Being Smart, Being Stupid, and Barbie
How women train themselves to emulate Barbie-- at least, the Barbie we think we know.
A recent discovery of mine has become my new fascination: recognizing the moments in which I play the fool. Since kindergarten, I have always been a smart girl. This did not come from necessity or competition, but because reading chapter books in elementary school, getting ahead on schoolwork, and doing extra work outside of class was natural to me. Not only was being smart natural to me, but knowing and embracing that fact was as well. I wore my intellect with a badge of honor, proud to be the “smart girl”.What I’m more impressed by in retrospect is my fearlessness to stand apart from others in doing so. I never was bothered by being the “try hard” or “smart girl”; I loved getting to challenge others and learn as much as possible. Standing apart from the crowd only started affecting me when I moved through high school.
As I began to grow closer in my relationships in high school, I became more aware of how I fit into the dynamic. I’m not exactly sure where, but at some point my “smart girl” gimmick had faded. That girl traded in her intellect for a thinly-veiled cheery facade, the doubt of seeming too aggressive or ambitious masked. What I hated was that this mostly occurred when interacting with other boys. I subconsciously played into the stereotype of women dumbing themselves down to appeal to men. Although I wasn’t doing this consciously– the feminist in myself would never dare to do so– it was happening nonetheless. After examining this, I have compiled a list of symptoms and causes of this phenomenon. Play along and see if you can identify/know a woman who exhibits the following behaviors:
Symptom: entering a social engagement crossing your arms, legs, or closing yourself off in any way. Standing with poor posture in a subconscious effort to make yourself shorter. Keeping your head down or your line of sight toward the floor.
Cause: Afraid of taking up space
Symptom: Acting overly cheery, laughing too much, using non-committal language such as “like”, “I don’t know”, “I’m sorry”, “kind of”, or “I feel like” instead of using definitive language to make your point
Cause: You don’t want to seem too pushy/bitchy, so you try to appear overly positive or indecisive
Symptom: Second guessing yourself when you enter a conversation. Having thoughts like “Should I really say this? I am educated on the subject and know a lot about it, but I don’t know as much as (s)he does, maybe I should leave it them instead of possibly being wrong”
Cause: Fear of appearing stupid (“They will say I’m dumb if I’m wrong about this or challenge their opinion”); fear of appearing smart (“They’ll say I’m a bitch if I prove I’m credible or challenge their opinion).
In any case, the most consistent factor I have noticed (and I hope you have too) is the crossroads of perception. You’re stupid if you play the fool and you’re a bitch if you embrace your intellect. I’m not sure what you may think but if being an intelligent, capable woman is synonymous with being a bitch, nothing would make me prouder than to assume that title (they call it an HBIC for a reason!). But I don’t believe that being an educated woman makes me a bitch– it makes others weak. I’ll leave you with this: I like to call this state of mind “Misunderstood Barbie Syndrome”, or MBS. This name comes from a phenomenon that I have found prevalent in many people including myself. Playing with Barbies, aside from being assumed to be an inherently feminine activity, is associated with this same thought of ditziness and stupidity. Barbie herself seems to promote these traits simply by being a beautiful blonde girl living in a pink Dreamhouse. What most tend to forget is that Barbie has had over one hundred careers including doctor, astronaut, Air Force pilot, and firefighter (predominantly male jobs). Despite this, no one can see past the facade of traditional beauty most associated with a lack of IQ points because it’s easier to turn a woman’s strength into her weakness. To that I say: reclaim Doctor Barbie. Surround yourself with those who do not feel threatened by your intellect, who enjoy it and love you for it. Reclaim your capability and if they cannot handle the challenge, it was never your weakness in the first place.