I spent over a year with someone I loved very much constantly insinuating that I was dumb. He very rarely straight out called me stupid but he would make little comments about things I did or would tell me things like “when we got together you were always so full of intelligent conversation and witty observations, what happened?” (I should have pointed out to him that he made it very clear that he had no desire to talk about things that did not directly relate to him or the the game and that he also made it very clear that I was pretty dumb about the game.) Honestly, he was not the first man to treat me like that and I was never very confident about my intelligence in the first place.
I am finding myself trying to rebuild my self image and part of that is trying to make myself believe I am smart and trying to relearn to interact with the world as Selina McSmartypants. My writing is helping immensely. The problem is that I was raised in this strange culture that it is uncouth for women to take too much pride in their intelligence. We are supposed to be humble about it and pretend that either we have no clue that we are as smart as we are or hide it. It is almost a sin for me to hint that I am smart or, even worse, that I might be smarter than other people and therefore don’t fit in with everyone around me. I live in a part of the world where few people read and the majority of people have different social values than I do. I don’t think I am better than most of these people. I actual admire people who work hard and build things from nothing. I think taking care of your family is one of the most noble things you can do. I am just a wuss and I know it. I do not believe not having a college degree means you are unintelligent. I just think I am different. I’m a geek.
Right now I need to tell myself I am smart. I am not telling myself that to lord myself above other people, I am just trying understand myself and figure out who I am again. For some reason, I am not allowed to do this simple thing. It distresses me. I can think of myself as tall and no one gets offended or feels the need to slap me down or I can like my fake red hair and it is okay. What is so damn upsetting about me taking pride in my brains?
I get the strong feeling this is a feminist issue many women face. I know I am not the only one that has been made to feel that being anything but humble to the point of lacking self worth is unfeminine and opens us up to ridicule. Women can talk about how good their kids are or how well they cook and it is perfectly acceptable. We can take pride in our homemaking skills and sometimes even our business skills and it is okay. Why is it when we say things like I am smart that it is okay to smacking us down? This is not just evil men either, the two people who make me feel bad for making comments about my intelligence have been women. Why do we do this to each other?
If we are made to believe that it is not okay to take pride in our intelligence then we slowly begin to believe that either we are dumb or that being smart is something shameful. If a man knows he is intelligent, it is completely kosher for him to take pride in it and to speak with authority. I feel like I should talk with downcast eyes and my face hidden when I know a lot about something. If I try to participate in a conversation other men are having around me, I have to offer my input almost apologetically. Why do I have to fear appearing arrogant about my brains so desperately? Men are arrogant about their mental prowess. Other women are arrogant about things other than intelligence. (Don’t believe me? Go look at the comments on mommy websites. Mommies are arrogant AND cutthroat with each other.)
I do not really know where I am going with this. I am just hurt and frustrated with it. It feels like a double wounding to be squished so low by one person then being made to feel guilty about building myself back up by another. I feel a big serving of “go screw yourself” coming for the next person who does it. I would rather be arrogant than squished.