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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Just keep laughing, they’ll like you more

Just keep laughing, they’ll like you more

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.

Acting Dumb

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.

 

Gone with the Wolfe: If we were in a movie

Gone with the Wolfe: If we were in a movie

If the Concerned Student 1950 movement was made into a movie, I think I know how Hollywood would do it. They would stick to Mizzou’s shiny campus, make Tim Wolfe the antagonist asshole, frame the media as manipulative, arrogant vultures, and the credits would roll when Wolfe, the evil, sociopathic President, resigned. Happily ever after, no more racism, no more sadness ever, and an upbeat Killers song would drown out any doubts of that.

I wish life was like that.

Instead, I don’t know what Tim Wolfe is like in his personal life. I know that in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t matter. I understand the symbolism of demanding the resignation of a president who doesn’t understand systematic oppression and it’s necessity to the movement. I know politically and socially, it doesn’t matter what kind of person Wolfe is. But I also know that it’s not as simple as he was “the bad guy”, and I also know it would make it easier if he was, like if I knew he killed bunnies in his spare time or something.

Unlike the movies, the story doesn’t end with his resignation. After attending the Concerned Student 1950 and the MSA press conferences, it was clearer than ever to me that the next few months are integral to what kind of administration takes over this university. And a series of many different decisions impact what happens next at MU.

Unlike the movies, the setting is not just at Mizzou. The camera doesn’t pan out slowly to show the eagle eye view of Jesse Hall and the Columns and then pan to black. This is a nationwide issue. It goes beyond the walls of our campus and the implications of this week at MU will impact places we don’t even know about.

Unlike the movies, the journalists that Hollywood would likely portray as nosy and obnoxious are, both unfortunately and fortunately, not like that. Unfortunately, because, instead, many of them, including myself, deeply care about what we are reporting on. This is not about journalists. But the actions of certain protestors today forced many newsrooms to have a serious discussion about first amendment rights and where media stands when covering these kind of issues.

Today is a one of historical proportions. It is also a day of celebration, passion, joy, hope and power. And, in some ways, it is one of frustration and confusion.

I have never been so aware of the complexities that spring out of social movements. Not only are things not black and white, they aren’t even just the primary colors. They are every single color under the sun, every shade between magenta and neon yellow.

I recognize how much we have left to do as a society to achieve equality for all marginalized groups. I realize that no matter what, there will be people who are bad guys who get away with things and good guys that take the fall, but more than likely, there will be people with both good and bad inside of them that experience a little of both.

I also am beginning to comprehend the complicated relationship between the press and the people. I hate the phrase “the media”. It has become a dirty term to me. It has been used as an umbrella term to include every freelancer with a camera, every large news organization with fifty cameras, every editor trying to make sure the story is told accurately, every reporter trying to make sure the story is told with heart, every new student reporter trying to figure out journalism in general, every student reporter who is interviewing their peers and trying not to be biased.

Maybe some of them were just there “for the scoop”. But probably, many of them were there because they, and their organization, feel that this is something that should be covered and should be covered well. It’s hard to know exactly what protestors feel is crossing a line and what is not. Media attention is what brings the eyes of the nation to such an important issue. But doing this in a disrespectful way is obviously not okay. This line, however, is not only just blurry, it is also different for different people. Hence, the complex challenge of being a reporter covering this event and others like it.

While I am swelling with pride over the incredible activism and justice this campus has shown, while I am amazed by Concerned Student 1950 and their bravery, while I am glad progress has been made on the road to equality, I am also more aware than ever that this is not a movie.

There are no assigned roles. I don’t know the full cast, I’m not sure what the overall plot is, and I sure as hell don’t know all the lines. The resolution is far from here, and as far as I’m concerned, for me and for many others, these are just the opening scenes. And who knows what kind of ending it will have.

P.S. If you need any information on what’s happening at Mizzou, check out the following links.

Wolfe Resigns

Timeline of Events