The Invisible Horror
March 7, 2013 45 Comments
Part of my job is making salespeople comfortable as they sell. Some time later in the process I switch roles, and it becomes my responsibility to make clients comfortable as our products and services are delivered. An awful lot of our sales force and clients are female, but our staff is almost exclusively male…nerdy male. In the middle of this triangle is me. I’m the guy who tells them we can do it fast, cheap, or good, but they can only pick two. Whichever one we agree to skimp on will be the sore spot, and one of the main things I do is to soothe those spots is banter and play.
Today I took a circuit of the project site with a saleswoman. She’s an aging careerist; married but no kids, attractive for her age, and quite non-technical. Neither does she possess an ounce of bitterness, so she’s a joy to work with. She heavily relies on me, and makes no bones about it–which is refreshing because some of the salesmen who posture as technical know-it-alls can make my job pretty difficult.
She’s also a bit of a fitness freak, and so when we had to choose between three flights of stairs or the escalator she said, “Let’s take the stairs! I have to get my steps in!”
“Are you serious? I get winded on the elevator.”
“Oh come on. You’ve been working out.”
“Oh, yes. Two whole days. And I’m sore.”
She beamed a smile, and we started up the stairs. I’m a tall fellow, and these stairs–like most I encounter–are half a size too small, so I take take them two at a time. She’s Miss Peppy Stairmaster, so she pranced up pretty quickly behind me. We weren’t racing, but when we got to the top, I said (between thinly veiled gasps), “Look, I’m fine taking the stairs as long as I win. Which I’m going to. So, you know, you might as well get used to losing.”
She laughed and said, “Well, I was right earlier, and you were wrong, so this makes up for it.”
“Why you gotta bring up old stuff?”
“That’s not old-”
“Yes it is. Now: let’s talk about me winning again.”
She laughed again. “You’re so competitive. My husband is too.”
“Of course. That’s how our ancestor survived.”
“Ok, well, I don’t have to race you then.”
“Good, because it would be awkward explaining to HR why I tackled you on a staircase.”
Not too long later we came to another set of stairs and as soon as I opened my mouth to make a joke she bolted her Fit-Bug-wearing stretchy-pants butt up those steps. I had no choice but to bound after her, and only just barely beat her to the top. We were both laughing and gasping.
“I thought we weren’t racing?”, I struggled to say.
“Yes, I know!”
“You’re a tricky dame.”
“Yes, I am!”
Even though she is by far the more fit between the two of us, we were both happy that I won. It never occurred to her that she should win; only that it wouldn’t be any fun if she didn’t try. She was much more interested in the race itself, than in the winning. For her it was a thing to do together. Almost coincidentally does someone reach the top first. Meanwhile, I’m trying to avoid a minor crisis of manhood.
Besides, nerdy teen girls who are at least a little bit cute have never had it as bad as nerdy teenage boys, have they?
If you want to talk about a girl who is insecure and shy, and maybe she is into anime or j-pop–you have to say “nerdy girl”. There are a lot of problems that can go with being a nerdy girl, but that’s not really what I want to talk about.
To reference a wide spectrum of socially awkward or peculiar boy with quirky habits: You just say “nerd”. There’s no need to append a language unit denoting the owners genitalia. Why bother? Who wants to use them?
Let’s make this shorter. Nerdy girls are really:
Nerdy boys are:
They are the thing–the horror itself–that a (nerdy) girl can sort-of, kind-of resemble. There is an earnestness of intent to boys that is usually not manifested in girls. Girls like sci-fi because others like sci-fi; boys like it despite the fact others don’t. Girls watch anime because a father, older sibling, or friends watch anime, and they want to talk about anime with them. They do like anime in and of itself, and left alone would still watch it, but it doesn’t define them as a person to the extent that they build their wardrobe around it, and resent any intrusion into their anime space. A nerdy girl will get excited to see someone else read her favorite comic, and can base a friendship off of it.
A nerdy boy is more likely to feel threatened, thinking: “Who told him about my secret favorite comic? I doubt he even knows why it’s good.” If he has any desire to interact at all, some of that urge will be to test whether the other fellow is worthy to aspire to such secret delights. Should two nerds meet over a sci-fi movie or a Civil War re-enactment they will test each others’ knowledge of the fictitious universe, or discernment of 1863 flannels from the “clearly different” 1864 version.*
The Nerd wants to win at reading comic-books.
Which is to desire the comic so much that he fundamentally misses the point of them. Even nerdy girls are going to see this as a sort of sickness because applying alpha competitiveness to things that are clearly nerdiful is just strange to the rest of society. It’s going to come across as desperate; maybe even perverse. He will seem like a person who fundamentally misses the point not only of sci-fi movies, but people. You simply don’t risk this while racing chicks up the stairs. The earnestness is just as misplaced, but the social acceptance covers it up. Even better if you can be self-deprecating or agree-and-amplify the ridiculousness unto the absurd…which it is.
This comes more clearly into focus when you call a boy a nerd. It is this concept of fundamentally misunderstanding people to which we hearken when we call boys nerds, or geeks, or similar pejoratives. In the instances when we apply the name to women it is almost always in the “nerdy girl” sense that still recognizes her humanity. At the very least they have breasts and butts and all sorts of goodies with which to remind me. A girl may walk up to me as a nerd, but she almost always walks away as an ass.
That’s a much better fate than the boy who turns invisible.
*Completely made up reference. I couldn’t even say if flannel existed then.