While killing time, probably doing laundry or simply staring at the laundry piles and willing the clothes to fold themselves, I flipped through the television channels and landed on Megyn Kelly’s new program–Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly. Whatever you think of Kelly, I was intrigued by the topics featured on the show, specifically the discussion of research about young girls and how after age six, they shift toward believing boys to be smarter than girls. What?!
With the guidance of researchers, Kelly’s staff recreated some experiments. Kindly school-teacher types would tell young girls a story of a really smart person without revealing the person’s gender. Then, they showed a series of photos depicting women and men and asked which the children believed was the smart person in the story. Time after time, the girls pointed to a picture of a man.
The staff member would then simply show photos of men and women and ask the girls to point out the “smart” ones. Over and over, the girls decided the men were the “smart” ones.
Of course, lots of social and psychological input creates this type of output. But surely my teenage sons are more evolved–having been raised by an educated, independent and outspoken woman such as myself.
So, first I went after “the little one.” He’s fifteen. I asked him if any of the girls in his grade, those he is friends with, are smart. He had to think about it. Finally, he offered that a few girls are in the same classes as him and get the same grades as him. To clarify, I asked, “So you think these girls are as smart as you but not smarter than you?” He confirmed that this is indeed is his belief.
Then I asked him which of the adult women in his life he thinks of as smart. Again, he had to think–hard. He finally offered up a couple of names.
“What makes you think those particular women are smart?” I asked.
His response boiled down to particularly good manners and an unlikeliness to suffer fools. Okay. Fair enough.
Finally, I asked him who was smarter, his Dad or me. (I know. I know. I was asking for it. But I went there anyway.) Without missing a beat, the kid said, “Dad!”
Why? “Because everything useful I’ve learned, I’ve learned from Dad.”
Ugh. Okay fine you little ingrate. You’ve only spent over 75% of your life in my company. But what-ev’s.
On to the “big boy.” He’s nearly eighteen. When asked if he considered any adult women in his life smart, he said, “Well, that’s hard to know because most of them are stay-at-home moms.”
At this point, only the restraint of this kid’s guardian angel likely held me back from calling down a lightning bolt to smite my own firstborn child on the spot. But I somehow couldn’t entirely blame him for what is likely my failure. WTF have I done??!! Have I unleashed yet another generation of misogynist Cretans into the world? Can this be undone? If so, how? Lord help me.
I began by explaining to the “big boy” that his mom has a college degree and also attended grad school. That I SACRIFICED a promising career in finance in order to care for him and his brother.
I’ve worked as a magazine editor for several years now. But apparently, my flexible schedule and the fact that I’m the household grocery-getter and meal-preparer still slots me into the “at home” “sub-par” “less smart” categories created in my son’s 1950’s mindset.
I told him that most of the women he knows (all those “stay-at-home” moms) also have college degrees and many also SACRIFICED lucrative careers in order to care for their own ungrateful children. And still others juggle working outside the home or patching together enough side hustles to keep the creative energy (and car payment money) flowing.
He was surprised by my indignation. Apparently many high school girls he knows make comments about their goals being a couple of years of college, then marriage, kids, and… “stay-at-home.” What?! At a highly ranked public high school in 2017, in this hyper competitive world of achievement and accumulation, I’m surprised this remains a goal for enough young girls to seem to be “many” in his mind.
As a teenager, I never dreamed about staying home with kids. Raised by a single, working mother, I was taught to never “need” a man–but to be able to take care of myself. I dreamed of toting a briefcase to important meetings while a nanny took care of the kiddos. Why I chose not to continue on that path is fodder for another post. But suffice it to say, I’ve never considered this choice as a feminist failure.
The fact is, being “smart” has nothing to do with whether a woman works full time!
Being “smart” likely requires some level of education and demonstrable ability to hold a conversation without over-using the word “like.” But moreover, being smart is about being curious, having a desire to learn and master new skills, managing one’s life and future goals based on healthy choices and making useful contributions toward a better world.
I thought I’d done a pretty good job of raising smart and evolved young men who might help make the world a better place. Turns out, they may be “smart” but they may also have been socialized to support the patriarchy. Gasp! (I blame their father.)
Or maybe, just maybe, my kids were being smartasses in order to turn my crank. This is entirely possible. And In that case, it’s as my mom always says, “It’s better to be a smartass than a dumbass.” True that! Love you mom!