Saturday, June 28, 2008

The New Breed of Sexy

Gone are the days when the smart, bespectacled, feisty females were pushed into wallflower status by the jocks who just went for the visual packaging. To check out what I'm talking about, read the following article on AlterNet by Vanessa Richmond– Nerdy Girls Have Attained Sexy Status. It says that,  
... until now female geeks' sex appeal has been roughly equivalent to that of Napoleon Dynamite. Wikipedia describes the nerd girl as a stock character who wear eye glasses, dresses unfashionably, wears pigtails (and other little girl items like mary-jane shoes and knee high socks), is shy and socially inept and either overweight or gangly. More recently, they sometimes have a passion for social justice (see Simpson, Lisa) are feminist or post-feminist (see Granger, Hermione) or come up with the piece of knowledge that enables the plot to be resolved (see Velma from Scooby Doo). And sometimes, just sometimes, they get a makeover and become kind pretty albeit in an awkward way (see Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
Now, as it stands Lisa, Hermione and Willow were my favourite characters in the above cited television shows and books. I wonder why? Doh! You see, by rights I should have claimed nerd-status for myself during my high school days because I fitted most of the criteria cited above. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that the word "nerd" wasn't really popularised until the 1984 release of Revenge of the Nerds, and that came out just as my high school days were at an end. In hindsight, I wasn't treated as a nerd by my school mates, but strangely enough by some of the teachers who seemed to resent the fact that I was smart (mostly because I had a good memory). In fact, there were two male teachers in particular who rather unjustly decided to rob me of two deserved scholastic prizes and reward them to the second place getter – a girl who was prettier than me by the standards of the day. 

The first situation was in Year 11 Biology. There were two classes and I had a female Science teacher – Mrs C. The male teacher – Mr W – headed the other class. Even though we were assessed all year round, the placements in a subject were determined by the final end of year exam. I had worked hard but in the end was beaten by half a mark. I received something like 77 and the other girl received 77.5. I was disappointed when the results were announced to the class, but accepting of them, as she seemed to have beaten me fair and square. However, when Mrs C went over the exam questions and answers, I discovered that one of the multiple choice answers that had been marked incorrect, was in fact right. I went to the teacher and asked her to look at my paper. Indeed, there was nothing on the paper to indicate I had altered my answer or cheated, and she gave me the mark on the spot. When she reported to Mr W that I had rightfully won first place in Biology I could see him seething. He then promptly announced that the other girl's mark of 77.5 was as good as 78 and as it was only half a mark difference we were going to share the prize and come in as equal first in Biology that year. I was quite sickened by this turn of affairs because I know he would never have looked on me as favourably if our positions were reversed. So I had to swallow my protest and my pride and take it on the chin.

The following year which was the HSC year (Higher School Certificate) I took a one-point unit called General Studies, which basically meant you had to write a bunch of essays on cultural and political events. During our half yearly exam, the same girl beat me by two marks. During the moderator exam (which is the final big test prior to the HSC) I beat her by about five marks. The moderator was the exam that was used by the prize committee to determine the place getters for the year, as the HSC marks wouldn't have come out to January of the following year which was too late for the prize giving ceremony. Despite the fact that I had legitimately come in first, I was shocked to discover that the 'male' teacher Mr D had decided to award first prize to the same pretty girl. When I challenged him on it he muttered some weak excuse and said that he thought she would beat me in the HSC and that was why he had nominated her. After the HSC results came out the following year, I discovered I had beated her by six marks!

There were two other similar events that happened to me at high school, which revealed a pattern of unfairness and injustice. Now ... as an ex-hypnotherapist, in principle I totally advocate the idea that we should let things go and by jove, I spent many years cleaning out my emotional closet so I could attempt to flourish as a balanced human being. But this is one area that still niggles at me ... am I bitter and twisted and angry about this? Yes and no. I can still reconnect to the feelings of anger, resentment, and rejection of a 17 and 18 year old based on the injustice of those decisions. These teachers were prejudiced and they were wrong and I suppose they prepared me to learn the lesson that sometimes we come up against people who treat us unfairly in life. The irony of all this (and please don't think I am bragging – I am merely making a dramatic point) is that I was the school captain during my last year, as well as the Dux of my final year.

As I write this blog post I feel exposed, as if I am revealing part of my deeper inner darker side to you that hasn't successfully let these things go. The fact that I kept my old report cards as proof that what I say now is truthful, suggests that I have certainly not made peace with the situation. The fact that I have revealed this information in a public forum also suggests that there is part of my character still craving some kind of restitution in the form of an apology or acknowledgement that wrong was done to my detriment. So I beg your indulgence, for as much as I am an ex-therapist and have a modicum of self awareness, and as much as I have worked on myself, I am still very much a flawed human. And having said that, I have found a use for these old feelings – they can be channeled into storytelling and they are what propel me and other fiction writers to find truth in characterisation and motivation.

Am I going to stew on it forever? Well no. These old feelings stir up every now with a prompt or a catalyst such as the Richmond article, but the energy of those feelings dissipated somewhat because of two things that have happened to me in the interim. I haven't got complete closure, but I don't dwell on these issues either.  

Last year I reconnected with an school mate called Joe who was the maths whizz in our year. We chatted and laughed on the phone about what we remembered about each other and he said he remembered me as being particularly competitive. When I asked him whether he knew why, he said no and then I explained what had happened on these two occasions, as well as two others which I have not talked about here. He went quiet and said he didn't know and that it all made sense. That conversation brought me a modicum of comfort.

The second event which hastened me on the path to healing happened at an informal Year 10 (or as it was known then – 4th Form) reunion. Some of the people who attended didn't continue on to complete the last two years of high school. I met up with a lovely guy Dirk who I hadn't seen in over 20 years. We gave each other a big hug and after he introduced me to his wife, we had a long chat about what we'd been doing. Later on in the ladies room, his wife came up to me and said, "You know, Julie ... Dirk just said the loveliest thing about you. He said you were so smart at school that you were sexy!"

I went silent. I became very self-conscious and just didn't know how to respond, but she did it for me "That..." she leaned in and whispered, "is the nicest compliment I have ever heard him give anyone". 

Well maybe it's time to claim the moniker. I am now officially a "nerd' and having said that ... well you know the rest. Go and read the article!

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