Idiot Nerd Girl — a meme featuring a girl in oversized glasses with the word "NERD" written across her hand — is one example of geek culture's entrenched misogyny, but recently one woman decided to take action on the matter, or, rather, the meme.
Rachel Edidin, an editor at Dark Horse Comics, embarked on a project to “take back Idiot Nerd Girl” by asking people on Twitter and Tumblr to "stage a cheerful coup" on quickmeme. "I think [Idiot Nerd Girl] is a pernicious reinforcement of a lot of things that go with the fake menace of the fake geek girl — that there are these imposters that are trying to do God knows," Edidin told the Atlantic Wire in an interview. The original Idiot Nerd Girl memes, as displayed in a BuzzFeed post, lambast girls for thinking Lord of the Rings was a Harry Potter ripoff and saying that her favorite superhero is "probably X-Man/Hugh Jackman is sooooo hot." Edidin described the new memes she incited in a post on Feminspire:
The new Nerd Girl memes are celebratory. They’re funny, and angry, obscure and prosaic. Some poke fun at recurring themes in the old meme; others speak from personal experience or rehash specific incidents. They’re snarky and sincere, frustrated and frank.
According to Know Your Meme, Idiot Nerd Girl was born about two years ago, proclaiming herself a "nerd" and then asking "What is World of Warcraft?" Writing for Uproxx in 2011 the Cajun Boy, explained Idiot Nerd Girl as such "We all know girls like this. By now we're on to them. Yet they persist, like a fungus. I'm talking about attractive females who fancy themselves as nerds." He then linked to a supercut of beautiful actresses discussing their nerdom and thereby "pandering" to the men who enjoy Star Wars, Star Trek, video games, and the like. His ultimate conclusion: these women would never actually want to be with a true nerd so making fun of them is fair game. BUST put the problem with the meme simply: it "essentially reduces all nerd women to vain, self-centered poseurs who can never truly ‘belong’ the way a nerd man can."
Edidin explained in Feminspire why she hates the Idiot Nerd Girl meme:
I hate the Idiot Nerd Girl meme because it’s not just a meme in the diluted ‘net-slang sense. It reflects and recycles and reinforces a bundle of more traditionally defined memes: the sticky and tenacious subtexts and cultural dogmas that justify and normalize misogyny and harassment and make the geek community so seethingly toxic to female members–and especially female newcomers–that it doesn’t even need a formal gate to keep them out. Idiot Nerd Girl is the throwaway byproduct of a culture that regularly responds to criticism from women with flurries of rape threats.
Idiot Nerd Girl is just one example of something we’ve seen popping up again and again recently: subcultures often pejoratively labeled “nerdy” and “geeky” being remarkably hostile to their female inhabitants. We at the Wire noted Reddit’s anti-women ways, and explained what it’s like to be a female tech blogger (in response to a Gizmodo piece entitled “Your Nasty, Nerdy Sexism Isn’t Cute”). We also commented on the hypocrisy in lauding geek culture’s female role models. At Jezebel they’ve chronicled the troubling criticism of the “booth babe” and the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian. Amy O'Leary at the New York Times wrote about the sexual harassment of girl gamers. Despite the number of stories about the subject, Edidin said that the hostility is nothing new: "This stuff has been a problem for years and years and years it's just become a more visible one recently because people have started talking about it," she told us. Bottom line: misogyny is not just for frat bros, as stereotypes might have you believe.
As Edidin wrote on her Tumblr in October 2011, geek culture is characterized by love for the things geeks geek out about. When that love however can turn exclusionary and nasty, especially when it comes to women, as the Idiot Nerd Girl meme demonstrates. And then there is irony, as Edidin writes: "When you go after people for being less die-hard than you, you become the same people who marginalized you for being geeky."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.