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Pretty, Dumb

You may have heard the news ( in the past week that a girl from Essex has tested a higher IQ score than that of Albert Einstein. Shock horror. Laura Marbe, aged 16, is not a likely future Einstein in a culture that assumes attractive heteronormative femininity goes hand-in-manicured-hand with, well, plain idiocy really. Marbe is pictured with blonde hair and make up, aesthetics of typical white Western feminine beauty. Due to her appearance it is assumed that there is no way she could be so intelligent. But why is that? Just because she is a woman and looks a certain way, what does this have to do with her brainpower?


Women are generally judged more because of their appearances than men, and this especially applies to level of intelligence. Hackneyed stereotypes of attractive women as categorically ‘ditzy’ and intelligent women as frumpy have hung in our gendered social scripts for too long. The widespread astonishment that a sixteen-year-old ‘Essex-Girl’ could be as intelligent as Einstein proves that we still have gendered concepts of intelligence not unlike those from the fifties.

I mentioned Marbe’s achievement to a friend and she was skeptical, wondering how no one already knew Marbe was so intelligent.  In a culture where, for women, being heterosexually attractive still entails a certain level of unintelligence, I think girls like Laura are likely to hide how intelligent they are for fear that it will diminish their erotic capital. Just look into popular culture, we are told over and over again that women are valued for their physical appearance, and that intelligent, outspoken and assertive women are either not to be desired, or to be transformed into docile wives. We are also told that pretty girls are not to be taken seriously if they’re trying to do anything other than get a man. Remember in Legally Blonde (one of my all time favourite movies) how Elle sadly realizes that “Callahan (her professor) never saw me as a lawyer, when he looked at me all he saw was blonde hair and big boobs.” Conversely, intelligent girls are also not to be taken seriously if they are trying to get a man.


This stereotypical dichotomy of attractive=dumb/intelligent=ugly drives a wedge between women and causes bitchy competition and rivalry that is just what the patriarchy wants to bring us all down. (Urahghghgh! – feminazi rage). Consider the Dunphey sisters on Modern Family: Alex, the smart one, isn’t as pretty and socially popular as Hayley, who is unfortunately shallow and ditzy. This is a similar scenario to that of Daria and her sister, Quin. There is even an episode of Daria called ‘Quin the Brain’ in which it becomes apparent that Quin is actually just as smart as Daria when she achieves a high result in an assignment. Throughout the episode, everyone assumes it is just a façade, Quin can’t possibly be intelligent AND be typically attractive, feminine and socially popular. Moreover, throughout the series Quin is established as the villain because she is stupid and ditzy which is closely linked to her characterization as an attractive ‘normal’ girl, whereas Daria is alternative and intelligent and therefore ugly.


So what’s so attractive about ditzy women to a twenty-first century man? In a society where there is ample evidence that women are grown up humans who can hold down real world jobs just like men, without breaking down into some animalistic hormonal/menstrual/emotional stupor, why still assume pretty women are stupid? Why still tell us that? What? Are intelligent women unattractive because they have more ability to deduce all the illogical, arbitrary and unnecessary aspects of the gender order’s hyper-femininity that has always been forced upon us? Is Laura Marbe clearly stupid because she outwardly performs a mainstream Western femininity the way it is supposed to be performed? I thought that was something the patriarchal system rewarded? Oh, I guess it is, by the fact that she is ‘attractive’ to men (read: Stupid). But I believe Marbe might be as smart as Einstein if she has managed to buck this Pretty=Dumb/Fugly=Smart dichotomy and make us all go:  Whaa?


About JohnnyCigar

My name is Ruby and I'm a Gender Studies major at the University of Tasmania, Australia, with a special interest in gender, sexuality and technology. I also enjoy books with a bit of attitude, American TV with sex, violence and preferably a car chase, tea with no sugar, and a flawless WiFi connection.

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