Archive for May, 2011

There is no such thing as ‘too smart’

Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a [wo]man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his [or her] intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his [or her] thoughts in clear form.

– Albert Einstein

There are many ways in which women are spoken to and of by other people, and by the media, that separates them from ‘normal people’ (i.e. men), .

Stern faced men, striding down the city streets, are never shouted at by passerby ‘go on, luv, give us a smile’. Men do not have to deal with the aggressiveness of total strangers when the smile so demanded is not forthcoming.

Adverts don’t assume that men emerge triumphant from the kitchen after their children request more peas, or nod and laugh victoriously after eliminating 99.9% of bacteria from food preparation surfaces with the cunning use of bleach. Men are not shown vacuuming.

Men are not told that they are ‘too smart’.

Yesterday, I was told by a colleague that I was ‘too smart’ to work in the industry in which I am currently employed.

Has this individual ever said such a thing to any male, and surely amply intelligent, coworkers?

I take great pride in my intelligence, as I think it is one of the most important traits a person can cultivate. Any person who shows a curiosity and a willingness to learn should be encouraged. Without the critical analysis spurred by informed curiosity, civilization would stagnate. Intelligence is required to interact with the world, to acquire new skills and supplement pre-existing knowledge. Intelligence provides the confidence to challenge what is, and ask if it could not, perhaps, be improved upon.

To be intelligent is to be willing to challenge authority. I wish I were more intelligent. There are so many questions that, tackled by informed, intelligent people, could be answered to the betterment of humanity. I am waiting for a room of engaged, smart people to achieve world peace, cure AIDS, end climate change, and create a solid prime-time line-up on broadcast tv. A room of over-privileged, supercilious ignoramuses is what tends to cause the world’s serious problems in the first place.

So why am I, and I suspect many other women, labeled (in what I’m sure is meant to be a complimentary tone) ‘too smart’? Well, we are expressing dissatisfaction, we are noticing the flaws and failings around us, drawing attention to them, and demanding something better. We are refusing to play by the rules, refusing to accept the game as it is, insisting that it should be changed. We are, to use classically feminist vocab, pointing out the patriarchy to the patriarchs, and that tends to make them a little uncomfortable.

Why? Because it wasn’t them personally who created a culture and infrastructure that just happens to create an inter-institutional bias towards white, cis, straight, abled, (upper) middle class men, just like they didn’t personally have slaves or invade other countries killing off swathes of the local populous so they could steal their resources and claim the land for some monarch or other. They just happen to benefit from being one of history’s winners. They didn’t ask to be born.

So they don’t feel that they should be punished for their success. They earned it! They work hard and just because they happen to fit into the system so neatly doesn’t mean their work, their effort, should be devalued. No, it is they who will change the world, by playing the system from the inside! He will master the game, reach the pinnacle of power and influence, and then, like a benevolent leader, lean down and lend a hand to all those ‘other’ people left outside the clubhouse while he was learning the secret handshake.

As Audre Lorde (not a white guy) famously wrote “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”. Does this well-meaning, accidentally (I hope) patronizing individual really think he’s going to save us all by becoming like, say, Rupert Murdoch? And even if he does, where the fuck does he get off implying that my using my brain somehow precludes me from achieving a position or sphere of influence whereby I might change the world for the better?

But you see, in a mind like that, formed by the life experience he’s had thus far, a woman cannot do it. To win, one must play the game. To play the game well, one must be smart. And to be smart and a woman is to refuse to play the game because a moment’s thought reveals it to be a steaming pile of factory-farmed-chicken manure.

In condescendingly implying that I should take my educated little head somewhere else, this person unconsciously reflects his own investment in the status quo, where someone like me can’t win because I do not mindlessly respect the existing authority enough to become part of it (as he implicitly can and happily does).

I do not quietly accept what is, I actively point out if something is sexist or bigoted or just generally not cricket. I do not assume that money is the only measure of value. I do not aspire to create pablum for the dribbling and unwashed masses to distract them from their own existential crises, nor do I think accepting that as the duty of media is anything other than a grave insult to the human species.

To live as if success is predicated on treating one’s professional life like a game of Monopoly is to right up there with assuming all relationships have the same narrative arc as Pretty Woman – massively over-simplified and ultimately self defeating.

Here’s the thing. Life isn’t a game, there are not winners and losers. Life, society, culture, everything, is a process, massively complicated because it involves about 7 billion living people, and plenty more dead ones.

There is no such thing as a woman that is ‘too smart’, only people who are too foolish to listen to her.

The Opposite of Faith

I hate to be bored, but there are some times when there is so much happening which provokes complex reactions that even the great garble of the English language is insufficient to separate out and label each thought and feeling, leaving me with a rather unsophisticated rage.

I am often reminded these days of the very wise philosophy of non-attachment – to wit, we can only control ourselves, therefore we can and should act in accordance with our own morals and principles, and let go entirely of the notion that the world will respond with the result for which we aim, or that individuals will have the same motivation, moral code, or priorities as ourselves.

It is, essentially, a constant acknowledgment that we are not the boss, that life is chaotic, and that negative reactions arise from our own thwarted desires and expectations.

It is a very democratic principle. It is often difficult, however, to accept and respect the decisions, actions, and comments of others when they are diametrically opposed to one’s own sense of justice, whether personal or political.


Stephen Harper has won a conservative majority in Canada. This enrages me because I do not understand how my fellow Canadians can not only accept the many questionable decisions made by his minority government, but hand him a sufficient parliamentary majority to pass more and more restrictive legislation that is actively bad for the majority of Canadian citizens.

Why does this offend me so? Because I am attached to my expectations of Canada. I go through life assuming that the Canadian electorate is somehow immune to the capitalist pseudo-logic peddled by corporate-behemoth-funded conservative parties everywhere. I assume that 30 million people have the same definition of justice that I do. My expectation is not met, and I am hurt and frustrated.

I could, and do, take solace in the fact that part of the reason for the majority is a major leap in the number of votes going to the NDP (aka socialists), which essentially split the non-conservative vote. Although they did not win, I can remind myself that the issues central to their party platform will have more regular airing, and being less of a ‘centrist’ party, they have more reason to actively oppose most of the conservative legislation. This means, essentially, there will be a more pronounced debate. Of course, this solace-taking, too, is attachment. I am again expecting a large group of people to think and act as I would.

Also fueling my un-Zen political rage is the rampant politicking over eliminating abortion rights in the US, the ongoing mockery of logic, sense, and good taste that is the tea party, and the vast, nauseating cuts to social services in the UK (made, of course, by a group of independently wealthy white males who want to remake England in their image. Like it isn’t sufficiently patriarchal, classist, and racist already).

That is one downside of living many places: I am affected by the local politics all over the place.

On top of this, there are my confused feelings about the killing of Osama bin Laden. I am a pacifist. I don’t believe that violence or war does humanity any good (which isn’t to say that there aren’t a happy few who do very well out of it – there quite clearly are, nor that some goals are not sometimes met by violent action – this is also sometimes true, just not often enough to justify the frequency with which violence is resorted to).

That said, even thinking about it now, I am hugely relieved. I get a genuine lump-in-the-throat feeling when I think about how relieved other people feel. It is like a muscle I didn’t realize was knotted suddenly relaxed. Several million people feel a little safer, and I cannot help but feel touched by that. bin Laden was a powerful symbol, which is not to deny that he was also a person, albeit a massively fucking evil one, and to have that symbol of such unadulterated hostility towards not just the ‘Western world’, or the capitalist system (that, ahem, his father did so well by), but also all of the Muslims around the world who didn’t subscribe to the hyper-orthodox -hide-the-women and kill-the-infidels school of Islam.

What do I expect now, after this symbolic event? I don’t know. I hope that things will get better.

Non-attachment doesn’t mean not caring, but it does mean not making assumptions. I can hope, without trusting something that I cannot know. It is the opposite of faith. I don’t believe that there is a master plan, I do not place childlike trust in a god/dess or the universe. I can only hope that all will be well.

“May all that have life be delivered from suffering”
Gautama Buddha
(c.566 BC – c.480 BC)
image and quote from