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.

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1 Response to “There is no such thing as ‘too smart’”


  1. 1 Deborah Hopkins October 29, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Ahh – I breathed a sigh of relief as I reached the end of this piece and recognised the iniquitous power manipulations I have been on the receiving end of for 45 years.

    It is a joy to read my internalised fury at the contempt I have been treated with whenever I demonstrate my own refusal to play dumb and fit in.

    Thank you. You have cheered me with a reminder of the power of my intelligence and the spineless nature of those who would use it against me.


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