Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Girls in love: Does dating make us stupid?

I was visiting with a friend the other day and we started talking about children and science. She's an educator by training, and I was asking her about pursuing a teaching degree in science education. Our conversation turned toward how to retain a student's enthusiasm for science.

"Girls seem to 'turn off' to science in middle school," I said.

My friend nodded. "Oh, yeah," she replied. "They don't want to appear smarter than the boys."

Oh, boy.

Once we'd unpacked this can of worms, I realized how deeply this idea had affected my own life. In my conversations with others exploring why women lag behind men in engineering , I'd never even thought about it. As an adult, I've overwritten this lousy piece of advice. But as a teen ...

The idea that I had to hide my intelligence to get a date was so ingrained, it never occurred to me to question it. I can remember being one of the "smart girls" in junior high and I just accepted that I would remain dateless for life. This was the assumption that I carried around:
Smart girls don't date. If you want to get a boy to like you, you have to make him feel superior and intelligent. Even if he's stupid.
Did I realize that I had absorbed this little tidbit from popular culture? No. But this idea definitely colored how I presented myself to others and how I thought about school and my studies. If I liked a boy, I would downplay my strengths and try not to show my intelligence.

How pathetic is that? And as my friend pointed out, once a girl stops showing interest in science, she starts to fall behind. Once behind, she often stays behind, and a self-fulfilling prophesy is sadly realized.

What do you think? Did you (or are you) short-changing yourself? Do you downplay your smarts to get dates?

To all of my smart young friends out there, please keep in mind that smart girls (and boys) do date! But sometimes they have to wait until college.


CricketB said...

Everyone, of any age, likes to be with people who make them feel good about themselves, and they don't like to be with people who make them feel bad about themselves. So bragging about your marks may not endear you to either gender. However, it's possible to be proud of your marks without bragging.

It's too bad that girls often don't realize there are guys out there who will be proud for you, without needing to be better than you.

I never hid my smarts, but I also tried not to brag. If my smarts bothered someone, they weren't good friend material. My lunch table was half honour students. We shared classes and notes and attitudes, so it made sense to hang out together. Some had boyfriends, some didn't. (I froze up around boys.)

Being purely mercenary, science grads are likely to make more money. How to meet future science grads? Get into college yourself. Even if you don't get a spouse there, you'll get more choices of jobs.

jublke said...

CricketB, I've been thinking about your comment for a few days and you made me realize something about myself. I've come to the conclusion that it wasn't just the boys who were being unfairly selective in school -- I was also snobbish. I didn't really consider dating boys that I didn't perceive to be smart. How one-sided is that? What about integrity and character and yes, looks? It never occurred to me before, but dating based solely on brains is just as wrong as dating based solely on looks.

CricketB said...

Agreed! I a fellow summer camp leader, awesome leader and friend, who wore a leather jacket, had "cool" hair, and was good in sports. I was shocked to learn she was also a straight-A student. Oops.

At that age, we still can't see the entire person. A few stray parental comments convinced me that programmers were incapable of doing useful things like fixing the car. I married a programmer who has better things to do than learn skills he doesn't enjoy and will rarely used. Besides, finding a good mechanic is much easier than a good family IT guy, and you don't need a mechanic nearly as often.

I think what's more important than similar IQs is similar values and pastimes. We agree that saving for the kids' schooling is a high priority, and we insist they do their homework. We enjoy enough of the same books that we don't both have to go to the library each time, and enough of the same movies that we don't always have to take turns choosing. So much easier when we're both on the same page.

My son's at a tough stage now. Incredibly smart, but he was socially slow, and doesn't enjoy typical boy activities. Very frustrating year ahead of him, with inexperienced teacher and disruptive class. His confidence comes from his brains. How to encourage that confidence, without devaluing what a wider circle of friends could give him?