A few days ago, my fellow coders and I had a discussion about why girls play dumb to get the guy, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Let’s face it, the idea that a woman can snag a man by pretending to need his help is widespread in movies and other media and is not an uncommon tactic in real life. Take the movie Mean Girls as a classic example. The math-savvy protagonist decides that a good way to break the ice with a guy in her advanced calculus class is to pretend that she doesn’t understand and to solicit his inferior skills for help. When he comments about her high test scores, she goes so far as to fail her tests on purpose so that he will believe that she really does not get it and consent to tutor her. To the film’s credit, the couple does not actually get together until she gives up her façade and wins a math tournament for her school; however, the point still remains that her first instinct was to dumb herself down in order to capture the attention of the guy. Now, step back into real life and you’ll hear similar anecdotes about women successfully using this tactic to meet, get to know, and even get into a relationship with the men they’re interested in. Before I universally condemn this behavior, let me clarify that I understand that social situations can be awkward and one of the easiest ways to initiate casual conversation is to ask for someone’s help. After all, is it really so wrong to ask the cute guy sitting next to you for the time (even though you could easily check your cell phone) in the hopes that it might spark a conversation and you could get to know him a little better? My answer is no. However, the epidemic of women pretending to be less than their true potential in order to land a man (and I’m talking here about things of much greater consequence than the ability to check the time for yourself) is based on much more sinister cultural and social ideas about the proper relationship between men and women.
What I am concerned about is the idea that men do not want to date smart women. Or to be more precise, men do not want to date women who are smarter than they are. One of our coders related that she has often assumed that her classmates would not be interested in her because of her intelligence and willingness to contribute to conversations. My own mother admitted to me that she assumes that I’ll probably get married later than most girls who are otherwise similar to me because it will take me awhile to find a guy who’s okay with the fact that I excel in school. “A lot of men have really sensitive egos,” she said, “and it might take a while to find a guy with the maturity to realize that your intelligence doesn’t diminish him and is actually an attractive quality.” Fortunately, I have a mother who encourages me to pursue my ambitions, but the fact that she doesn’t view any success I may have as being without social consequences illustrates the point that maybe there’s more than passing humor to the saying that ‘boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.’ In fact, one of our mentors shared a story with us about a professor who gave a girl a lower grade in his class than he gave to her boyfriend because he didn’t want to create any problems in their relationship. But my question is, why should it? Men congratulate themselves and glorify other men when they manage to date women who are “out of their league,” so to speak, in terms of physical attractiveness, yet there is an assumption somewhere within our social consciousness that if a woman outshines (or even equals) a man in terms of intelligence their relationship will not work. Is it a relic from the days when we believed that only men could be legitimate providers for a family? After all, it does seem a little odd to be the breadwinner for someone who could provide equally well, if not better, for herself.
Regardless of the source of this social assumption, it tends to leave smart women who want a relationship in a sticky situation. Thus arises the strategy of dumbing oneself down in order to become more appealing. During our conversation, several of the coders shared stories about how they knew of girls who had pretended to be less than brilliant in order to get a guy, or at least to avoid scaring one away. And apparently, the problem is just as pervasive in the upper echelons of academia. Women who attended Harvard for business school reported that they regularly hid the fact that they attended Harvard from the men they were seeing because it was the “kiss of death” with men who were intimidated by successful women. In fact, mentioning that they went to Harvard was so effective in destroying a potential relationship that they actually nicknamed it “dropping the H-Bomb.” Additionally, smart women, being smart, have figured out how to harness this power in reverse to repel unwanted interest. At first I was confused when my roommate delved into a deep analysis of the political ramifications of an obscure piece of artwork with a guy who was clearly not keeping up, until I remembered a comment she had made about how she’ll sometimes use intimidation to drive men away because it gets the job done the fastest. Whether women acts a little slow to keep a guy around or kicks it into intellectual high gear to drive one away, the fact remains that the idea that the man should be the smarter one in a relationship is clearly accepted enough that these tactics are effective. And that’s what worries me.
The last time that I checked, relationships weren’t about hierarchy, but about partnership and teamwork. What we collectively need to be asking ourselves when we consider the friendships and other relationships we enter into is what really matters at the end of the day. After all, do we really want to be around people who make us feel more comfortable because we think we’re somehow superior? Or do we want to be around people who make us feel secure because we know we can rely on them to solve tough problems, be a competent partner in the relationship, and even create stimulating conversation when we would otherwise be bored? Life is a crazy enough ride when both partners in a relationship are up to the task. So let’s all stop hiding our good qualities and aim to connect ourselves with someone who can share the load equally across all different facets of life.
To read the article mentioning the women from Harvard: