It would seem that intelligence should be highly valued in prospective partners, but many women’s dating experiences contradict this. One blogger’s ruminations on being asked to throw a Scrabble game so her friend’s new man could have an ego boost questioned this phenomenon. She asks: “Do we truly have to dumb down to catch and keep a man?”
The answer, of course, should be no.
However, the cultural pressures on men to be competitive and intellectually commanding, and on women to be accommodating and emotionally aware, can create an atmosphere where men feel threatened by intelligent women, and women feel pressured to conform to expectations in order to get a date. Some of the blame can go to these amorphous cultural pressures, but also to individual men and women who perpetuate antiquated gender roles–perhaps unconsciously, perhaps because they recognize the rules and know that they’ll get ahead by conforming.
One potential reason for the popularity of these values in American society is the traditional division of labor between genders: men in the public sphere, women in the domestic sphere. Women only entered the workforce en masse during and after World War II, so it’s fairly recent for people to think about women needing to be educated for a particular job. Running a household, of course, requires its own skill set and its own kind of intelligence (as anyone who’s tried to prepare a meal while doing laundry and juggling other domestic tasks knows). But the education of women–and their very ability to be educated–has been contested in Western culture for centuries, as it was not always standard to teach women to read and write. We in the West don’t exactly have a good history of rewarding intelligent women who think for themselves: Eve’s curiosity, Pandora’s box, the women persecuted in the medieval and Renaissance witch trials, the Victorian-era women proclaimed to be hysterics… the list of women stigmatized for intelligence and initiative goes on and on.
There is also a tendency for women to be encouraged to make sacrifices for relationships. Socialization starts with fairy tales like “The Little Mermaid,” which in most versions has the protagonist giving up her voice and gambling with her life for the chance to win a man. This trend extends to women putting their careers on hold for their families, or to letting their partners prioritize their careers. It’s not unlikely, then, that women who dumb down for dating are simply following a pattern that’s already been established as a socially acceptable way for them to go about relationships. The problem with this pattern, though, is that it places the burden of behavior-adjustment on the women, rather than addressing the unrealistic expectations that it’s not unreasonable for men to feel threatened by intelligent women in the dating arena.
And smart women are, apparently, very threatening. I have plenty of anecdotes about my own encounters with this subtle form of misogyny–I’ve lost count of the times a guy has winced when I say I’m getting my Ph.D.–none of which stands out as particularly hilarious and worth repeating, but they all carried an undercurrent of fear. Fear that an intelligent woman might, I don’t know, mock and subsequently castrate whatever dude she’s talking to? Interestingly, most of my guy friends also have anecdotes about how awful it is when they encounter a girl who seems to be dumbing herself down for social expectations. So this phenomenon isn’t universal, but is still widespread enough to be problematic for intelligent women and the people who want to date them for who they are. There’s even a blog dedicated to helping sexy singles who value intelligence find each other!
One of the best ways to de-stigmatize intelligent women is to lead by example, and remind people that intelligence is sexy. Being able to communicate about one’s sexual desires and be inventive in bed are but two logical extrapolations of how one’s dating partner’s intelligence might apply positively to one’s own situation. Additionally, I recommend following the advice of the proverb “The best revenge is living well.” This intelligent woman is doing quite well for herself, thank you very much.