Is Nerd Day Offensive?


Lab coats, pocket protectors, suspenders and bowties, and fake glasses held together with tape are just a few of the fashion trends seen roaming the halls during “Nerd Day”. Students pair stripes and plaid and compliment each other’s botched hair styles. But who really dresses like this? Nerds? The self-proclaimed nerds I know are more likely to wear Batman t-shirts and jeans, or a skirt and sandals, or sweatpants because they woke up late; the same as any other student. What do they think of this “Nerd Day” paraphernalia?

“Nerd” has taken on a meaning synonymous with “loser” in the high school vernacular—socially inept, awkward, or boringly studious. But all nerd really means is someone who likes stuff. Who gets excited about stuff, whether that stuff is organic chemistry, Magic: The Gathering, BBC Sherlock, or college football. By stigmatizing nerds and reducing them to a stereotype, we discourage people from being passionate about what they enjoy.

Dichotomizing ‘nerdy’ and ‘popular’ is also an outdated and harmful convention. Nerdy things can become popular. People can get nerdy about popular things. Sports are a good example of a popular activity with a nerd-like following. How different, after all, are cosplayers at Comic-Con from body-painted tailgaters at football games? Or, to take a nerdy thing with a popular following, Harry Potter is undoubtedly a nerdy franchise. With fanfiction and everything. Yet it is enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people around the globe. By establishing a difference between nerdy and popular, we lose the opportunity to discover new things, and extinguish the growth of new interests and new ideas.

Proponents of Nerd Day will say that I am being oversensitive—that the dress-up day is harmless fun, and one of the most popular. And maybe that’s a fair point, but here’s another one: Nerds are people. People with voices and Tumblrs and insecurities and dreams, just like you and me. Maybe there’s not much difference between nerds and regular people. Maybe we’re all nerds, a little bit.

Rather than exploiting outdated stereotypes next Nerd Day, let us take the opportunity to re-examine the meaning of the word. Next Nerd Day let’s ask ourselves what we’re nerdy about, and celebrate it instead of mocking it.