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Can Pretty Girls Be Nerds?

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Miss USA Alyssa Campanella.

Newly crowned Miss USA -- and self-proclaimed geek -- Alyssa Campanella. (Credit: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

It’s official: Nerds are hot. Again. Maybe it’s because I contribute to this blog, but it seems that, after many, many fits and starts, geek has finally become chic. Again. I don’t know how this happened (do we blame George Lucas, Stan Lee or Joss Whedon?), but there really is no denying that nerds are like, totally cool now. How do we know this? Well, just like the popular kids of old, they’ve started kicking people out of the club — and the first ones to go are the so-called hot chicks.

I was genuinely shocked to see an article on Racialicious that seemed to excoriate attractive women for daring to declare a love for science and “The Tudors,” but that’s exactly why Arturo R. García went off on new Miss USA Alyssa Campanella in a post entitled “On Geekdom and Privilege.” To be fair, he doesn’t rip Campanella herself so much as he tears his fellow “geeky bloggers” a new one for “rushing to induct [her] into the scene” for her comments. That said, he does seem to blame her for making those comments while “trafficking in [her] privilege” as a beautiful young woman. To put it more plainly, García writes: “If she were a plus-sized woman, a transgender woman, or a woman of color, it would be much less likely for us to even hear [her] name in this setting … She is there because of her body, and people who do not have her kind of body, or the cis-male equivalent, are Othered by many of the people who both control events like Miss USA or watch it.”

I see his point. Would we know anything about this woman if she didn’t just win a beauty pageant? Would we care about her fandom if she looked more like a “typical” nerd? From a cynical perspective, it may seem a little disingenuous when a stunning woman starts going on and on about “Star Wars,” but … why? Do nerds still see themselves as socially awkward smarty-pants and can’t quite believe that the things they like have become cool to the cool kids? Could it be that these nerdy hotties still see themselves as the geeks they were in middle school and can’t quite comprehend why people look at them like that? Or … do we still see beauty and intelligence as mutually exclusive?

I think it’s a combination of all three factors, but the last one plays much more of a role than any of us would like to admit. It’s an ugly thing, but we humans — regardless of sex — tend to put people in little boxes and turn them into objects. (Objectification plays a very interesting role in fandom as well — shoutout to all you bikini-clad Leias out there — but that’s a whole ‘nother post.) Campanella and hot geeks like her can’t be objectified (so much) because she can’t fit into the box that society has prescribed for her — and isn’t that the whole point of being a geek in the first place?

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