Ask any Church Youth leader, teacher, parent, grandparent, or anyone given the opportunity to work with teenage girls what they want most for the women in their life, and you will always get variations of the same answer.

I want my daughter to know that she is smart. I want her to know that I will support her in whatever dream she chooses, I want her to know that she can be anything she wants. I want her to know that she is capable of greatness. If you are Mormon, or religious in anyway, you might respond with "I want her to know that she is a Daughter of God."

We want a lot of things for our girls/young adult women. We've come along way from simply wanting them to be pretty and silent.

But if my interactions on the internet and in the classroom are any indication, while we pay lip service to the idea of a smart young woman, we don't always want her to know that she is smart. We'd rather have her be demure, overly humble, self-deprecating, and doubting. So very often, a boy who knows he is smart is confident, self-assured, and a leader. A girl who knows she is smart is arrogant, cocky, and aggressive.

I speak from experience. If I even hint at being smart on the internet, I get a couple comments, and a couple more emails, from people accusing me of all sorts of nonsense. I'm a snob. I'm an elitist, I think I'm better than everybody else. Once, someone who read my blog complained about me to my mother. It was so rude of me to say that I was smart, and I was hurting her feelings.

I never claimed I was the smartest (the ability to conjugate is apparently a lost art,) I simply acknowledge that through a combination of hard work, and luck, I am smart. I see no crime in acknowledging that there is a spectrum between the intelligence of the primordial single-celled sludge I evolved from, and, say....Einstein. I fall somewhere in that spectrum. Hopefully closer to the Einsteins then the sludges.

However, I also acknowledge that I fall in different places in different subjects. I am a microbiotic parasite when it comes to chemical equations. I used to feel insecure around people who did understand chemistry, until I realized that their talents are no more or less important than my own. If you ask me to analyze the significance of polytheistic religions in Ancient Near East cultures... well, I can work with that.

Speaking of the Ancient Near East, I recently held a discussion with my students. We were analyzing the effectiveness of the Sumerian class system in maintaining social order. Riveting. I know. Many students, both male and female, made intelligent comments. However, I noticed that many of my girls seem addicted to disclaimers: "I don't know for sure, but......I could be wrong but.....I think....."*

It was almost as if they worried that stating a strong opinion would hurt the Ancient Sumerian's feelings.

Whether it hurts our feelings or not, if we really want girls to know anything, we need to let go of our own insecurities and let them truly know things about themselves without the minutiae of disclaimers tying them down. If they are smart, let them say so. If they work hard and become smarter, let them acknowledge their success.

The Ancient Sumerians are all dead, anyways.

* We can talk another day about the ills our society inflicts on teenage boys. I am aware of them, and acknowledge their validity, but decided to focus this post on girls.


Ru said...

1. I love the "smrt" title. I am so smart! SMRT!

2. I seriously almost wrote a post yesterday that mentioned the fact that I'm smart, immediately thought, "Gosh, that sounds snotty" (of course the internal reply would be that I *am* snotty, so why don't I embrace it?) and deleted it. Now I'm feeling bashful, hahaha.

Don't worry dude, and to quote my homies on the Jersey Shore, let the hatas hate. (I actually have no idea if they say that, but I couldn't just say it myself.)

Linds said...

I hear ya- I agree that different ways people feel about themselves is different depending on if they are a boy or a girl. And why should it be that way?! I mean what is REALLY wrong with a self-confident woman that can think for herself? Nothing. We are smart too!

Sarah holman said...

I agree.
I want my girls and the girls I associate with to be smart and not be afraid show it.
I do think, however, that there is a fine line that can easily be crossed from being smart to being arrogant about your smartness, and I don't think being arrogant is an attractive trait, but none-the-less, people shouldn't give as much weight to the opinions of others and just work hard to be the best possible person they can be.

Nookleerman said...

I have too much to say to leave it in a comment. If you are interested in my response, come check it out:
I'm not one of those losers trying desperately to get you to read my blog, but I was typing for about 3 paragraphs when I realized I shouldn't fill up your comments. Love the simpsons reference, btw.

So-Sew Seamstress said...

Thank you so much for this post. I remember so many times when I would apologize for knowing the right answer in a class. I should not have to apologize for hard work or intelligence, it should be a point of pride, you know the righteous kind not the Lamanite kind ;). Again, Thank you.

Caroline said...

I notice this happening so often! It blows my mind that there are women making insecure/self-depricating comments even in college courses. Almost every.single.time a girl raises her hand to answer a question in my Math for Elementary Teachers course they preface their answer with, "I'm probably wrong, but..." or "I don't know if this is right, but..."

JustMe said...

Of course you're smart, you are a member of "the smartest family in the ward". I wouldn't be reading your blog if I thought you were a ditzy blond. I also don't have any doubts about my intelligence.

You did make one comment: If you ask me to analyze the significance of polytheistic religions in Ancient Near East cultures... well, I can work with that.

This indicates your education level more than your intelligence level. So the Chemistry major would be scratching their head, simply because their education was structured differently from yours.

I know some well-educated people I really don't think are all that smart. And I know less educated people who are very intelligent.

Smarts and talents come in a wide range of shapes - let's celebrate all of them.

The Boob Nazi said...

My mom tells me I'm conceited. I say "I'm just right." I see nothing wrong with being true about yourself. I mean, just because I think I'm smart and beautiful doesn't mean you agree. And that's okay. I just wish more women out there had self-confidence. sigh. Then again, it took me a while to get it, so I guess I understand.

I have a headache, so this may not make sense.

Xan said...

I am smart. I have a Master's degree. I'm also (almost) 28. Unmarried. This is important to the following story:

I was sitting with my friend and her grandma who wants to set me up with her grandson. He has a Masters in Engineering. She told me "you should talk to him, but don't tell him you're smart. Boys don't want a smart girl so wait until your married to tell him you have a Masters. Okay?"

And I'm to smile a lot. I laughed about Grandma's advise, but I think (unfortunately) that despite her dating experience being from the fifties she's not entirely off-track. I think that most girls are still taught this to some degree. Whether as blatantly as Grandma, or more subtly. It's unfortunate.

Even I do this...and it makes me sad to realize.

Mrs. Clark said...

Wow. Great post.

I have never felt that I had to hide my intellect, but then, I graduated from BYU (!) before I found a man who appreciated it.

MamaBear said...

you go MCB! this is one of the many reasons i loves you! you're not afraid to stand up and say what you think, and that's a rare talent. :D also, i agree with you, which just makes me more impressed with your intelligence. :D :D

MJ said...

So I'm just wondering, what did your mom say when the tattle-tale told on you?

Polly said...

My sisters swear by all girls high schools just for this reason. Smart girls, who like to make comments feel free to be themselves. I wouldn't know because I went to regular public school.

Also one of the doctors in my practice is frequently pointing out (thank goodness not to patients faces) that we are smarter than the average person- and don't you want your pediatrician to be smarter than average? This is usually followed by a lot of muttering about why no one listens to him.

I guess my point is I take pride in my intelligence. But then I come from an mostly female family and we were encouraged to be a little mouthy and an obnoxiousness-know-it-all attitude was encouraged.

Abby said...

I agree with you completely. However, I don't think anyone should be able to boast about being smart. Instead I think both sexes should offer humility to the world and just be grateful for the experiences/life advances that being smart awards them. If a person is self-assured in their own abilities, they should feel no need to announce them to the world.

I'm Tammy said...

I don't know if I truly understand the point but here is my 2 cents on smart. Everyone is "smart" in their own way. Our society as a whole puts too much emphasis on school smarts, book smarts, conjugation, etc. Someone might not be able to form a sentence properly but they know everything about how to fix a car or computer or whatever. It might not be changing the world like Einstein but it is important.
We should recognize the "smart" in everyone and not look down on them because they didn't graduate from college or get a masters degree or whatever people think is necessary to be classified as smart.
Don't get me wrong, education is extremely important and continuously learning throughout your life is important but if that is where you define yourself or how you feel important then you will have a rude awakening of reality.
I'm not saying that your post insinuated anything but I am tired of people trying to actually define what smart means. I just want to call attention to the fact that everyone is smart. Even the worst people on earth are smart in their own crazy way. I'm glad you are smart; so am I and so is everyone else.
After reading everyone else's comments I realize I didn't grasp the point of the post but now I have written too much to just delete it. So yes it is important to raise confident girls who are educated and who won't apologize for themselves.

I'm Tammy said...


Samantha said...

I really appreciate this post. I'm in college and though it is less prevalent at this point in my life than it was, say, in middle school; women are more comfortable hiding their intelligence than they are with being acknowledged for it. Our society teaches girls that they should sacrifice their intelligence in order to be percived as attractive. Why can't we be both? Our mothers try to teach us to be both, but often society interferes with that. There is a major disconnect between what mothers and other women of sound hearts and minds (teachers, mentors, YW's leaders, etc.) are trying to teach girls to be and what society is trying to teach girls to be.

I like the idea of being on a spectrum of "smartness". I'm smart when it comes to certain things that I love. When it comes down to it, it is really about accepting who you are right now and working towards who you want to be in the future.

I have too much to say on the subject, but I really appreciate your blog because you are smart and more so because you are honest. Thank you.

P.S. Please don't think I'm a creeper for reading your blog though I don't know you. I just think you're cool. There I've gushed enough.

sue said...

It sounds to me that the girls in your class used a disclaimer at the beginning of their answers becuase they probably didn't know enough about Ancient Near East cultures to feel that they could give a 100% true answer and they just didn't want one of their answers to come back and bite them in the butt later. If anything, they were smart enough to know they did not know everything and did not have anything to do with "dumbing themselves down".

Stephanie said...

@ Sue

I'd be inclined to agree with you, but I saw their notes, assignments, and quizzes from the past two weeks. They knew the material. They also had answered the discussion questions in writing. I think we program girls to use disclaimers before they speak because it makes them seem less threatening.

I also think it is telling that other teachers/students have recognized the same pattern in their classes. (see above comments from So-Sew Seamstress, who admits to using disclaimers, and Caroline, who sees it on a college level.)

Michemily said...

Hey! I liked this post a lot. But I do have to beg to differ on one thing--Mormons weren't always about having girls/women be pretty and silent. The more women's histories I study, the more I realize that women like Eliza R. Snow were encouraged to run with their ideas. These days, we might say she was "allowed" to. So when did all these ideas come from that women aren't in charge and never should be and they have to follow their leaders and stay at home? Guys used to stay at home, too. Work and family were one thing, and so why do we think it's evil for the woman to leave the home but guys are now expected to? Silly. Anyway, thanks for writing the post.

Stephanie said...

@ Michemily

I never said that Mormons wanted women to be pretty and silent. I said that if you were Mormon, or religious, one of the things you would want a girl to know was that she was a daughter of God.

My comment about pretty and silent referenced society as a whole, not a particular demographic.

sis said...

I'm late to the party, but wanted to say

Thanks Steph