Experts explain why nerds are so sexist

Basically, it’s all about the fragile masculinity of nerd culture


At the end of 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released following huge anticipation from fans.

It was the first new film in the franchise for over a decade, it was different for another reason too: it was the first Star Wars film with a female lead. And while this was applauded by feminists, it was met with a lot of sexist criticism from fans.

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In an article by Diana Tourjee on Broadly, it was suggested that the reason for so much sexism in fandom communities is that men labelled as “nerds” often do not fit into conventional masculinity, which  sociologist CJ Pascoe says teaches men “to be unemotional, heterosexual, competitive, and dominant.”

This feeling of being left out from traditional masculinity leads “nerds” to turn on those within the community who are deemed inferior to them, such as women and LGBT people. “Young men lob sexist or homophobic epithets at one another in order to remind them what it means to be a ‘real man,'” says Pascoe.

With women becoming more accepted into fandom communities due to advances in feminism, as demonstrated in the latest Star Wars film, many men feel threatened. They see the presence and visibility of women in the community as a threat in the only place where they can feel dominant for their masculinity.

A number of male nerds in fandom communities do not see the inclusion of women and LGBT people as an advancement in civil rights, but instead see each gain for women as a loss for men instead of seeing progress as a success for everyone.

The Broadly article recognises that sexism, homophobia and transphobia are all features of traditional masculinity. Unable to harness other aspects of masculinity, many nerds express bigoted views in order to assert masculine dominance in a way that they never could when up against conventionally masculine men.

It is often the case that the more masculine men are, the more they are praised. Men who are interested in sport are often more popular than men whose main interests are cultural. Therefore, men who are very passionate about films and video games are labelled nerds and left out of many aspects of mainstream society. The “nerd” community is a place where these men can reclaim their masculinity when the rest of society sees them as un-masculine.

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However, in recent years nerd culture has moved into the mainstream so nerds are no longer as excluded. Tourjee also spoke to sociologist Tristan Bridge, who argues that “Television shows like The Big Bang Theory make nerdish masculinities necessary to save the day.” Shows such as The Big Bang Theory has helped bring nerds into fashion.

Though their nerdy characteristics is what makes the show funny, the characters in The Big Bang Theory are also presented as intelligent and able to maintain relationships with women. However, the show has been criticised for being sexist, as the female characters are presented as unintelligent and only exist as love interests for the male characters.

Sexism is more visible amongst nerds than in many other subcultures. However, it is gender stereotyping and gendered socialisation that is the root of the problem. Feminism is needed in order to overcome the inferiority that many nerds feel in mainstream society. There is so much pressure on men to live up to certain masculine stereotypes that it is no wonder that groups that do not fit in with these, such as nerds, feel displaced.

Male nerds feel as though the small amount of power that they have been given by society just through being male is being taken away from them in order for women to take it for themselves, not realising that feminism is key in getting to the root of the problem.