Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why is Intelligence in a Woman So Threatening?

In general, smart people are tolerated. They are needed in society. But there's not much use for them on a personal, everyday level. Because everyone knows, that book smart people are lame and boring. Or that seems to be the fallacy. I love talking to smart people, so long as they aren't so caught up in their own self-importance that they forget to be human beings with all the flaws and foibles. I have a news flash, though. Most smart people aren't necessarily like that. We can be pretty fun to be around, in fact.

Even less tolerance seems to be given to intelligent women. Why I wonder? There is no physiologic or anatomical limitation on women being more intelligent than men. But society really seems to disparage this aspiration in girls. How many of us smart girls played dumb one or more times to get a boy to like us? Raising my hand. Yes I did it. Sadly I still find myself biting my tongue when I get ready to say something that might be construed as showing that I do have arcane knowledge that the average person might not possess (wink). Because people will just think I'm showing off, or they'll get bored with me and not want to talk to me ever again. Sometimes, I feel it's better just to keep my mouth shut and smile and nod. That doesn't always go as planned because I enjoy talking to other people. And as a smart women, I would guess this is bound to show in what I do and say. Like it or lump it.

I'm not arrogant, and I'm certainly not egotistical, although posting that I am a smart woman may come across that way. It's just a fact. God blessed me with brains. I am a humble person, so I do tend to downplay that and focus on being down to earth, and being approachable is just a part of who I am. Now I can be as absent-minded as all get out, but that's usually because my brain is off thinking about some bizarre thing completely unrelated to what I'm doing at the time. And I certainly don't know everything. Far from it. But I digress.

There is a tension that comes out when it's clear that I am an intelligent woman. That my interests go past the level of the superficial and everyday. That I do think about things that most people don't give a second thought to. I'm more likely to watch The History Channel than I am to watch E! I can spend two hours watching The Universe, and won't spend one hour watching American Idol. I don't put down people who do watch American Idol or whatever else. I'm certainly not one of those people who say that television is mindless entertainment. What a person chooses to watch is her/his choice. But it does get frustrating to be considered a weirdo because my interests extend to the universe, and how a black hole works, how the Spartans lived and fought, and if ninjas really did exist. Or the physiology of sex. Who care about sexual physiology? People just want to have it. They don't want to know how our brains and bodies are wired for sex. I find it extremely fascinating.

As an avid fiction reader, particularly romantic fiction, I sense a real bias against smart women in books. Nine times out of ten, when I read posts on a book group, the smart heroine is the one who is least liked by readers. They don't think she's realistic or she's too hard, or she's unlikeable. Or she's just not sexy enough for the divinely hot hero. That really saddens me. In my opinion, the smart women deserve to meet Mr. Right just as much as the cute girl with the fantastic shoe collection. Or the bombshell who has every man at her feet. That is not to say that the smart girl can't have a fantastic shoe collection and be a bombshell with brains. Woman can be many things at once. An author on one of my groups said she has gotten emails in which readers have complained that the characters are too smart. I had some trouble wrapping my brain around that one. I love a smart heroine. They are some of my favorite. And a hero who loves and appreciates his smart heroine is even more beloved. Think Jane to Vishous in Lover Unbound by JR Ward. Or Ashaya to Dorian in Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh. These two heroes really believe that smart is sexy. In fact, I prefer a smart, intelligent heroine to one who's always kicking butt without stopping to assess the situation. Or always getting herself in trouble because her brain doesn't consider that the macho hero might have given her some good advice. Now a girl like Sydney Bristow on Alias is the best of both worlds.

One must wonder why the smart girls come off as being prickly and unapproachable. Could it be the many rejections we have received? Being teased by other woman and ostracized because we don't fit in, or being treated as if we are unfeminine because what real woman would be that smart and not hide it. Could it be that we'd rather stay home on the weekends instead of playing dumb just to get a guy to like us? Not because we hate men or are asexual. I suggest that we are prickly and have built up the armor against the world in pure self-defense. Being intelligent and erudite as a woman is a bit of a vicious cycle. You pursue scholarly interests, get more intelligent, become more of a social outcast, end up spending more time alone with said interests, get more intelligent, and it just continues. Or some of us just give up, throw our books away and decide to pretend that we're no smarter than the man we want or the rest of the crowd. I can't tell you how sad that makes me feel.

Well I have decided that I'm intelligent for a reason. I wouldn't trade that for anything. Having a good heart and being a good person is obviously far more important. But there is nothing wrong with being smart and being a woman. The world needs us. Woman are the other half of the equation in this world. And a good scientist knows that an equation must always be balanced on both sides.


  1. great blog post danielle!

    i think society's adversion to intelligent women stems from the not-so-ancient idea that women should be seen and not heard. we're encouraged to be skinny beautiful wives and mothers while at the same time being indirectly (and sometimes directly) told to abandon our passion for science and math, our love of reading, our street smarts, and our eagerness to make it to the top of our chosen profession.

    the world needs intelligent women! and until all (or at least most) of its inhabitants accept and appreciate that fact, the responsibility stays upon our shoulders to remain strong and continue to foster our intelligence. continue to give the world what it needs. not to play dumb and give the world what it wants., if us smart women do not continue to watch the television documentaries on the battle of 300 or the mayan predicition of the year 2012, the history channel will go out of business!

  2. Those are some very intelligent ideas, Maya. Unfortunately attitudes about women have not changed much. Sometimes I feel as though we have gone backward from what has been achieved with women's rights in this world.

  3. Great topic Danielle! I would be irritated at first if a reader told me my heroines were too smart. My favorite character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was Willow BECAUSE she was a hacker, super-smart, socially awkward, but vulnerable and relatable.

    However, I wonder if perhaps the issue that readers cannot articulate or express clearly is that they find the "intelligent" heroines appear are not relatable in other ways. Plenty of romance heroines are smart but likable and sexy. Sometimes I think when readers say a character is too smart, they might just mean they didn't connect with the heroine in other ways. I would try to get more out of them.

    As I said, I'm proud to like "nerdy" things and to read books with intelligent heroines. Keep them coming!

  4. I am who I am and if a person doesn't like that, then they have to live with their dislike. I will never boast or brag. I am a smart person and I will not hide that fact, even from a man. He will love me 100% or not at all.

    I watch programs that some people thinks is weird. I have a woman at my job thinks that I am weird, for not watching a lot of black shows and movies. As If!

    I believe that some readers don't like to see an intelligent heorine, because they don't want her to know anything or can do anything, for if she wears well able shoes, then why have a hero? The hero is suppose to be the one wearing the super hero cap. He's the one that suppose to have the brains. The heroine is suppose to follow his lead. Not so!

    Let that heroine roar. Let her stand tall. Let her have a backbone and most of her, let her be unique. No one can be unique, if you are someone's puppet.

    My heroines are always smart and they wouldn't be afraid to tell the hero, "I'm not the one." - then again, my heroes aren't intimidated by the heroines.

    If a hero is intimidated by the heroine in a book or a real like heroine, then he's not the man for her.

    I don't believe in cutting inches off my height, to make the hero seems taller than he really is.

    Okay, let me shut up now.

    Nice topic Danielle.