Over the weekend I visited my family and ended up in a somewhat disturbing conversation with my father about my 14-year-old sister. I had mentioned that I am considering more school, and it turned into something like this:
Dad: How come you didn’t get all your brothers and sister to be as smart as you?
Me: um . . . [unsure how to respond to this strange question.] Dad: [Lil’ Sis] is doing pretty well in school, but she’s getting really boy crazy. Pretty soon she’ll figure out that boys don’t like smart girls.
Me: You told me that when I was younger.
Dad: I wouldn’t have actually told you that.
Me: But you did!
Dad: Well, I wouldn’t have said that until you could handle it, at least until you were a senior in high school.
Me: Make sure you never tell her that!
What I remember him saying was that boys would be intimidated by me. From our conversation over the weekend, it seems clear that he had, and still has, no idea what kind of impact that kind of statement from a girl’s father can have. I’ve always felt he was proud of me and my accomplishments. Whatever my father thinks he did or did not tell me, I clearly remember the devastating feeling that there was something less lovable about me because of my intelligence and that I would not be wanted by boys. As I spoke with some friends about the experience, it seems I was not the only one who heard this. Another woman recounted being told by her father’s friend, a successful businessman, that she’d better “dumb it down” or she would not get married. Recently, even President Hinckley seemed to play off of this idea when he said to the young men: “And so I say to you young men, rise up and discipline yourself to take advantage of educational opportunities. Do you wish to marry a girl whose education has been far superior to your own?”
I found a brief chance to converse with my sister later, and I asked her about her class schedule for fall. (After discussion of other classes):
Me: So what math class are you taking?
Lil’ Sis: Geometry. It will be my last math class.
Lil’ Sis: I’m not smart enough to take more math.
Me: What are you talking about? Of course you are smart enough!!
Lil’ Sis: Well, actually I am pretty good at math.
The playing dumb act that I did is already happening with her. So I’m left wondering what I can do or say to help my little sister avoid what I went through. A good long talk with my father is in order, in the hopes that he will not continue to believe or perpetuate such a damaging idea. I don’t believe there is any truth to the idea that boys don’t like smart girls, at least any boy worth dating. I wonder what I can say to my sister. I have no idea how much influence I have on her. Our age difference is quite large and I haven’t lived in the same house with her for nearly a decade. I hope I can so something to help spare her some of the same difficulties that I went through.