No Shame for Smart Girls

I'm not going to be embarassed of my brains...

In case you were wondering why this blog has been silent over the last couple of days, here’s why: last Friday, I defended, and (unofficially) “received” a doctorate. (FYI, it’s official when I turn in my revised dissertation next month.) Unofficially, I’ve gotten as far as higher education can take a person. Unofficially, people have been calling me “Dr. Jenn” for the last three days — and it’s the most giddy, most awesome, most rewarding, and most unsettling feeling in the world.

This whole being a “doctor” business has left me contemplating what it’s like to be considered, by your peers and by the world, one ‘o them “smart ones”. In particular, what does it mean to be a “smart” woman?

On my Twitter feed this morning, I caught a re-tweeted post from the blogger at BougieLand, recounting her own thoughts on being a “smart girl”: No Country for Smart Girls? Do we dumb down for dates? In brief, the blogger, Chele, recounted a dinner party with friends where she was asked to throw a game of Scrabble in order to stroke the ego of her girlfriend’s New Man.

After briefly humouring her friend, and discovering that the girlfriend’s boyfriend was too dumb to even win a thrown game, Chele gave up. On her post, Chele laments:

Do women do this? Lose games so their men feel big and strong? Do men want us to do this? Am I seriously emasculating a dude if I beat him at Wii Golf? Can a Scrabble game make or break a relationship? I gotta downgrade my vocabulary to “Cat in the Hat” levels to get a husband? For real tho? Is it really No Country For Smart Girls? Do we truly have to dumb down to catch and keep a man?

My first reaction to Chele’s blog post was: “No, the guy was just a dumbass.” But, it occurred to me that I’ve encountered many young single women in the sciences whose first reaction is to dumb down for a first date. I’ve heard stories of women who disguise our profession as researchers or doctors-in-training, telling folks they are nurses or technicians, because men at bars seem intimidated by a woman who is better educated than themselves. I’ve heard of women who bite their tongues during dinner conversation so as not to appear smarter than their new boyfriend. And, how many of us have watched ordinarily intelligent, rational, level-headed young women turn into unabashed, hair-tossing, giggly ditzes when they flirt?

We don’t live in a society that prizes intellectualism. For heavens’ sake, we just elected a bunch of Tea Partiers to the Legislature, because yet again we prefer a leader we can drink beer with instead of one whom we know is smarter than us. ‘Cuz that worked so well for us in 2000.

But even in this anti-intellectual society, it seems like Girls with Brains may be expected to be particularly ashamed of themselves. Society apparently still cling to this antiquated notion that men should be breadwinners: intellectually and financially superior to their female mates. Earlier this year, a Cornell University graduate student found that men who earn five times less than their wives are significantly more likely to cheat.

If I were a single “smart girl”, I would confess that this would make my romantic future look a little bleak. I’m simply not the kind of woman who will throw a game to stroke a man’s ego. I’m not going to pretend I’m not smart just to make some idiotic guy feel like less of a moron. Thank God I’m not single.

But I also think that “smart girls” shouldn’t be ashamed of being smart. We needn’t “dumb down to catch and keep a man”. The answer is really quite simple: don’t pursue an insecure (misogynistic) man. The right man for a “smart girl” will believe that smart is sexy. The right man will be inspired, not driven to insecurity, when he is bested by his partner. A true loving relationship means equality — and that includes loving a partner who is as smart as you. If a man needs you to coo when he plays the word “coat” (on a triple word square) in Scrabble, he is not the right man for you. He’s also an asshole.

Less than fifty years ago, women didn’t have the opportunity to integrate and be educated, or to make an income even in the same ballpark as men. Men were the breadwinners; women were expected to be the housewives and mothers. During my grandmother’s generation, women weren’t expected to be literate. Consequently, female pioneers of all backgrounds clawed and scrabbled our way to the position we’re at now, where we even have the opportunity to be “smart girls”. It’s been a struggle to elevate women to the roles of doctors, lawyers, business owners, and scientists, and to simultaneously accept women as beautiful, sexy, and brainy wives, mothers, sisters and daughters.

I am thankful for those “smart girls” who paved this road before me. To be ashamed of my own “smart girl” identity, now, would be an unforgivable insult to those incredible women. And I’m certainly not about to pretend to be a bubble-headed idiot and throw a board game just to “keep” a man who, if he needs that kind of thing, is clearly not worth my time. 

But then, I guess, that’s why I love that electroman is totally okay with losing to me at Scrabble…

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