Re: Pain Isn't Pretty (was: hot babes, etc.)

Robin Hanson (
Tue, 11 Aug 1998 11:04:54 -0700

Sarah wrote:
>>... So let's all try to make it clear: We treasure women,
>>and not just or even primarily as potential dates. ...
>... I'm concerned about your use of 'we' in this last paragraph,
>Robin. Personally, I do feel that the majority of people on this
>list value women, but I'm not sure that allows the use of the
>global 'we'.

I didn't mean "we" as in "every one of us", but in a more majoritarian or average sense. There may be people here who don't value women here. But I doubt they'll speak up and say so, so we probably won't know.

>Perhaps a problem to be addressed before considering the real issue here is
>what we mean by, 'nerd'. I think nerd has connotations of appearance,
>social skills and psychological make-up, each of which contribute in their
>own way to the attractiveness, or otherwise, of the 'nerd'; ... I don't
>recall ever having met a female nerd, and I'm not qualified to talk about
>the male nerd's attractiveness or otherwise, but perhaps by breaking down
>the qualities that create the category 'nerd' others may be able to provide
>some insight in to the problems which they are expressing.

I'm willing to discuss this, but first let me plead for lots of tolerance in such discussions. It is way too easy to interpret honest ideas and opinions as insults to a gender or some other subgroup. (Sarah's sarcastic reply to Randy's suggestion of gender correlations in receptivity to radical ideas seems an example of this.)

Regarding nerds, I suspect a single term is used because there is in fact a strong correlation among various attributes. And I suspect the term is used mostly for males both because those attributes aren't considered to be such negatives for females, and because men are more likely to exibit those traits.

I was once (and may still be) a nerd, and for me the essense of it is focusing on one's own feelings and ideas, relative to caring what other people think. I didn't care much how I looked, didn't care much about how others looked, and didn't much respect people who cared a lot. The same went for sports, showing how strong or tough you are, showing dominance via insults and malicious gossip, getting along by agreeing with people, etc. I got along fine with people who were like me, but others saw me as weak, easily dominated, unattractive, and socially ignorant. They did admit though that I was very capable regarding what I cared about: ideas.

I've read, and my observations seem to confirm, that women are more inclined (either by genetics or socialization) to get along socially, while men care more about being respected than being liked. And women seem to value strong socially dominant men more than men value these traits in women. Given these correlations, the "nerd" phenomena makes sense to me.

Robin Hanson RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884 140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-2627