I heard the phrase and was so shocked that I stared at the TV screen and replayed it in my head. No, I wasn’t hearing things. No, the speaker wasn’t joking. No, the speaker wasn’t attempting to impress anyone.
It was Clive James, aged seventy, talking to Andrew Denton on the latter’s “Elders” show.
It astonished me that any man would actually believe that. When I was fifteen, an intelligent older woman gently advised me that my own intelligence might be a barrier to romance – or, if you prefer, she told me that gentlemen prefer their women dumb.
This was quite shocking to me, since I’d always felt that intelligence was like money – the more you had, the more attractive you were. But unfortunately, statistics do reveal that women who are more intelligent are less likely to marry (those statistics don’t reveal whether it’s because they are too smart to marry – as a happily married woman, I think the statistics would indicate that men are too insecure to marry someone they recognise as smarter than themselves).
Whatever the truth of the matter, from the age of fifteen I learnt to sometimes bite my lip rather than speaking out (especially to correct an ignorant man), I threw a lot of poor grammar and clumsy phrasing into my everyday speech (the ironic use of poor grammar still amuses me hugely), and I developed that irritating habit of laughing when I make a joke – not because I’m so hilarious I can’t resist, but to make sure that people who don’t get it at least know that a joke has occured in the vicinity.
Some of you will find those changes stupid, and some tragic. I suspect those two groups will be divided largely along gender lines.
Personally, I think women are smarter and stronger (mentally and emotionally) than men. How could I not, when I so often find myself pretending to believe a man is smarter than me (I don’t do this with CJ, but I still do so with other men)? When I push past my natural preference for my own gender and try to be objectively rational, I think that men and women are differently intelligent, and we simply tend to value (and to notice) our own gender’s intelligence styles more readily than the other. Men are also more likely to base their self-esteem on intelligence (better than basing it on beauty, at least), which can make them inflexible when it comes to admitting they’re wrong or less intelligent than someone else. My own self-esteem is linked strongly to independence (particularly financial independence, which I equate with being an adult) and intelligence, both of which have been decimated by mental illness. This is a problem.