Nerd Girls and Kathie Lee

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Jul 21, 2008 GMT
Rikki Kite

When I started this women in open source-focused blog, I never imagined I'd have a reason to mention Kathie Lee Gifford. But I saw the opportunity, and I'm taking the leap. I start each morning with Matt and Meredith on The TODAY Show, but I'm at the office by the time Kathie Lee and Hoda take over, so I missed the "Nerd Girls" topic last week.

Actually, I've been thinking about this topic a lot – it seems that there have been a series of articles about attractive, intelligent women lately, which I find rather irritating. I don't want to hear criticisms about what people wear in their non-fashion-industry careers, or that you can be "sexy" and intelligent (as if this is some huge revelation, anyway). For example, Newsweek recently ran a "Geek Girls" article, Revenge of the Nerdette, which said:

The Nerd Girls may not look like your stereotypical pocket-protector-loving misfits...but they're part of a growing breed of young women who are claiming the nerd label for themselves. In doing so, they're challenging the notion of what a geek should look like, either by intentionally sexing up their tech personas, or by simply finding no disconnect between their geeky pursuits and more traditionally girly interests such as fashion, makeup and high heels.

Intentionally sexing up their tech personas?

One of the many things I've always liked about working in open source is that the people are, for the most part, exceptionally free-thinking, intelligent, and diverse. What you contribute has always been more important than what you wear, how old you are, and how you look. More recently, I've enjoyed working in open source because there is a growing effort to support and encourage women, and to be more inclusive overall.

A few weeks ago, I ran across a blog posted by a woman who attended USENIX, and I was disappointed that she focused on what people looked like ("...the only other female at the tech conference who didn't have facial hair..."), or their personal hygiene ("...a good number of tech guys don't believe in personal hygiene..."). I have to wonder whether she got anything else out of being around such smart, creative people. Why was she there, and what did she expect? If she went to USENIX for a fashion show, I can understand her disappointment. Some of us who have quiet little private offices with beyond-casual dress codes find that it's a huge chore to dig out an iron and some slacks for conferences and events. (I did it! I said Kathie Lee and the word "slacks" in the same post.)

I'm thrilled that accomplished women are getting attention – but is it the attention they deserve?

Is it newsworthy that women can be smart and attractive? Is this kind of coverage of attractive "nerd girls" encouraging anyone to pursue careers in technology?

Or does focusing on what intelligent women look like merely help illustrate what we know already – there aren't many women working in technology, and often the focus is on their gender rather than their contributions.


  • Thank

    No, I'm not a woman, but thank you for this article. It was certainly refreshing after trying to find something sensible to read in the endless piles and piles of fashion/vanity fairs/pop culture magazines at the local bookstore. The contribution should always be the primary focus.
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