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Revenge of the Feminerd: For Girls Who Wear Glasses

a pair of blue and black glasses sit on a white table

This goes out to all those girls who've heard the message that intelligence and geekiness is antithetical to attractiveness.

I was in Grade 10 when I decided to ask out a guy from English class.

He was tall, dark, and as close to handsome as you got in the group of band geeks I hung out with. So one day when we were waiting for the bell to end class, I approached him and said, "I was just wondering if you wanted to go to a movie sometime."

He turned to look behind him, then turned back and with eyes wide, asked, "Me?"

"Yeah?" I said, suddenly less sure of my plan.

"Um....um...." he stalled, opening and closing his mouth like a fish.

"Oh. You can think about it and tell me later," I said, my heart sinking. He looked hugely relieved.

"OK, cool," he said. Just then, the bell rang and he literally turned tail and sprinted down the hall to get away from me.

Just in case I hadn't got the message, he ran away from me after each class for the next month.

When I came home crying and asked my mom why boys didn't like me, she said, "Boys are just intimidated by your intelligence." Of course, being 14, my immediate reaction was to wish to God that I wasn't smart. If she'd said it was because of my clothes, that could've been fixed, but I couldn't change being smart! I was sure I was going to be alone forever, especially if I couldn't find a way to give up all my smart, geeky hobbies, like Star Trek and fanfiction.

Now to be fair, nerdy guys are told they're not attractive either, but for some reason it's less to do with their intelligence and more to do with nerdy hobbies being seen as unmanly (video games vs. sports, for example) and nerdy guys being seen as socially inept.

Back to women. I wasn't the only one hearing the message that female intelligence isn't attractive. "My grandma used to say, 'Guys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses,'" recalled one friend.

Another remembered seeing a matchmaker who told her she was an "extremely difficult case... because [she's] so successful at such a young age."

In my last post on women and science I talked about how girls are taught they're naturally less inclined to math and science. I was at least as good at sciences as I was at the humanities, and I loved biology. But somehow I got this idea that I couldn't ever be really good at it and that I'd need to do something more that had more room for emotions and creativity. I'm happy with the way things turned out and I don't think what I'm doing now is any less challenging or valuable than science, but I can't help but wonder how much gender expectations and a desire not to seem "too smart" factored into my choice.

The smart girl myth is perpetuated in pop culture and fashion. In addition to the "I'm Too Pretty to do Math" magnet at Forever 21, which I referenced in yesterday's post, a few years ago Abercrombie and Fitch were forced to pull a line of shirts with slogans like "With These, Who Needs Brains?" (written across the chest).

And online dating coaches like Evan Mark Katz keep doling out advice like this:

This doesn't mean you should play dumb...It might mean, however, turning off some of the things that make you "successful" at work. This is a bitter pill to swallow...Still, it doesn't change the fact that "hard-driving, opinionated, and meticulous" are not on most men's lists of ideal feminine traits.

Now I have issues with the institution of marriage, but for those who want that to be a part of their life, Christine Whelan, author of Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women found that women with graduate degrees or top salaries were more likely to marry than others. And even if the myth were true, why would a smart woman want to date someone who wanted them to be stupid? I tried it and it was neither necessary nor fun.

So what we nerd girls do when we're bombarded with messages that say you have to play dumb to get a date, and you have to get a date or else?

Guardian columnist Barbara Ellen's advice is to "enjoy being fab and brilliant, and hold out for the guys (or gals) who'll appreciate it."

In response to the "I'm Too Pretty to do Math" shirt/magnet, the Society of Women Engineers at the University of Arlington made a cool shirt that reads, "I'm the Engineer My Mother Always Wanted Me to Marry." We should also remember that non-science fields aren't any less valuable or rigorous simply because they're seen as less masculine.

In my favorite response, John Green of vlogbrothers agrees, stating: "The Venn diagram of guys who don't like smart girls and guys you don't want to date is a circle" (at 3:30):

The fact is, being single can be really great. Being single let me learn a lot about myself, including how to stop being ashamed of my geekiness. In my experience it's certainly better than being with someone who wants you to hide how smart and geeky you are. Despite the conventional wisdom, in the last few years I've realized there's no shortage of people who like smart women, and I now have a boyfriend who's amazing and encouraging of my geekdom and my feminism.

So, girls with glasses: stay strong, and stay smart!

Previously: Barriers to Women in Science, The Magic School Bus

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Comments

15 comments have been made. Post a comment.

intelligence is sexy

No doubt about it, people who can think for themselves and have something interesting to say are the most sexy people on the planet. I'm not talking about formal education, necessarily, we know there is a difference between 'intelligence' and the ability to conform to Western education standards.

It does limit the dating pool, I guess, but ‘vacuous’ is the biggest turn off, no matter what they look like.

Hooray for people who engage their brain :) And yes - stay strong and stay smart!

Revenge of the Feminerd

Love the article ! I am a proud feminist, geek and specs wearer. Also known as the Girlyswot - I consider it to be a badge of honour ! Glasses seem to be used a a signifier of intelligence/geekiness in films/TV. I can think of very few female film characters who wear glasses. The only one that comes to mind is Faith in 'Nuns on the Run' . As for the idea that your intelligence will put men off - only the boring lightweights ! Wear your glasses and intelligence with pride !

You're right - there are few

You're right - there are few women who wear glasses on TV and in movies. A couple exceptions I can think of are Penelope Garcia in Criminal Minds and occasionally Christine Baranski on the Good Wife. I'm sure there are more - maybe teacher or librarian characters?

When I was 7 or 8 I actually faked having worse eyesight than I did because I wanted glasses. Now I do actually need them and I find them way more comfortable and convenient than contacts. I wish I had better eyesight but I like my glasses too.

Worth it to hold out for smart!

I was totally that awkward, smart, girl-with-glasses! But for some reason, I remember having a conversation with my best friend in high school about guys we'd like to date. She had a HUGE crush on a classmate, who was cute--and barely scraped an average IQ score. My response was that it was more important to me that I find a partner who was smart enough to keep me interested. I don't know where that came from, but it was one of my best personal insights. I have that partner in my life right now--and he was worth holding out for.

Basically I have nothing to add to the discussion...

...except to say this column was pretty much amazing. And the video? Gives me faith in humanity. THANK YOU!

I have worn glasses since I was 11. I switched to contacts briefly as a teenager, but they bugged me, and I switched back. More to the point, my glasses are an outward sign of an inward nerdiness of which I could never rid myself. And although I'm married (and thus adding to the statistic that women with advanced degrees are more likely to marry), in the past I can honestly say that I never masked my intelligence within a relationship with a man. Even when I masked my appearance, tastes, etc., I didn't consider changing being smart. I'm not even sure I'm capable of it. (Actually, I always figured it was one of the assets that I brought to a relationship. I often don't have a lot of confidence in my appearance, so I guess I felt like I had to offer something else.)

My husband and his best friend are both married to women who have higher educational levels than they have. Both men seem to be of the opinion that smart can be interesting, and that interesting people are better long-term partners. My husband cheered me on through law school. I think my husband's best friend actually thinks it's sexy to call his wife "doctor." Pretty much all of my heterosexual male friends feel the same way. And given that women are earning more degrees than men, I guess men who want to date women better get used to the idea that they might date a woman who isn't ashamed of her high level of intelligence.

So, find a pair of awesome glasses and rock them. Nerd love is a beautiful thing.

The biggest reasons my

The biggest reasons my current (male) partner finds me attractive are: I wear glasses, I have bushy Hermione-hair, I wear "adorable" baggy sweaters, I play video games, and I can beat him at games of wit any day of the week. We regularly hold discussions on the plausibility of time travel and other such fictional physics, we are both interested in writing video game scripts, and we run pen-and-paper games with our friends. If I hadn't had such high standards for a partner for all these years, I would have settled on someone less amazing than the man I'm with now. Smart, successful, interesting women should never lower their standards. Ever. You will ALWAYS end up with someone amazing who deserves you.

Thankfully my dealings with

Thankfully my dealings with the "Smart Girl Issue" have been pretty limited even though I've worn glasses since elementary school. I'm currently in college and I'm still shocked at how frequently my friends see guys completely flake on them as a result of their intelligence.

When I was in high school, I

When I was in high school, I rocked the thick purple plastic frame glasses and glued red jewels to the corners. Maybe it's a sign that things have indeed progressed, because I got asked out a lot, glasses and all. I was also lucky to grow up with a smart (and also bespectacled) mom who was quick to point out the fallacy of the nerd-to-bombshell makeovers in movies, where the glasses always inexplicably disappeared, and who raised me to never give the time of day to someone who preferred me to play stupid. I did, however, switch to contacts a little over a year ago. By that time, I felt my identity had become too attached to my glasses (I was always, "the one with the glasses"), and I wanted a change. Getting over my squeamishness about touching eyeballs facilitated the change, too, as was the irritation of the glasses tan line. But I still have a pair of clear-plastic-and-pink-glitter frames for when I'm not wearing my contacts.

Opposite experience

Honestly I've had the complete opposite experience. I have worn glasses since I was 11, and besides some normal teasing in elementary school about my glasses, and being ignored in middle school, when I was in high school, I received a LOT of male attention, some wanted, some unwanted. And in college, I always got hit on, and the number one things the guys said to me was "Hey! I really like your glasses! You look so sexy (or hot) in them!" Without fail. My husband thinks it's one of the sexiest things about me. I was unprepared for so much male attention in college regarding my glasses, because I was taught that glasses were nerdy, and intimidating. I'm not saying this to brag, but there are a slew of men who think that glasses on a woman is not only attractive, but also sexy and decidedly un-nerdy. I wish I could say that it was my confidence that those men are attracted to, but they all specifically commented on my glasses (and asked me my ethnicity, but that's a whole other issue in and of itself).

I guess my point is that there are a lot of men who find glasses sexy on a woman and don't view them as unsexy and nerdy.

Or who find "nerdy" to be

Or who find "nerdy" to be sexy.

While I love the Venn Diagram

While I love the Venn Diagram comment, John Green appears to be completely ripping off Ze Frank's style. Or are they fraternal twins?

I loved this article. Very

I loved this article. Very empowering attitude, and I'm so glad you held out and finally found someone who appreciates you for your brains. In this society, we're always told that "we need a boyfriend", but that fact is, we don't. I'm so glad you wrote this article and the ending was just perfect. It's much better to hold out and wait for the right guy who will appreciate you for all that you're worth instead of someone who's trying to change you and hide who you truly are. I can't wait to read more from you!

Anecdotal evidence

On OkCupid, the photo that gets the most comments (ie. guys actually mention it when they message me), despite the unflattering double chin caused by an awkward angle, is one of me wearing my glasses as well as a t-shirt of a girl with glasses that says "Reading is sexy". Quite a lot of guys seem to agree... *g*

I'd go for it

If you said to me "I was just wondering if you wanted to go to a movie sometime."

I'd even say yes

Id even say yes if you told me people were dying or you offered to take me to liquidation world or brunch.

Especially liquidation world or brunch

Bespectacled and awesome

Thanks for this article! As a teenager, I learned that my mom didn't take the CPA exam after graduating from college because she would have made more money than my dad, who she married 2 weeks after graduation and who never went to college. It took me 20 years to be comfortable being my smart, successful self, and it's great to be reaffirmed!