This goes out to all those girls who’ve heard the message that intelligence and geekiness is antithetical to attractiveness.
I was in Grade 10 when I decided to ask out a guy from English class.
He was tall, dark, and as close to handsome as you got in the group of band geeks I hung out with. So one day when we were waiting for the bell to end class, I approached him and said, “I was just wondering if you wanted to go to a movie sometime.”
He turned to look behind him, then turned back and with eyes wide, asked, “Me?”
“Yeah?” I said, suddenly less sure of my plan.
“Um….um….” he stalled, opening and closing his mouth like a fish.
“Oh. You can think about it and tell me later,” I said, my heart sinking. He looked hugely relieved.
“OK, cool,” he said. Just then, the bell rang and he literally turned tail and sprinted down the hall to get away from me.
Just in case I hadn’t got the message, he ran away from me after each class for the next month.
When I came home crying and asked my mom why boys didn’t like me, she said, “Boys are just intimidated by your intelligence.” Of course, being 14, my immediate reaction was to wish to God that I wasn’t smart. If she’d said it was because of my clothes, that could’ve been fixed, but I couldn’t change being smart! I was sure I was going to be alone forever, especially if I couldn’t find a way to give up all my smart, geeky hobbies, like Star Trek and fanfiction.
Now to be fair, nerdy guys are told they’re not attractive either, but for some reason it’s less to do with their intelligence and more to do with nerdy hobbies being seen as unmanly (video games vs. sports, for example) and nerdy guys being seen as socially inept.
Back to women. I wasn’t the only one hearing the message that female intelligence isn’t attractive. “My grandma used to say, ‘Guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,’” recalled one friend.
Another remembered seeing a matchmaker who told her she was an “extremely difficult case… because [she’s] so successful at such a young age.”
In my last post on women and science I talked about how girls are taught they’re naturally less inclined to math and science. I was at least as good at sciences as I was at the humanities, and I loved biology. But somehow I got this idea that I couldn’t ever be really good at it and that I’d need to do something more that had more room for emotions and creativity. I’m happy with the way things turned out and I don’t think what I’m doing now is any less challenging or valuable than science, but I can’t help but wonder how much gender expectations and a desire not to seem “too smart” factored into my choice.
The smart girl myth is perpetuated in pop culture and fashion. In addition to the “I’m Too Pretty to do Math” magnet at Forever 21, which I referenced in yesterday’s post, a few years ago Abercrombie and Fitch were forced to pull a line of shirts with slogans like “With These, Who Needs Brains?” (written across the chest).
And online dating coaches like Evan Mark Katz keep doling out advice like this:
This doesn’t mean you should play dumb…It might mean, however, turning off some of the things that make you “successful” at work. This is a bitter pill to swallow…Still, it doesn’t change the fact that “hard-driving, opinionated, and meticulous” are not on most men’s lists of ideal feminine traits.
Now I have issues with the institution of marriage, but for those who want that to be a part of their life, Christine Whelan, author of Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women found that women with graduate degrees or top salaries were more likely to marry than others. And even if the myth were true, why would a smart woman want to date someone who wanted them to be stupid? I tried it and it was neither necessary nor fun.
So what we nerd girls do when we’re bombarded with messages that say you have to play dumb to get a date, and you have to get a date or else?
Guardian columnist Barbara Ellen’s advice is to “enjoy being fab and brilliant, and hold out for the guys (or gals) who’ll appreciate it.”
In response to the “I’m Too Pretty to do Math” shirt/magnet, the Society of Women Engineers at the University of Arlington made a cool shirt that reads, “I’m the Engineer My Mother Always Wanted Me to Marry.” We should also remember that non-science fields aren’t any less valuable or rigorous simply because they’re seen as less masculine.
In my favorite response, John Green of vlogbrothers agrees, stating: “The Venn diagram of guys who don’t like smart girls and guys you don’t want to date is a circle” (at 3:30):
The fact is, being single can be really great. Being single let me learn a lot about myself, including how to stop being ashamed of my geekiness. In my experience it’s certainly better than being with someone who wants you to hide how smart and geeky you are. Despite the conventional wisdom, in the last few years I’ve realized there’s no shortage of people who like smart women, and I now have a boyfriend who’s amazing and encouraging of my geekdom and my feminism.
So, girls with glasses: stay strong, and stay smart!