This blog post is in relation to the post What it’s like to be the dumb, pretty friend, but it can also stand alone for its own purpose.
What this, quite generally, might mean (in my personal experience) is truly acting, consciously and knowingly, as if you aren’t intelligent. For me, it embarrassingly took the form of simply pretending I didn’t know what was going on or acting like I didn’t previously know the information being told to me. (You guys better appreciate me divulging this because it’s pretty cringeworthy to think about.)
So, why did I act like that? Why did other girls around me act like this sometimes?
Once again, I’m going to point a giant finger at the media. TV shows on Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and other popular forums are rife with the construct of the “pretty” girl. There are few shows that are focused solely on a young girl’s intelligence. Girls are taught that their favorite characters are so great because they’re attractive, and people like them because they’re attractive. This is sold by the media because it’s profitable. If young girls connect being attractive with being popular and, thus, being happy, they’re often going to do whatever it takes to achieve that perfect image (i.e. buying clothes, make-up, ect.) and give money to a multi-billion dollar industry that plays off the insecurities of women.
Media critic Mark Crispin Miller points out that advertising sells anxiety to the young. “It’s always telling them that they are not thin enough, they’re not pretty enough, they don’t have the right friends, or they have no friends…they’re losers unless they’re cool.”
So girls are encouraged to play dumb, to play down their intellect and play up their attractiveness, because they’ve been conditioned to associate popularity with happiness.
It also means that going against these expectations is punishing. When I was in grade school, I raised my hand in class at every question. I read more books than the local librarian could believe. I loved school and knowledge and telling people about that knowledge. And I bet you can guess what people thought of me.
I was called a know-it-all, bossy, teacher’s pet, and, later on, a bitch. I was made fun of, bullied and eventually isolated.
I remember looking at the “popular” girls in my third grade class and asking myself “Why do people (more specifically, boys) like them and not me?” I realized that boys didn’t like how much those girls knew or what books they read, they liked her hair, or her clothes, or how much she laughed at their jokes.
And so, ditzy Kaley was born. I learned that my friends laughed when I said typically “dumb” things, that boys flirted with me not when I discussed history or other serious topics, but instead when I laughed a lot and flipped my hair (not that laughing a lot and flipping your hair is bad: see other blog post).
What I didn’t realize in all of those scenarios is labels are not hats you can put on and take off whenever you want. People like putting others in boxes; it helps us organize and make sense of life. That means that we’re prone to stereotype others. While I may have been acting silly to get my friend’s attention for a few minutes, I didn’t realize that I was trapping myself in a the “dumb, pretty girl” box. And that box is not easy to escape from.