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Is Intellect an Albatross?

by Douglas Eby

Arianna Huffington is described by her friend and author Sugar Rautbord [in a Vanity Fair article] as “probably one of the most intellectually seductive human beings on the face of the planet.

"She has such a powerful brain, and she exudes an intellectuality that is almost sexual."

Does that sort of exceptional mind have potential negative consequences, particularly for women?

In her controversial book Are Men Necessary? Maureen Dowd claims, “If there's one thing men fear it's a woman who uses her critical faculties."

Pretending to be less capable, less intelligent is a ploy that has probably been used by many gifted women. When she began directing in the forties, Ida Lupino sometimes claimed not to know the best way to line up a shot or specify a line reading, explaining "Men hate bossy women. Sometimes I pretend to know less than I do."

Other women in the arts, such as Barbra Streisand, have endured widespread negative reactions to expressing their intellectual and creative abilities.

A specialist in psychological issues facing gifted people, Dr. Linda Silverman notes in one of her books: "Because of their enhanced ability to perceive social cues and their early conditioning about the critical importance of social acceptance, gifted girls are much more adept than gifted boys at imitation. They fit in by pretending to be less capable than they really are, disappearing into the crowd."

Jane Austen (1775-1817) cautioned in her novel Northanger Abbey, “To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others... A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”

Huffington, like many precocious girls earlier in their lives, spent most of her time alone, reading, nurturing her intelligence.

And that was a choice, encouraged by her mother, to follow a joyful passion. It was not, apparently, a deprivation of relationships. Now, as an adult, she continues to pursue a wide variety of interests, especially her blog The Huffington Post, and is a prominent leader, media personality and friend of a wide range of other accomplished men and women in politics, the arts and media.

Dowd wrote the supposed “threat” to men by intelligent women is confirmed by research studies showing lowered expectations for marriage with an increasing intelligence of women.

But those studies lead to faulty conclusions, according to a Women’s eNews article ["Why Dowd Doesn't Know..."], by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett. They note that men ”do not reject achieving women. Quite the opposite. Sociologist Valerie Oppenheimer of University of California, Berkeley reports that today men are choosing as mates women who have completed their education. The more education a woman has, the more likely she is to marry.”

But there are other issues than relationships for highly intelligent women.

Sally M. Reis, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Connecticut and Principal Investigator of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, notes in her article “Internal barriers...” that high potential and multiple interests, multipotentiality can benefit many women, but others “often cannot find their niche, make it on their own, or choose a vocational path... they commit to a career too quickly in order to reduce tensions caused by a vast array of competing options... or may have career choices externally imposed on them by their parents or teachers.”

She also says that women “with a wide range of personality characteristics and perspectives often have a difficult time understanding themselves and making appropriate choices for career and advanced training.”

Part of the pleasure from seeing the two TV series “Bones” and “Commander in Chief” is the portrayal of very self-directed women who overcome many of those kinds of barriers to realize their talents and abilities: a forensic anthropologist (played by Emily Deschanel) and the U.S. President (played by Geena Davis, a member of Mensa).

There are many of us men who appreciate the real life versions of such highly intelligent and multitalented women. As musician Richard Thompson writes in his song The Hots For The Smarts:

I like a girl in satin
Who talks dirty in Latin
A girl who’s flirty
When she quotes Krishnamurti
If she likes to be goosed
While reciting from Proust
I’ll know she’s my kind of creature
Among her delectables
Her intellectables
Must be her sexiest feature

I want a girl with a brain
The size of Siberia
With a haughty disdain
Of all things inferior....

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References :

Are Men Necessary? - by Maureen Dowd

The Huffington Post

Arianna Calling! - By Suzanna Andrews, Vanity Fair, Dec 2005

Why Dowd Doesn't Know What Men Really Want - by Caryl Rivers, Rosalind C. Barnett -- Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett are co-authors of the book Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children and Our Jobs.

Internal barriers, personal issues, and decisions faced by gifted and talented females - by Sally M. Reis, Ph.D.

Richard Thompson - The Hots For The Smarts

Related article Gifted Women: Identity and Expression by Douglas Eby

More related Talent Development Resources pages :

GT Adults blog - gifted/talented/high ability

Giftedness : articles

Giftedness : books

Hiding/silencing abilities & talents

Intensity / sensitivity

Intensity / sensitivity resources : articles sites books

Introversion / shyness.

Introversion resources : articles  sites  books

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