Beauty and the Geek
It's not often that my husband insists on turning on the TV at a particular time. Sports events - that's about it. But he recently stumbled onto a new show Beauty and the Geek and he's become a born again TV fan. Last night, he couldn't wait until the show came on again and insisted I come watch it. We both had to giggle a lot about it, at least on the surface of things. Beautiful and seemingly dumb women. Smart and VERY GEEKY men. Men so geeky, they can't even stay in the same room with a gorgeous woman, but rather go and stand in a closet. Thick glasses, rack-head hair ... you get the picture. Mostly scientific. Women in swim suits that are so absent-minded they can't seem to remember who Sen. John Kerry is, and the fact that he ran for president of some country, sometime or another.
Like most reality shows, Beauty and the Geek has contests associated with it. On the last episode, the men had to sing in front of an audience. The women had to give an intelligent speech on something, which they all failed to do. The men help the women study the "hard" stuff. The women help the men fit in socially, and seem to know the names of every TV show and hit song. As my husband and I sat there and laughed at this spectacle (we're both computer scientists, I might add, and the computer scientist on the show is especially geeky), we started talking about the larger issues such a show engenders.
This show obviously and unfortunately re-enforces the geeky male image of our profession, an image many, many people believe is accurate. The very least the producers could do is add a few female geeks to the show's contestants, along with some beautiful men (smile). But, seriously, this image drives young men and women away from scientific educations and careers, exactly at the time our nation needs them.
While the geeky image is funny, it's inaccurate. In my two plus decades working at Bell Labs, I found my colleagues (men and women) to be very creative, funny, musical, athletic, social, passionate and honest people. Very seldom did they go stand in a closet or come to work with rack head.
Perhaps the show will actually help through some inverse marketing magic – perhaps, by making these geeks sympathetic, the show will make them cool. Perhaps smart women who like science will be incensed by the stupidity of the female contestants. Who knows. It will be interesting to see if it has any impact what so ever on our geeky image. So, stay tuned. Oh, and don't forget to take the "How Geeky Are You" test on the website!
Lucy Sanders is CEO and Co-founder of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).