On being a “stereotypical girl” in a professional world

On being a “stereotypical girl” in a professional world

My junior year of high school, we took our ACTs. Everyone was telling each other their scores, comparing numbers that supposedly proved how “smart” we all were. I remember one of my friends laughingly telling me that she overheard a group of our friends mention my ACT score. She said “It was great, they were all so shocked that you got such an high score!”

My first response was a little bit of pride, admittedly, because yeah, I kicked the ACT’s ass (not that that a standardized really proves you’re smart at all, but that’s a blog post for another day). But my second, stronger feeling was hurt.

Wait, what? Why were they shocked…?”

My friend looked surprised. “You know, you just act… dumb, sometimes.”

At the look on my face, she quickly added she of course knew I wasn’t unintelligent but that my mannerisms and personality seemed to suggest that I was.

This was my first, but certainly not last, experience with realizing I was being judged as “dumb” by others. Throughout my life, I have been described as ditzy, an airhead, a “blonde” (which first of all, I’m a brunette, and secondly, what the hell is wrong with being blonde??), shallow and, of course, dumb.

First of all, I would like to point out that maybe at this point you’re thinking a few things, such as:

Well, maybe you’re actually just dumb.

If people think you’re ditzy, why don’t you stop acting ditzy? 

Is this really that big of a deal? Who cares what people think!

So, let me address these one by one. 

  1. Well, maybe you’re actually just dumb.

Well, what does “being dumb” really mean? Our society has a messed up view of what’s considered intelligence and what isn’t. If someone can list 200 digits of pi, is that intellect or is that rote memorization? If someone knows the day every war started, do they automatically understand why the war started in the first place? How do we measure intelligence anyway? IQ tests have gotten a lot of flack about their accuracy and how they work. Standardized tests involve filling in bubbles about either random information or something you memorized for the test alone and then will forget in a week.

Arguably, much of our education is based not on truly understanding topics and connecting them to a broader picture about the world, but a more shallow, short-term glimpse into one specific topic that may or may not stick with us for more than a semester. So, really, I can’t sit here and tell you that I’m smart because my ACT score was this and my IQ is this and oh, I got these grades in high school, because I don’t think that really proves anything. Intelligence comes in many forms and shapes, and no number or letter can embody what you’re capable of.

What I can tell you, however, is that I know I’m not stupid, and I definitely don’t deserve to be labelled as such. But what is more interesting and worth analyzing are the reasons why people label me as unintelligent..

Which leads me to the next question:

2. If people think you’re ditzy, why don’t you stop acting ditzy? 

Because I’m not acting ditzy.

A lot of girls may feel the same pain I do in being perceived as unintelligent or ditzy. I’ve talked to lots of women who have experienced this and they have the same question I do: What am I doing that makes people think that about me? There are a few key characteristics that are used to describe a woman who is considered a “ditz”. Some of these include:

  • Talking a lot
  • Enjoying things such as cheesy movies and books
  • Being focused on appearance/vain
  • Talking about “silly” or “shallow” topics
  • Saying “like” a lot
  • Taking selfies/pictures

Why are these traits associated with unintelligence? Part of the reason is due to our society’s portrayal of women in movies, books, media, ect. For example, take a look at almost any classic high school movie or show. In a group of girls, there’s very often a “dumb” friend. Take Mean Girls, for example. Karen is hilarious, of course, but she perpetuates that very stereotype of the “dumb, pretty” friend that is then applied to real-life women. She’s silly and talkative, portrayed as vain and just not all there.

When these characteristics are ascribed over and over again to the “dumb” girl in shows, we unconsciously begin to associate them with unintelligence in real life. A talkative girl who happens to like Vampire Diaries, a woman who enjoys going out and false eyelashes, a young girl who fills her Instagram with selfies; all of these somehow make others think she is of lesser intellect than those who don’t do those things.

I talk a lot. I laugh at myself a lot and yes, I like taking selfies. And none of these things should have any further meaning. And yet I have often had them listed off to me to explain why I’m seen as ditzy. As if I’m on trial for the crime of being stupid and the evidence against me is “Well, you talk all the time,” “You just act ridiculous sometimes,” “You’re just not very serious,”.

I shouldn’t have to be serious 100% of the time, or even 50% of the time, to prove my intellect to you. I should be able to laugh at myself, put on high heels and put on some goddamn winged eyeliner without being called shallow. I should be able to send a text that says “lol smiley face emoji” without being discredited completely on all serious topics.

Girls can wear their shortest dress, go to the club, talk about Pretty Little Liars, take 40 pictures of themselves and go to their honors level class the next day and kick ass. 

Women’s actions are all too often used against them, to stereotype them, devalue them and overall discredit them. Sometimes, people do things just because they like them, and that should be the end of that.

Acting Dumb

There is another side to this. There have been times that I, and I think other girls will admit to this too, have dumbed myself down on purpose. Just like in Mean Girls when Cady pretended to be bad at math so Aaron Samuels would tutor her, I pretended to be stupid primarily to get attention.

In high school, especially, this was for whatever reason the popular thing to do. Whether it made my friends laugh or prolonged a conversation with some boy, I can honestly say I consciously made an effort to act like a ditz sometimes, and other girls around me did the same thing. This is such a long and complex topic about why young girls, and even older women, do this at times that I put it in another blog post for the sake of length. You can find this brief tangent here, or you can continue on.

The basic idea is that society rewards girls for being pretty and popular, not for being smart. With the constant pressure to be liked and perfect, girls may betray key traits about themselves in exchange for what the media tells them is “the ideal”.

So, the next point of discussion:

3. Why does this even matter?

The impact that this stereotype has on girls is enormous. If you tell someone they are something enough, they will begin to believe it. If you tell a girl she is an airhead, she’s a ditz, she’s dumb, she will internalize those words. Girls begin to question themselves, especially in subjects such as math and science, not because they’re bad at them but because they have little confidence in their own abilities, as this study shows.

This lack of confidence follows us into the rest of our lives. (See my other post about the lack of confidence women have in the professional world, or this great article about it).  Once you’re taught your whole life that you aren’t smart enough, it’s hard to shake the feeling that nothing you do is good enough, at all. The most frustrating feeling is when people tune out every word you say and won’t take you seriously based on a snap judgement they made based on your appearance and your general demeanor. If no one else will listen to you, you begin to believe you’re just not worth listening to.

And finally, it also makes it hard to be true to yourself. My talkative nature has been so often thrown in my face as proving my unintelligence, I often found myself constantly biting my tongue. When I started my new job, I obsessed over what clothes to buy because my worst fear was dressing in a way that meant people wouldn’t take me seriously. I didn’t want to joke around with coworkers because what if they thought I was just a silly dumb girl?

Moving on

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with the idea that people, including myself, can be what some would call a contradiction. Women, and men, (and all those inbetween) can be a collection of seemingly contradictory traits and that’s perfectly fine. Judging people is something we have been taught since we were kids, but we can also unlearn those damaging labels.

More importantly, we can unlearn the stereotypes that we have been taught to believe about ourselves. People will be putting you into a box your whole life, so let them keep their stupid box. You don’t have to carry that shit.

 

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Alone time

Alone time

In every day life, it’s rare to find yourself truly alone. Even when I’m technically by myself, I’m surrounded by other voices in the form of texting, phone calls, emails, TV, ect. Not that any of these things are bad, necessarily, but it does make me wonder when the last time was when I was completely and utterly alone with my thoughts.

Our society doesn’t seem to place much emphasis on the importance of “alone time”. The concept is usually sold in the form of laying in bed watching Netflix or taking a ten minute break at work. While Netflix is great, watching New Girl in my pajamas isn’t exactly the same thing as spending quality time with myself. And ten minutes to organize my plethora of thoughts has never seemed like a realistic plan.

I’m a people person. Being around others fills me with energy and happiness. Most of the time, I seek out company, even if it’s just someone to eat lunch or watch a movie with. Since I’ve gotten to Brussels, however, I have spent more time alone than I have in quite some time. And I mean, really alone.  Since I don’t have an international cellphone plan, when I leave my flat, it is without texting, calling or Tweeting abilities. Even if cafes have Wifi, I often find myself forgetting about my phone completely by the time I reach my destination. I’ve discovered that for me, this leads to a completely different kind of experience than I usually have when I’m with someone else or on social media.

For example, yesterday I visited Le Chat Touille, the Brussels cat cafe. First of all, this was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can pet cats??? While drinking coffee??? Literally amazing. Evidence below. IMG_8439

Anyways.

The rest of my group had gone to Antwerp, a nearby city, for the day. Due to the fact that I had overslept, I found myself alone in Brussels. Although I had planned on visiting the cat cafe with a few others, I decided to venture out by myself. While I was a little nervous about finding my way there by myself, I forced myself out the door anyway.

I have discovered that walking along the streets alone in Brussels, or any city, is one of my favorite past times. Of course, experiencing new things with someone else is amazing, but there’s something special about venturing around by yourself, not talking, not texting, not really doing anything except IMG_8433_2soaking in everything around you. For example, I was completely enthralled by this building. I probably spent a solid three minutes staring at it. I’m not saying that I would have missed it completely if I had been with someone else, but perhaps I may not have spent the time I feel it deserved to really look at it and appreciate the details of its architecture and artwork.

When I reached the cafe, I opened my laptop and was texting a few people because I obviously had to share my absolute overwhelming joy at finally arriving at Dream Destination #1. During this time, I chatted with the owner a bit and pet a few nearby kitties (obviously). After I closed my laptop, however, I found myself almost a little bored… but in a good way. It was the kind of boredom that leads to probably one of the best past times of all: people watching. I watched as pedestrians strolled past the window, stopping to smile and interact with the cats sitting on the windowsill. I saw a small French boy stop his dad at the shop as he stood and laughed at the two cats playing nearby. They entered eventually, and although I had no idea what anyone was saying, it was heartwarming to watch the owner, the boy, his father and the cats all interact with one another.

In this way, being alone, or at least not being with anyone else I knew, lead to me paying far more attention to the strangers around me. Quality time with loved ones is extremely valuable, but a few short minutes or hours getting to know a couple of strangers is fulfilling and invigorating in its own way.

On the way home, I took a spontaneous detour just because and ran into this gorgeous side street. There was no rush to get home, no conversation or destination to be had, and nobody to discuss which way to take. Strangely, I found myself thinking about Alice in Wonderland. The experience of stumbling upon unplanned places and things reminded me of her adventures, wandering through a strange place by herself and discovering random people and things because of her solitude. Things at that moment may have seemed a little nonsensical and erratic, but somehow I felt peaceful in its chaos. And, like Alice, I think when I returned from my journey I had discovered just a little bit more about myself and the world.

Perhaps sometimes being alone can be a little lonely. And yet, in its own way, being your own company can provide invaluable experiences and realizations. I don’t think we give enough time solely to our thoughts and feelings, or to truly just exist outside of all the external parts of our lives. While I love other people, there’s something incredible and empowering about sitting inside a coffee shop or walking down the street, alone, a little lost and strangely happy in a world of my own. alice

Brussels: Arrival

Brussels: Arrival

Currently writing this at 10:17 pm Brussels time after getting very little sleep last night, or this morning, however you look at it, so please excuse spelling, grammatical and logical errors.

I’ve finally arrived in Brussels, Belgium for my three-month-long study abroad/internship program. It seems very strange and I’m not sure I quite believe I’m here yet. You know that feeling when you wake up really early and you get through half of your morning routine without really realizing you’re even standing up? Yeah, that’s about how I feel.

Some things I learned from my first international flight this morning!

  1. If, hypothetically, you decide to place a water bottle in the inside pocket of your jacket and then go to sit down on the plane, you’re probably, hypothetically, going to sit on the bottle, causing the cap to explode off and soak your seat and your neighbor, causing a very tense and wet beginning to an eight hour flight. Hypothetically.
  2. Airplane food isn’t that bad.
  3. Airplane wine is.
  4. Drinking four bottles of water prior to an eight hour flight is not the best thing in the world. Especially when you have the middle seat. Yikes.
  5. London airports are fun because all the announcements are done in a British accent and somehow that makes them less annoying.
  6. That is the only fun thing about a London airport.
  7. The flight to London from Fort Worth is eight hours long. It is NOT seventeen hours long, no matter what the New Girl episode you watched the night before incorrectly informed you. Please don’t pass this false information along to others.
  8. Star Wars is still a great movie even when you watch it in the bitch seat of a long ass flight in-between going to the bathroom and spilling water everywhere.

So I made it to Brussels (barely) and then discovered a few more important fun facts. Such as:

  1. BRUSSELS PEOPLE DRIVE LIKE THEY’RE GOING TO GO PUT OUT A FIRE BUT DON’T REALLY CARE IF THEY MURDER SIX PEDESTRIANS AND THEMSELVES IN THE PROCESS.
  2. Belgian beer = just as good as people say it is. Better, actually. Much better than natty light, my dear freshman year Kaley.
  3. Water isn’t free at restaurants? Which sounds bad until you realize that water costs the same as beer, which means you are allowed to get beer everywhere and not even feel bad about it.
  4. Brussels has these random green posts about three feet high everywhere and I’m sure there’s a good reason for them but the only purpose they served today was for me to run straight into one of them while taking a picture and literally fall over it and onto my face on the sidewalk. So. Yeah.
  5. Brussels is beautiful. I know that’s an obvious statement, but I’ve only been here for less than one day and I’m already obsessed with the multicolored blocks of houses and the flowering trees and the rows of shops and the people and the food and yeah, pretty much all of it, even just the four blocks I’ve seen.

Oh, and here’s my first meal in Brussels (aka typical tourist/instagram food pic post) and the picture I took that caused me to faceplant on a sidewalk in the middle of a group of people. Worth it?