No Smart Woman Left Behind

11 years ago

Lately, I've had a few depressing conversations with single female friends about their problems with dating and careers. All of my friends are smart, they are attractive to varying degrees (none are hideous or even merely ugly), and each one is talented. According to one friend, this means that she is at a disadvantage because men do not want to date smart women. Her proof is that a friend of hers (a guy) very sadly told her that he is the only one from his circle of guy friends who found intelligence to be a desirable quality in potential female partners. I was horrified to hear this, and immediately used my anecdotal evidence to counter his anecdotal evidence: all of my friends who are married are married to their equal, or even to women who are smarter than they are. My friend shrugged. I silently thanked my lucky stars that I found my husband.

Last week, the New York Times had a column by Maureen Dowd (who usually annoys the crap out of me) that stopped me dead in my tracks because it used statistics to back my friend's claim. It opens with the story of a woman who is a doctor married to an econ professor at Columbia. When they met, the woman's granny told her not to let him know how smart she was. The couple found that advice anachronistically adorable, and got married after she proposed to him. The prof went on to conduct a two-year study with another econ professor and two psychologists of Columbia students' dating preferences:

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“We found that men did put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner’s beauty, when choosing, than women did. We also found that women got more dates when they won high marks for looks.”

He continued: “By contrast, intelligence ratings were more than twice as important in predicting women’s choices as men’s. It isn’t exactly that smarts were a complete turnoff for men: They preferred women whom they rated as smarter — but only up to a point ... It turns out that men avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition — a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date.

“When women were the ones choosing, the more intelligence and ambition the men had, the better. So, yes, the stereotypes appear to be true: We males are a gender of fragile egos in search of a pretty face and are threatened by brains or success that exceeds our own.”

Cry. So it seems that because I choose my friends and my friends choose their partners based on better qualities than the average asshole, my anecdotal evidence is smashed to pieces of loneliness and broken dreams on the cruel rocks of male stupidity.

Maryanne James at BaltAmour, a blog about the Baltimore dating scene, responded to the Dowd article:

… even in gay and lesbian relationships, many people feel compelled to fit in "boy" and "girl" roles. However, while I certainly encountered plenty of women who tried to be the "man" in the relationship, issues of being smarter or more ambitious never seemed to be a problem. Then again, in my limited hetero experience, the issue of being smarter or more ambitious has never come up either.

The comments she received on this post are just as revealing and varied. Suzanne Hadly at The Line reminds us that:

Something to consider is that all of this data is based on first impressions. In other words, it only shows what makes someone "desirable" upon first impression. Speed dating isn't exactly the best catalyst for meaningful relationships. My interpretation of first-impression desirability: A woman is looking for someone who makes her feel secure — brains and ambition (and even someone of similar race and religion) exhibit this potential. A man is looking for an attractive woman he believes could respect him — low key intelligence and ambition exhibit this potential. I still don't think a speed-dating experiment can tell us much about the ingredients that contribute to lasting love and ideal matches.

Since it seems that being smart and earning a good living may drive away potential (heterosexual) partners, at least women can focus on their careers, right? No. Dowd finishes her column by reminding us that women are also punished in the workplace for being too smart or aggressive while men are rewarded for this behavior. Plus, we still don't earn incomes that are equal to men's because, Dowd writes, "Men ask for more money at eight times the rate of women."

On the topic of negotiating, Michele at Beyond the Glass Ceiling cites an experiment by Linda Babcock (author of Women Don't Ask) et al:

In their study, men and women were invited to sign up for a project, knowing that they would be paid between $5 and $12 for their time. Participants played a game of Boggle and then were asked by an experimenter, "Here's $5. Is $5 OK?"

Only 2.2% of women responded by negotiating for a higher rate, compared to 22.9% of men who negotiated. Further, even the women who negotiated were much more timid and tentative in how they handled the situation, while the male negotiators came across as quite confident. Other findings:

  • The men saw negotiation as a "game" that was "fun," while the women were very anxious about the process.
  • Women's anxiety made many of them avoid negotiation altogether, causing them to accept the $5 minimum that was offered.
  • According to Babcock, this fear of negotiation can cost women more than half a million dollars throughout their career.

    For many women, this fear of negotiation is a huge issue. It's what causes us to not only accept lower salaries, but also to continue working in poor environments or with people who make us crazy. It's a skill we all need to learn if we truly want to achieve our potential.

    BlogHer's own Nina Smith has touched on this issue at Queercents, noting lesbians seem to underearn less than heterosexual women. Her interview with Barbara Stanny at BlogHer, offers some good tips for getting what you are worth if you work for others.

    I'd actually apply the lessons about negotiating for work to relationships. Even if it is harder to find men who value and appreciate smart women, it is worth demanding. Women shouldn't settle for less in our careers or our relationships.

    Suzanne practices what she preaches – sort of - at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants

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