So you may have heard about the Black Milk Clothing debacle, which started on Star Wars Day (May the 4th) and has finally kind of petered off, after popping up on the usual internet cesspools of Buzzfeed and Salon and Yahoo! News.
Here’s the meme that sparked the controversy:
On the right is Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist from the show The Big Bang Theory, played by actress Mayim Bialik who also has a PhD in neuroscience (and strangely enough, an anti-vaccination activist). Essentially, the message seems to be – you expect to look like a skinny model, and instead you turn out like a slightly awkward looking nerd (while inexplicably changing fandoms). Cue angry statements about how attractively intelligent Mayim is, how much people would rather be Amy than just be prized for their looks and so on.
The aftermath was handled badly – critical comments on the Facebook page were quickly deleted by the page admins, which is ALWAYS a bad move, and they broke some of their own rules of conduct. I’m not going to comment on the handling, but instead I’m going to concentrate on the meme itself and what is says about nerds.
Being a nerd, female with a science PhD, Black Milk fan and occasional TBBT viewer, I have a lot of feels about it. TBBT, if you don’t already know, is an American sitcom with a laugh track. I am embarrassed to admit that I have watched quite a lot of it, even though I hate it for a million ideological reasons, chief of all that it perpetuates stereotypes about how you can’t be smart and socially unawkward.
It follows 4 STEM careerists – two academic physicists, an astrophysicist and an engineer – and a token “hot chick”, Penny, an aspiring actress/actual waitress. Later on in the series, two female scientists join the main cast – Bernadette, a microbiologist, and Amy Farrah Fowler, the girl pictured in the meme, a neuroscientist. Yep, the men get the hard sciences and the women get the softer sciences. This sets the tone of the lazy stereotypes that the show revolves around.
Naturally, the hot chick is street smart and socially competent, while the STEMmers are every stereotype of socially awkward smart people, which means the audience gets to laugh at them. They fall all over her, because popularity is what every nerd secretly aspires to, unless they’re some form of autistic (Sheldon is the only one who is even mildly standoffish towards Penny). Leonard has lactose intolerance, Sheldon is somewhere far along the ASD spectrum, Howard is an offputting sleaze bag and Raj literally cannot say a word to a woman (unless drunk). Bernadette is the closest to normal (she’s short though – cue all the short jokes!) Amy is supposedly intelligent as all get-out, but incredulously, openly idolises Penny like a pathetic slathering lapdog, for no other reason than the fact she’s pretty and popular and gets the guys. Amy and Penny are clumsily written two-dimensional opposites – Amy spent her life being smart and now can’t get laid, while Penny spent her life getting laid and now can’t be smart (did I mention that the show is pretty darn sexist too?). In the universe of TBBT, nerds are the pathetic circus show. Your life sucks? Hey, at least you’re not a nerd. The only non-pathetic nerds on the show are Bernadette (who is becoming increasingly a shrill housewife stereotype, and is still short) and David Underhill, a studly and intelligent physicist who rides a motorbike and appears for a grand total of, um, one episode. It’s telling that Penny can’t believe he can possibly be a physicist because he’s not pathetic, and clearly the writers couldn’t either, because that was the end of that sort of dabbling.
Now, there were probably a few more socially awkward scientists than in most other professions – but the whole of The Big Bang Theory reeks of jocks laughing at nerds. It’s particularly disappointing because it’s by far the most prominent portrayal of STEM nerds on television, with 7 seasons so far, which means that its relentless perpetuation of irritating stereotypes is probably going to resonate for decades.
As for Black Milk? By posting the meme, Black Milk didn’t say anything about nerds that Mayim hadn’t already said by signing up to Big Bang Theory and agreeing to appear in over 60 episodes (and counting). So I can’t get offended on her behalf, I won’t be selling all my Black Milk clothes and I will continue buying from them in the future.
My Black Milk collection isn’t huge – I’ve been trying my best to keep it to clothes I’ll wear often since they’re pretty pricey (thank god for eBay!), and unfortunately Black Milk generally doesn’t fit the business casual dress code at my work.
Bodycon dresses – Kawaii Green, Glass Lorikeet, Great Wave 2.0
I generally like this cut but the necklines have a really annoying habit of riding down to show the tops of my bra cups, and the bottom hem has a habit of riding up until it reaches my butt crease. I have to readjust endlessly when I wear these, but the patterns are spectacular!
Leggings – Matte Black Pocket, Purple Circuit, Wet Look Black, Blue Jellyfish
I have really muscular legs, so I’m careful about the patterns I choose. I go for mostly dark patterns, which keeps my spending in check! The matte pocket leggings are one of my best BM purchases – they’re affordable ($45) and really handy for wearing under things like dresses and long tops. They’re even work friendly! The wet look black leggings are excellent too, since my wardrobe consists of lots of one-colour basics (I’m wearing something from Uniqlo most days). The shiny black makes it look like I’m put in some effort.
I also own the Matte Black Skater Dress, which is probably my best BM purchase, hands down. It’s super comfortable, floaty, fits perfectly without shifting in weird places, and work safe. I’m currently eyeing off the Koi print scoop skater dress that’s being released tomorrow!