“There seemed little doubt that the man felt some kind of jealousy. How dare she, he seemed to be saying with each rip of a page, how dare she enjoy reading books when he couldn’t? How dare she?”
– Roald Dahl, Matilda
‘When I saw your CV, I knew I couldn’t date you.’
*Takes a breath to control a deep and trembling fury.* This was actually said out loud to a female lawyer friend of mine by the man who had hired her. Now that they had been working together for a while, he felt that this was an appropriate thing to say. Her many academic achievements made her an easy choice for the job, but apparently speaking 5 languages is just a massive turn off. This is genuinely what she was told.
Somewhat ironically, I started writing this during the new episode of Mad Men while watching Joan get increasingly angry at not being treated with respect because she is only seen as a hot woman. I am starting to fear that society has switched from one horrendous sexist stereotype to another. Gone is the hot, professional woman who is desperate to be taken seriously while everyone around her wants to marry her off. Instead, this hot, professional woman has her career and more respect, but is now undateable and desperately hiding her achievements to make herself marriage material.
I have been mulling this over for a while now after a friend of mine shared an article on Facebook about why smart women are always single. It was so hyperbolic and seemed to have an almost tongue-in-cheek tone that I assumed that it must have been meant as a joke, but perhaps not…
The main points from the article were that:
- men want a woman who will support the future they want, “someone who isn’t ever going to let her career come before making dinner and pleasing them first…they want a woman who is dumb enough to make them a priority.”
- women are having to ‘settle’ for men who will support them and claims that this is becoming harder to find as “male egos aren’t deflating at the same rate at which women are increasing their education…women are getting smarter, but men aren’t getting more supportive.”
- Intelligence breeds ambition and all the smart women have been too busy advancing their careers to have time for dating, claiming they have become “frustrated with their lack of love and work harder in achieving professional success to fill the void.”
- Intelligent women are emasculating and intimidating, and so aren’t dateable. Full stop.
This all cuts a bit close to the bone as I am that intelligent woman who has always had a better career than love life, but I really resent the implication that my commitment to my job is a surrogate for a loving relationship or the reason why I’ve not yet found it. Is it just a coincidence or is my ambition and achievement actually making me undateable? Being a doctor cannot really make me unattractive or unappealing, can it? (Although there is a case for ‘unavailable’ when the rota is particularly bad…!) I have assumed that it’s been because I’m lazy and can be a bit of a loner, not because I’ve valiantly chosen my career or become too intimidating. I quite freely admit that I am ambitious and want it all – grammar school, medical school, work in the best and busiest hospitals. Outside of my profession, I can also be a bit of an over achiever – a general knowledge geek, getting over excited about new facts, and I cannot bear it if I don’t know something, but I have been brought up to believe that these are good traits, not the limiting factor to my future happiness!
Because, if nothing else, intelligence is hot! And exponentially so – speak more than one language and you have already got my attention, but 5? I would be swooning at your feet. Could you talk to me at length and with passion about something that is completely alien to my own experience? Oh God, yes! Seduce me with your words, surprise me with your opinions, teach me about new and exciting possibilities, and I am melting for you. Physical attraction is obviously important but, for me at least, it is the intellectual edge that creates a spark. It’s why I have so many work crushes after all! Show me how smart you are and I want to impress you, I want you to be interested in my opinions and my ideas, I want to be challenged…it’s super hot! Is this really not how smart women are seen?
I think that that is why the callous remarks of the absolute cock who dismissed my friend’s achievements out of hand are so devastating. They suggest that it is true that being intelligent as a women makes you less attractive, at least to some men. He did not hesitate before saying that being smart made my friend ugly, so he clearly didn’t feel that it was that outlandishly offensive a statement!
I am too proud of my career to lie about it but I have been in innumerable situations when the phrase ‘I’m a doctor’ has completely stalled a conversation. ‘Oh, that’s nice’ I was once told as he literally turned away to speak to someone else. Either that or it is treated as a challenge and his own successes are paraded in front of me for my approval. In a moment of what can only be described as unimaginative madness, one guy once responded with a lie about being a rocket scientist, as mobile phone companies need rocket scientists to help with their satellites…anything to maintain superiority, apparently.
This is the only benefit of this whole situation – it makes it really easy for me to separate the gold from the shit when meeting new people. If you are intimidated by intelligent women, I am unlikely to have anything in common with you. Frankly, it’s probably better if you sneer at me and turn away early because I’ll just get bored of you. Also, it reveals a hugely disrespectful attitude towards women in general that is unattractive and out-dated, and I don’t have any time for that kind of opinion.
So I don’t lie, but my lawyer friend does. She is sick of the presumption that she must be a bitch to succeed in that work place and is just so tired of potential encounters failing before they even start. She claims to work for the companies she represents, picking corporate obscurity over the definite statement of ‘I’m a lawyer,’ which is so sad, especially considering how hard she has worked to become a lawyer in the first place.
Please, please, can we stop using positive characteristics as a stick to beat us when we’re down? The Smart Girls Are Undateable refrain is similar to claims that Nice Guys Finish Last, and is equally as unhelpful. They target the lonely and confirm their worst fears – that it *is* their fault that they are alone. Why would anyone want to discourage such positive attributes? Why suggest that such worthy personality traits are preventing us from being happy?
Also, I cannot believe that the male ego is really so vulnerable! These articles perpetuate a terrible image of men – out to get a little wife to cook and clean while they lord over them, crowing and bragging about their bread-winning ability. Is that man still real? Surely he’s as outdated as the 1950s wife that these articles suggest women should be.
So maybe I am limiting my options by not dumbing down, not settling…but really, I’d rather be alone than make that kind of compromise. Thankfully, other than conversations with strangers, I rarely come across men who view women this way. I’m genuinely not sure if that’s simply because I have picked my friends wisely, or if that fact that medicine is swiftly becoming a majority female occupation means that those attitudes cannot survive in a professional environment so full of high-achieving women.
I think this is perhaps why it was such a shock to hear of my lawyer friend’s experience. I’d thought that this attitude had been left behind in the last century, but it seems that I was wrong…