“You’re scary smart.”
A male friend of mine said that to me a few years ago, he meant it as a compliment, but it’s stuck with me because of all it implies. How often are men criticized for being intelligent? I can’t tell you how many times, as a girl and young woman, that I wished I wasn’t so smart. I hated being singled out and ridiculed for my intelligence. The post below, from my own Facebook page, is an example of how the societal narrative against intelligent women is perpetuated:
As soon as I read this article and Representative Ellmers’ words, I took to social media to express my offense, and called Ellmers’ office. The person who answered the phone, Matthew, listened to my concerns and said he would pass them along. I intend to follow up the phone call with a letter.
I can’t help but wonder, as +Craft Lass did in our conversation about Ellmers’ comments, if she realized that in uttering a statement that men need to “bring it down to a woman’s level” she was also insulting herself. As women, we are taught from an astonishingly early age, that we are living in a man’s world. If we want to understand anything, we shouldn’t bother trying to figure it out for ourselves. Instead, we should find the nearest man and ask for his mansplantion.
Recently, there have been a lot of ad campaigns (GoldieBloxx, Verizon, Always – to name a few) geared toward changing the way we speak to girls. These are an important step towards gender equality, but they fail to address the bigger issue. We can’t teach young women that being smart isn’t something you have to hide or apologize for unless our older women understand it as well. Yes, media has an influence on these girls, but it’s the words from their mothers, teachers, and role models that have real impact.
Ellmers’ comments put her in league with other influential women in the public sphere who are tearing down what so many others are desperately trying to repair. I am reminded of Phyllis Schlafly’s comments on wage equity for women (and also this amazing response from a North Carolinian activist, age 12), and am shocked that women who have benefitted so much from the Women’s Equality movement seemed to have learned so little. Yet, I know at least a part of their ignorance comes from their conditioning by our patriarchal society.
We, as the adult women of our generation, have a responsibility to call out this behavior, both in ourselves and others. We cannot expect the next generation of young women to stand up and declare their pride in their own intelligence unless we make this a world in which smart women are both celebrated and established as the norm. We need to make sure that everyone, from grade schoolers to those in our nation’s highest offices, understands that being a woman doesn’t mean that you aren’t as smart as a man, and if you are, that you must apologize for it or minimize it. Smart is smart, no matter what your gender is.