Revenge of the nerds, or vengeance from the jocks?

Reflections on a recent article from The Economist

The Economist is one of the few media outlets I follow on twitter. Its articles perfectly fill in my reading gaps between academic publications and entertaining stories on the People magazine.

A new piece on it caught my attention during the past weekend. (Link to the article: It started from Marc Zuckerberg’s new year resolution of running 365 miles in 365 days and went on covering almost all high-profile silicon valley tycoons’ workout habits. The article credits high-tech icons’ frenzy over getting fit (through both exercise an somewhat exotic diets) to the nerds’ dark ages during high school years, when the jocks got all the popularity, while the nerds were either bullied or ignored. “The revenge of the nerds”, according to the article, goes beyond beating the jocks by earning more money than they ever dreamed off. Now the nerds “…are going further and proving they can beat the jocks at their own game… can become alpha males physically as well as intellectually, particularly when they can afford to hire personal trainers and dieticians.”

I have to quote the following as this is how the writer ended the article:

“ The Silicon Valley fitness craze clearly has a long way to go. But the anxieties that drive it are eternal. Tech billionaires may hone their bodies with high-powered exercise machines and scientifically formulated diets. They may blast themselves into outer space. They may even discover the secret of perpetual youth. But as they float around in outer space, their bodies finely toned, their life-force rejuvenated by the blood of 20-year-olds, their bank accounts swollen from three commas to four, they will still be, in their deepest selves, the puny nerd who cowered, sweating and miserable, before some muscle-bound jock.”

Comments below the article cracked me up. Half of of the 38 comments wondered how the heck this article could ever be published in something like The Economist. The other half put out the complaints in a more serious format by criticizing the writer’s assumptions, and methodology etc.

I imagine the self-selected sample who bothered to leave a few sentences below the article was on the young, male, and nerdy side. After all, jocks probably would rather spend their time building their muscles and the jocks-used-to-be are definitely busy with making their ends meet. And, women? Why would women care about reading this?

But I happen to be a woman who came across this article. Since I don’t belong to either camp, I might be in a better position commenting on this masculinity contest, which has been presented pretty clearly in the article: being successful in the tech world, or may be in the whole world means being more “male”: richer and physically stronger. Being a winner of the masculinity contest is the best psycho-therapy for a nerd’s younger self. Regardless how hard one tries, he could never escape from the stereotype others built against him back in high-school.

All of these messages bothered me.

As a mother of a soon-to-be preteen boy, I admit that I tend to overreact to the tension between smart kids and sporty kids in American schools (I said I didn’t belong to either camp. Guess that was not 100% accurate.) I would worry that my boy would be subject to one of these labels and would not be able to feel good enough about himself as a teenager. It is really hard to feel good about yourself as a teenager in the first place. But if you are telling me that he would never feel good about himself throughout his life because he can’t be a high school jock using your quasi-Freudian analysis, I have to say no straight into your face.

The masculinity contest and the masculine meaning of success hurt both girls and boys, maybe boys even more.

In the way, the successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are not much different from people who gained their fortune in more traditional fields. Health, love, and social welfare will get on your radar after you have secured your finances and more. One thing that may put the hi-tech boys under the spotlight is that they are usually so young! Almost too young to be this rich. It is not fair to put them back into the jocks vs. nerds war just because they are closer to high school age than those gray haired billionaires. To me, this article on The Economist is more of a jock’s vengeance.

These rivalry camps among boys have counterparts in the girls’ world, pretty girly girls vs. smart girl bookworms. I do remember how girls from one camp had a hard time befriend with girls of the other camp in high school (Chelsea Clinton. Vs. Paris Hilton?)

Magically, the war stopped in college. Nerdy girls began to turn to their well-groomed roommates for beauty advice. Or at least, the nerdy ones began to seek ways to shed off their ugly duckling feathers. Women who choose brainy careers such as law or engineer, begin to experience the difficulty of balancing their feminine roles/images with the masculine roles/images. It’s extremely hard for women to figure out leaning towards which side will help their career more. The torn standard or double standard put women, girly or nerdy, onto the same floor.