10 Problems Every Smart Girl Faces


1. You have to monitor yourself as you talk to make sure you’re not using too much obscure vocabulary. Honestly, you’re not trying to be pretentious, and you’re not going so far as to whip out terms like “apophasis” or “Hegelian” in casual conversation. It’s just that large words which perhaps seem incomprehensible to some—like, say, “incomprehensible,” seem well within the range of normal to you because you’re so desensitized by all your reading and study.

2. You cannot stand to talk solely about dating, personal grooming, or similar subjects for long periods of time. Unfortunately, relationships and appearance-related stuff serve as safe default subjects for conversation among females in much the same way that sports do for males. I’m willing to talk about such things for a little while, just to be pleasant, but when I hear women actually emoting about their new lip gloss, and going into extensive detail about its lip-plumping action, it makes me feel violent.

3. Why yes, I am reading this just for fun. Oh, what’s that you say? That reading Harold Bloom’s “Kabbalah and Criticism” would feel like an arduous chore to you and it would take you forever to get through it? Funny, I would feel the same way about reading the latest Dan Brown novel and slogging through page after page of his foot-dragging prose. I have extra rage for anyone who thinks that reading Dan Brown equates to learning history.

4. Everybody’s doin’ it except for you… and by “it,” of course I mean “misspelling perfectly simple and commonplace words they should have known since they were ten.” I’m fairly tolerant of errors while grading my college freshmen students’ papers, but once you’ve actually graduated and made your way into the world there’s no excuse for misspelling words of merely two or three syllables.

5. People are constantly surprised at your intelligence. Yes, I did just use the word “exegesis” correctly. No, I did not learn it from a word-a-day calendar, which I have not possessed since I was ten. I realize that sometimes I look more like the college students I teach than a college professor, especially when I’m wearing casual clothes rather than my spiffy, grown-up professor outfit. That’s still no reason to tut-tut in bemused surprise over my intellectual prowess like an elderly uncle who’s just discovered that his six-year-old niece can play chess. In fact, the whole attitude of “who is this wondrous creature who is female, yet intellectual and academic?” gets old very quickly.

6. We’re not wearing glasses just to look hipsterish. Sure, glasses are a great accessory for girls, and can add a little extra edge to an otherwise conventionally feminine outfit. But we are wearing glasses because we wrecked our vision with years of overly dedicated reading and studying, and by typing on computers in poorly lit rooms. In fact, academics were wearing glasses before it was cool. DAMN KIDS STOLE OUR STYLE.

7. Sometimes we like to be silly, too. Just because we’re good at being highbrow doesn’t mean that we can’t go lowbrow. I can have a snob-off with the best of them and drop a lot of names of French poststructuralist writers, but when it comes down to it I still snicker like a twelve-year old at potty humor. In fact, brainy types probably need lowbrow humor more than anyone else, since it gets them out of their heads and back down to earth once in a while.

8. You feel like screaming sometimes that there are lots of smart girls out there, we’ve just been tricked by the culture into downplaying our intelligence in favor of a narrow ideal of femininity. Again. Smart guys are typically unabashed about their intelligence, but smart girls with big vocabularies are often unironically told that they “intimidate” guys. I’ve even heard women in academia obsess over make-up and how they color-coordinated their outfit for the day, while for academic guys, attention to professional appearance amounts to “I bought a suit.” Brainy girls are often required to prove that we’re “also” women (as though we weren’t that regardless) with interests in more conventionally feminine pursuits like crafts and cooking. If you just honestly *heart* doodling around in the kitchen (I do admit it sometimes looks kind of fascinating) then more power to you, but I’ve been admonished several times (by other women!) that I “should” cook more, as though it was a moral absolute.

9. Repetitive, routinized tasks are often mentally excruciating for you. Tasks like cooking or copying papers, which are basically monotonous but require just enough attention to prevent you from checking out altogether and daydreaming, often provoke a kind of anguished mental screaming in brainy types. The catch is that girls are typically the ones, culturally speaking, to be saddled with repetitive chores like administrative work or housework, and then expected to be content with their lot. When you have a powerful sports car, sometimes it needs to be driven hard or else it starts to develop engine problems, and when you have lots of excess brainpower you need to be pushed to use it occasionally, or else you’ll start developing all kinds of neuroses. This is not to say that smart girls can’t be moms—obviously they can, they just need some other stimulation from time to time.

10. You wish you could be seen less as a smart girl, and more as a smart person. True, sometimes I do want to relate to people specifically as a girl. If I’m just meeting you, though, I don’t want to be seen as an anomaly, a curiosity, or as something akin to a pet that’s been taught to do fancy tricks. I’m just a person who happens to be a girl and happens to be smart—it’s not that big of a deal, really.