized pair of geeky glasses.  PS-When I saved the picture to my computer to easily transfer to this post, I noticed it was labeled, "pretty nerd."

Little Mona Lisa Girl at the Clay Center, the deck has been stacked against you.  Come on, STEM books, cool geek girl role models, Neil Degrasse Tyson.  Help girls aspire to go to space and wear cool nail polish in orbit, if that’s what they want.  Help everybody feel as if science and smart is back in fashion and sexy.

I spoke to astronaut Sunita Williams when writing Burp in Space, but never asked her if she felt she had to choose between lipstick and her dreams.  I wish I had. Maybe I would have been primed to say something to this young girl.  Even if she couldn’t hear me now, perhaps it would plant a seed. I know lots of girls get reacquainted with previous interests as women, but I hate to think of what has been lost in the meantime because their intellectual passions couldn’t coexist with the teenage definition of femininity.

On June 20, Liz Rusch is publishing I.N.K.’s last recommended booklist.  This time it focuses on STEM-related topics.  Let’s all take a second look.

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Thank you, Linda.  Thank you, I.N.K. Thanks to all of our readers. It’s been a pleasure.


Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

Susan - your post really hit home for me as a parent of a potentially budding chic nerd girl. I think social pressures are one factor that gets in the way, isolating the STEM girls who watched the COSMOS finale last night instead of Miss USA. Just not as cool for 11 yr olds to chat about Neil Degrasse Tyson versus Miss Nevada. Hard to balance the desire to follow one's passions with the need to fit in and belong. Hard for parents to be aware enough to nurture that inner drive. Books, clubs, social media sites are all great ways to address those challenges.
- Cathy

Susan E. Goodman said...

Thanks for posting, Cathy, that was exactly what I was trying to get at.