Smart girls are dangerous. They analyze things. They ask difficult questions. They blow the class curve. They reap the barbed comments of fellow classmates who are jealous or who feel stupid.
Being a smart girl is kind of like being the tubby, uncoordinated kid who is always chosen last for gym-class relays (yep, I was that kid, too) - people aren't generally out-right mean about the fact that you're "different," but they keep a little distance between themselves and you. Like you might be contagious.
Hannah Anderson, in her article How Brainy Women Benefit the Church, wrote this:
"Our cultural tendency to associate intelligence with gender affects more than a woman's education and future work. It also affects how she views herself and often prompts her to ask: 'If people tend to see intelligence as a male trait, does being smart mean that I'm somehow less feminine than my peers?'"
As a girl, I developed coping mechanisms to hide my disorder. I was naturally quiet, but I became even quieter - talk much at all, and people will figure out you're smart. I created a "ditzy girl" persona for social situations - much more fun on dates and at parties than a smart girl. I did truly stupid things - things no girl with half a brain would ever do.
In response to my comment during the conversation mentioned at the beginning of this post, one man at the table replied that he had never personally encountered the kind of negative bias I described. He thought accounts of such bias were untrue or exaggerated, because his experience had been quite the opposite.
He explained how when he was a young woman attending college (I am being totally tongue-in-cheek here), intelligence in females was encouraged and admired, not only by professors, but by classmates as well. Even within the church, he was invited into significant dialogue and his input was respected and thoughtfully considered. Being smart in no way caused him to question his femininity.
Perhaps my friend never experienced the kind of subtle and not-so-subtle cultural bias I encountered because he was not actually a woman.
It saddens me that, without thought or hesitation, this man completely dismissed what one woman had personally experienced as a woman.
Do you see the irony?
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I want to be the woman God created me to be. I want to be a fully-female, uniquely feminine image bearer. With a brain.
God makes men and women who are musically gifted. He makes men and women who have keen minds for business and organization. He gives people of both genders the gift of great empathy, or of giving, or of service. Is it possible for both to also be brainy?
Later in the same article, Anderson concludes: "More than simply allowing for a category of the intelligent female, the Scriptures actively encourage women to develop their mental capacities. Just as much as men, women are called to love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds...It's taken me years, but I finally understand that nothing about my womanhood is at odds with my mind."
I am thankful for the brave, vigorous, intelligent women in my life who have demonstrated that it is possible to be both brainy and womanly. I am thankful for godly women who have taught me that intelligence is not something I need to learn to cope with, but something I need to develop and to invest in kingdom work.
If you are a woman who has felt the sting of being labeled "brainy," listen to me...
The sideways comments and not-so-subtle jabs at your femininity are real, and they hurt. But they do not speak the truth.
Your mind is not a curse or a stigma or a social handicap: it is a beautiful gift from a loving Creator. Use it for His glory.
(To read Hannah Anderson's entire article - "How Brainy Women Benefit the Church" - click HERE.)
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People tell me the bias against female intelligence is not real.
I enrolled in an engineering graphics class several years ago. The first day of class, the instructor singled me out in front of everyone (I was the only female in the class): "Mrs. Kendall, there is no place in the field of engineering for a woman. Upper-level mathematics is too complicated for a female brain to understand."
I blushed and nodded. "Yes, sir."
"I don't expect you will complete this course," he concluded.
To his credit...
He apologized later, also in front of the entire class, when I made the top score on our first exam. I finished the course with an A. My teacher and I both learned a lot that semester, and ended the term as friends.