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Read this. Please. It's something that so many people miss. It's long, so open it in a new tab and save it for later if you don't have time to read it now.

Personally, I can think of a number of incidents where I was shamed for being smart. In boarding school, I was the only 8th grader in a 10th grade math class, and I was definitely singled out and talked about; not once did I feel like I was accepted in that class. They accepted me more the following year, but then when I came back to public school in the US, I was the only 10th grader in a senior math class, and it happened all over again. I wished for the earth to open up and swallow me when my beloved little sister made the really sweet gesture of bringing me "Happy Sweet 16!" balloons in the classroom on my birthday, once again drawing attention to how much younger I was than the other students. The comments from the seniors when I regularly scored the highest grade on every test cut very deep.

I also think back to a high school end-of-year academic awards ceremony, when I was presented with award after award after award. My parents were so proud, and at first I was thrilled and honored. Then I started hearing my classmates muttering when I went back up on stage again. Then I heard classmates' PARENTS muttering, and finally, even the TEACHERS presenting the awards were making comments as they announced I'd won yet another award. I was mortified. When I look back on it, that might have been when I stopped caring at all about whether I would make valedictorian. I know it changed a lot about how much I was willing to put myself in positions where I might stand out.

To this day, I continue to be a lot more shy about speaking up when I know the answer or have a good idea than I was before then. My current manager has done a lot to help me start getting over that, but it's a long hard road to overcome the societal shaming that had such an effect on me as a child. I was blessed to have parents who were proud of me regardless - but there was little they could do about the long-lasting social effects I experienced from being the smart girl.

I think it's something that really needs to change, but I think what +Amy Sundberg has to say here is really key: while it's critical to stop the negative reactions to smart women showing their intelligence in typically accepted ways, it's also important to recognize intelligence in women who aren't following those accepted ways of displaying intelligence.
 
I know quite a few exceptionally intelligent women, but many of them are not recognized as such even among their friends, because they don't present in the same way that similarly intelligent men do. Men often engage in certain social displays, such talking authoritatively and with the assumption they'll be listened to about their subjects (not to mention other subjects), or holding jobs in business or STEM fields with high prestige. Some of the women I know do this -- but many don't, and this short article by +Amy Sundberg digs in to why and what that means.

One thing I'd call out is jobs. We tend to be blind to this because we treat a certain way of doing things as the default: if these women are so intelligent, why aren't they in ambitious, high-powered jobs? Turn this thought around for a moment: being in an ambitious, high-powered job requires intelligence, but it also requires that you make being in this job your top priority. These jobs require tremendous sacrifice in all aspects of your life, shape your personality, keep you working 16-hour days. You have to value this sort of job a lot for that to be worth it. Men in the US are raised to value it just this much -- but that's an unusual exception, not the rule. Even if you go over to France, you find a very different attitude towards the importance of one's work in life; 100-hour work weeks are almost unheard-of there. The fact is, if you're very intelligent and can figure out a way to do things you love and not work 100 hours a week, unless you personally happen to really want to do that you would be an idiot to do it.

And that's one thing I see very commonly among my most intelligent women friends. They could get one of these jobs, but not being pressured externally to do so in the same way that men are, they instead work in areas that they're passionate about. Because those areas often aren't big corporate jobs, they therefore don't have that big metaphorical "hey, I'm a smart, important person!" ID card hanging around their necks -- and people don't take them seriously.

Especially, I have noticed, people stupider than they are. Noticing that someone is smarter than you are, especially when they're quiet about it, is actually kind of tricky.
On Tuesday I read a blog post in which a female blogger made a list of people in her acquaintance she’d put in charge of governing society if she was a monarch. All the people on her list were ma...
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I'm not sure this is a problem specific to women. In high-school and at university, both male and female students would be ridiculed for trying to excel and for participating in class. Even in grad school, some students would still shake their head in class and secretly whisper when the valedictorians were giving the right answers. And those weren't just women. It's been a very discouraging time for me, too (though I wasn't the number 1 student), and it's very sad to see the developments in our educational system. Excellence and the mere desire to learn something are becoming less and less valued.
 
Thanks for the comment, +Simone Linke . I do think that sort of ridicule does happen for both men and women, but I also think there are a lot of ways men are encouraged to excel a lot more than women are, and I think a lot of women go unrecognized for their intelligence simply because they have chosen less traditional ways to use that intelligence. I think those less traditional routes should be recognized and honored as much as the more traditional routes are.
 
+Lisa Ellis I agree; while some of what you said is true for both men and women (and a lot of your story is very familiar to me personally), there's a big part that's different, too. I became the outsider smart kid, but that came with a certain sort of "oh, he's really smart" respect. Women who became outsiders for the same reason didn't get the same respect from people.
 
Exactly that, +Yonatan Zunger . I'm certainly willing to admit to a bit of social awkwardness that didn't help with being accepted, but at the same time, there weren't nearly the same number of negative comments about the smart guys among my peers who were also socially awkward.
 
I think there is also a stigma against being intelligent period, particularly when younger (middle school & high school). And there is sometimes jealousy at university levels, although I didn't experience any ridicule for wanting to participate...I mean, university is expensive, at least in the US.

But I agree with Lisa that there is more to it than that. I haven't been in school for more than ten years, and I still find that this sort of thing affects me. It wasn't until recently that I realized exactly how much.
 
Lisa, I was so oblivious to any and all the negativity towards you and your successes. All I remember is being incredibly proud of you. And while I was too naive to know of the jealousy or prejudices, I DID always seem to understand how rare it is to have such a smart student being a woman and that, to me, was just the coolest thing! You raised the bar for me, did you know that? I never felt like I was truly reaching my potential when I was making average grades because you were the standard I'd set for myself. I may not actually be as "smart" as you, but I sure did try. All through my college courses over the last few years, I pushed to make the Dean's and President's List and I thought of you often. I should have told you this sooner, but I am happy to finally be saying it.
 
+Amy Sundberg is very wise.

When you are a kid, it is hard to be the really smart kid, even if you are a boy, but that goes away for us. By the time I was in high school, no one looked twice at me, even if I was short and young.

I'd hate to imagine that never going away, but I see it happen to female friends all the time. It's sad, especially since it is so stupid.
 
+Martha Jablonski It means so much to me to hear this from you. I'm really glad you were sheltered enough from the negative stuff that you didn't realize it was there; I'm so proud of you for all that you've accomplished. Finishing school is an accomplishment in and of itself; doing so while also being a mother to 3 kids is just downright incredible! And you are GOOD at what you do! You have so much to be proud of, not least of which is the amazing human beings you're raising.
 
+Dave Hogg For what it's worth, you were one of the people who never made me, in ANY way, feel like I should hide this aspect of who I am. Thank you for that.
 
Well, for what it's worth, I'm very proud of you all. You've all turned out very well and I'll put you in charge of anything you want.
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