Monday, May 7, 2007

Men & Intelligent Women

It's funny how I posted not too long ago about how I rarely think about being a woman, or relatively so, and now I've been noticing all these gender issues. This weekend while I was searching online for a place in Chicago, I ran across this cool site that has discussion forums. I've been looking at several posts on that site for the past few days, mainly in the Relationships & Dating section. Yesterday, I saw an old one where a woman asked why are men turned off/intimidated by intelligent women, and it seems her question sparked this huge debate with lots of participation. As can probably be anticipated, men claimed they are not turned off or intimidated and started finding other reasons why they don't like intelligent women, i.e. they feel the need to point out their intelligence, intelligence is correlated with being unattractive, etc.

I thought this was an amazing thread for me to find since I was really angry about being treated like I was stupid by some of my family members last Friday, particularly the two males--my brother-in-law and my father (which, women wouldn't feel the need to point out their intelligence if men didn't treat them like they were stupid in the first place). For the record, they treat people like they're stupid all the time--my father especially does it with women, and my brother-in-law just does it with everyone although he definitely is a chauvinist. Out of all the gender issues--women getting paid less, being less represented in various professions, violence against women, etc--honestly, this is the women's issue that bothers me most, on a personal level. No one would ever get away with beating or raping me, and those are not things I deal with on a personal level. On a larger scale, I often find myself not thinking about domestic violence or rape in terms of sex discrimination or violence against women, although I suppose they are...even though both of those issues can and do affect more males than you know.

There are so many different opinions on the issue of men and intelligent women. Let me just tell you mine now that I've cooled off over what happened last week.

I don't think most men are capable of admitting that they are not interested in intelligent women for several reasons, the main one being that it's not in the male nature to concede anything to women. A woman could be holding a gun on a man, threatening to kill him...he could have wet his pants and everything. After it's over, he's still going to say, "Man, I wasn't scared of no woman!" I think the intelligence debate is yet another one of those kinds of macho-male moments, and that's why the majority of them are going to come out fighting if you accuse men of having a problem with smart women.

Speaking of coming out fighting, men just like to argue with women. And I think the reason they like to is to show how much smarter they are than women, to show how much they know. With so many men, it doesn't matter what you say, they want to take the opposite position. If you're married to a man, you know this is true. Both my father and my brother-in-law are like this, and it gets them into trouble all the time. It's not because they get yelled at, but because the woman is usually trying to tell him something important that he's totally disregarding precisely because it's coming from a woman--especially if it's something relating to an alleged area of male expertise that she's trying to tell him about--and then he finds out later the hard way that she was exactly right. What's funny about this is this kind of thing happens over...and over...and over again to the same men and they never seem to want to recognize the pattern. You'd think at some point, if this keeps happening to the same man, he'd just give up and realize, "Hey, my wife is usually right in these situations. Maybe I should listen." But because they're men and have this male pride, fat chance. Either that or they really aren't recognizing the pattern, which, to me, puts a wrench in the men-are-smarter-than-women theory.

Another thing that I don't think most people consider is I believe men and women have different ideas about what it means to be an "intelligent woman." I mean, because I've heard women like Paris Hilton referred to as intelligent. And it's true that everyone has varying ideas about intelligence. For example, a lot of people argue that going to a school or having degrees doesn't mean you're intelligent. "I know a Ph.D who can't find his way out of a paper bag" and all that kind of crap. Although that's true for a lot of people with degrees, in general, I think those kinds of sentiments come from people who feel some deep-seated insecurities over the fact that they aren't as educated and/or didn't attend certain kinds of schools or resentment because of how society sometimes rolls out the red carpet for people with advanced degrees or from certain schools. And I'm not just saying that because I'm in law school. And, obviously, a lot of people get where they are and seem intelligent on paper, i.e. the degrees, the schools, etc, but they didn't earn it. As a black person and because of the racial social hierarchy, this is how I view a lot of white people, particularly many white men. President Bush--Yale undergrad, Harvard Business School, President of the US = rich white male who is as dumb as rocks. So, no, I'm not totally discounting people with different views about what it means to be intelligent or what indicates intelligence in a person.

It's just that if you're going to argue over intelligence and whether or not men find it attractive in women, define what you're talking about first. I am pretty sure you will find that a lot of men are saying one thing and a lot of women are saying another. And even if that doesn't turn out to be the case, you might find that men are saying all the right things but are hinting at something else. I think when women call themselves intelligent, they are thinking like, "Okay, I have an MBA from Northwestern, a good career making good money, I can carry on a conversation" at base and then maybe more, such as "I'm independent, I can stand up for myself and speak my mind, I have opinions, I'm observant and notice what's going on, I ask questions, I can hold my own with anyone" and so on. Now, with men, you might find the first base interpretation to be there, but the second...not so much, or at least this is how I interpret it.

Although not directly stated in the discussion I read, I do think I saw these different interpretations coming out. I don't think most men are looking for women who have that second group of things listed, because I think men do want someone they feel needs them and because a woman with the second group of qualities is going to have too much mouth for the typical man. For the men who have a problem with a woman with even just the first group of qualities, i.e. a degree from a good school and a good job with good money, I think some of them hear that description and automatically assume the second group of qualities come with it--that's what the turn-off is. "Stupid" women will do what men say without challenging them and will not have the tools to make it in this world without either him or her family/friends. An intelligent woman will not just do what they say and will have the tools to make it without him. And men can call a woman intelligent without her having those things just because he is excited about what she does bring to the table, i.e. with the men I've heard calling Paris Hilton intelligent. And you know what that is. Those men are just surprised that, with her being how she is, she can actually string sentences together with correct syntax and answer questions with halfway decent answers. When you have low expectations for someone, then it's not going to take much for you to be impressed.

Clearly, there are exceptions to men not liking intelligent women, and these were mentioned in the discussion as well. They are not necessarily good exceptions, although I think men exist who do like a woman's definition of an intelligent woman but a man who truly is interested in that kind is rare. And I think even some of them want a woman who is smart but not smarter than him and/or will still treat her like she's stupid sometimes no matter what. Two exceptions I've noted, though--even though there might be more--are men who purposely seek out intelligent women who are doing well so that they can use them, and minority men who date interracially. For both of those groups, they probably feel that what they are getting out of the relationship (i.e. a free ride in life and/or a "better" race of woman/trophy) is worth the loss in masculinity. Or, particularly with interracial dating, they probably feel the "trade" equals out what otherwise would be a loss. Black women are single/never married in higher rates than other groups of women, but the black women who have the lowest chance of finding a man are educated, professional black women. Now, I don't know for sure, but I doubt this is anywhere near as true for other races of women, but especially for white women. Black men will "trade up" to a white woman despite education and success, but most of them will not touch this kind of black woman. You can argue that this is because black women aren't around black men at those levels, but there are a few. But so many of them are in interracial relationships.

To talk about the kind of women I look for from a queer perspective, I love an intelligent woman. You don't have to have a degree from a good school. In fact, the woman whom I thought was my soul mate only had a high school degree. I was kind of surprised that I looked past that so easily, but, then again, she was gorgeous. And I liked that her not being the typical stereotype of intelligent made our relationship dynamic so different from women I've dated or who were interested in me who were the degree/professional type, because I get bored by intelligent people a lot of the time...which I think is one reason why I don't enjoy law school. We didn't discuss anything important in the world, and I loved that about the time we spent together. We just had fun together. And contrary to the prevailing belief that attractiveness and intelligence are negatively correlated, even though she was a "blonde bombshell," she was not stupid. Granted, she wasn't like me--I'm a nerd. But I think she had a different kind type of intelligence than what most people think about, and that's one of the things I learned from our time together. She brought something very different to the table than what I had to offer, and I think that's why I was never bored with her.

And with her, I never had to worry about whether or not I was right or if I knew what I was talking about or my views being attacked. It was really the best, and this is probably how some men feel with some of the women they date or marry. Some people mentioned this in the discussion, as well--two people can bring something different to the relationship, and all they want is to be appreciated for what they bring. And not feeling like I have to live up to expectations with someone must be something I really am attracted to, because I think that's why I enjoy kids so much (although I don't want my own). I can just act goofy, and they are impressed that you know the simplest things.

But even though I really enjoyed her more than any other person I've dated, I still automatically seek out intelligent, high-achieving women. I think ultimately what I would like is someone who does have those credentials but is just a balanced human being and knows how to leave brains/work behind for at least a few hours every single day...especially when we're hanging out. Beyond our hanging out, she needs to be able to go to work and make her own money and take care of herself, because I don't want to take care of anybody, not to say that the woman I dated couldn't. One of the things that impressed me about her was that she was a year & a half older than I was, but she had her own place, her own car, her own job, paid her own bills...which really was the result of the fact that she hadn't spent four years in college but, instead, went straight to work. When I met her, I'd just graduated from college...which, ironically, meant I didn't have shit and had to move back in with my parents while I applied to law school. So I actually kind of felt like a scrub next to her.

But as I mentioned, I'm the youngest in my family, so I'm not used to taking care of people--people take care of me. But I can take care of myself, and, aside from my biological immediate family, I don't think anyone in the world should do anything for me. So, as a lot of women stated in the discussion, I am looking for an equal and a 50/50 relationship.