Feminism: Anti-Intellectualism Fraudery

by Silver Adept

In response to the Unwanted Attention post regarding Twilight as a story about a girl who has been trying to avoid attention from everyone receiving large amounts of it with no way of getting away from it, DawnM asked a series of excellent questions in the comments about the whys behind the pervasive U.S. cultural message that it's a bad idea to be an observably smart person in U.S. society, and why that message seems to target women more strongly than men.

The short answer is BOOSTRAPS! and the anti-aristocratic vibe of the United States, with a good dollop of patriarchy (often sanctioned by The Being Represented By The The Tetragrammaton) for why it targets girls more viciously than men.

The longer answer is that, at least in the United States, we have a curious fusion of mythologies - the distrust and desire to be away from monarchs and aristocrats as a guiding force of the national Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8: No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.) and the often wildly-inaccurate belief that wealth, power, and success are the direct result of the application of Hard Work, regardless of any other factors that might be working for or against someone.

The distrust of aristocrats comes from the belief and historical experience that aristocracies generally believe they know better than you do, and therefore should be given a free hand to regulate the behavior of the masses. The results of those experiments tend toward disaster, as aristocrats are often more engaged in their power struggles, internally and internationally, than in the welfare of their people, and the end result of that tends to be bleeding the populace dry to finance warfare. If this sounds suspiciously like the perfect scenario for the defense industry, gold stars all around.

Somewhere along the way, perhaps because aristocrats were uniformly people of letters and higher education, as well as the clergy that were perpetuating the system by giving it the blessing of The Being Represented By The Tetragrammaton (for values of Latin Christendom that provide the grand majority of immigrants to the colonies that will form the United States), the anti-aristocratic bent mutated into an anti-intellectual bent. If forced to speculate, I'd say this happened because while the Constitution forbids de jure aristocrats, it establishes the initial voting-eligible population as those who met the qualifications for voting for the largest state legislature house's elections in each state. As one might guess, that excluded slaves (until a federal amendment abolished slavery and another granted all men the franchise), women (until a federal amendment gave them the franchise) and the working poor (until a federal amendment barred the use of literacy tests, poll taxes, and other discriminatory measures used to prevent them from exercising the franchise. Notice a pattern?), leaving white, wealthy men as the eligible voters. An aristocracy without the titles, but still with the education, and still with the power to control people through the levers of government. So now it's the well-educated that receive the bulk of the anti-aristocratic ire.

That ire produces the situation that SmilodonMeow talks about at the top of the comments to the original entry - upon finding out that someone has significant educational credentials, there is an erroneous assumption that the credentialed person believes they are superior. (Reference, also, the phenomenon of being "overqualified" for a job and thus unable to obtain work, based on the assumption that the person applying will jump for the next job that is better than the one they are applying for, putting all the time and expense training them to waste. Which says something very unkind about the kind of people those workplaces are looking for. More on that in a bit.) This is a cruel situation for the country, as the people in charge of the businesses, the people who make and argue the law, and the people who have control over the populace are almost uniformly smart and educated (and generally amoral, apparently) people.

Lest they be successfully branded as aristocratic (e.g. "arugula" re: Barack Obama and, much more effectively, "the 47%" re: Willard "Mitt" Romney), the people holding the levers of power must often appear to be profoundly stupid ("the kind of person you would have a beer with", a successful messaging meme from the W Bush campaign). This dynamic filters downward, all the way into primary and secondary schooling, where the Smart that don't hide it are singled out for ridicule.

This actually benefits the people at the top, as by discouraging people to be as smart as they are, it allows them to defraud, damage, and otherwise do things that are, frankly, horrible to the people without the fear of repercussion from the victims. It also has a nice knock-on effect of excluding people (due to "overqualification") who might do things like agitate for unionism, protest violations of labor law, report illegal intimidation (or management training programs that paint a major political party as antithetical to business interests; see Menard's Hardware Store), complain about the glass ceiling (or wage discrimination), or otherwise try to work on improving the labor conditions of workers. This also results in the promotion of careers and businesspeople who were able to be highly successful without formal schooling or university, obscuring that those people are often statistical outliers and many of them had advantages to getting started that most people do not. Again, mostly men getting this attention - women are usually portrayed as struggling between the demands of motherhood / wifehood and career, when they get profiled as successful women at all. Men are allowed to be unvarnished successes, women are always in conflict, even when they aren't.

In my opinion, the reason this anti-intellectual message gets to be effective is that it is played out for everyone at the crucial point in our brain development where he acceptance of our peers is paramount - adolescence. (This is backed by brain research - teens are brain-wired to weight peer evaluation and acceptance more heavily than other acceptance or praise. This can lead to very stupid behavior by groups that would never happen individually.) The message "Don't be smart, because your peers won't like you", when combined with certain forms of misogyny and patriarchy that say women are Inherently Inferior to men ("wives be submissive to your husbands" and such) becomes "Men don't make passes at girls with glasses" - the mere appearance of being smart (using stereotypical symbols) is apparently enough to dissuade men (the supposed patriarchal goal of any woman, regardless of education or career ambition. If you think that's new, ask someone about the em-are-ess degree.) from asking a woman out on a date, for the fear that the woman might be smarter and more capable than him, thus emasculating him and placing him in a category where men direct misandry at him for lack of machismo.

For men, Brains and Brawn are often set as a zero-sum game, and on popular media (and, regrettably, far too many instances of Truth In Television), Brawn is the desirable trait, as sports players get the attractive women, the administrators looking the other way when they are cruel to others (e.g. Steubenville, Ohio), and the smart or different receive a steady diet of "Conform, and your problems will go away." In a teenage environment, where peer acceptance is important, the categories where men are insufficiently macho or women are sufficiently competent are heavily implied to explicitly stated as DO NOT WANT. So if you're Smart, you'd better learn how to hide it, lest your formative years single you out for special negative attention on a regular basis.

Then there's the real world, which sometimes is a continuation of secondary school, sometimes a funhouse mirror of it, and occasionally a thing that doesn't resemble secondary school at all, which can result in some people trying to get things back to the way they were and trying to enforce those tropes on the world around them. In the strong likelihood that we escape the toxic environment of school, we only really win partially, because the messages are still being thrown at us, but also because we were exposed to the toxic message at the perfect time for us to believe that it's normal.

The real victory is that so many of us are able to transcend (generally, excepting asshats that still pounce on typoes and small things to feed their inadequacies) that environment and come out as basically functioning people. (Bella may not, considering she's going to be stuck repeating high school and university forever.)

Of course, it would be nice if we didn't have to deal with the toxic environment in the first place, but I am assured by Our Corporate Masters that the situation will continue until the morals they wish to impose upon us are accepted.

Anyway, YMMV. Or not, sadly.


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