This Isn't About Smarts, But Power

[Content Note: Misogyny; heterocentrism.]

This is very interesting: A new study, which will be published in November in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, explores the disparity between men who say they want to date women who are smarter than they are and the men who decline to meet such a woman, given the opportunity.
In the first part of the study, researchers had 105 male participants read a hypothetical scenario about a woman who, among other traits, had either outperformed the male subject or underperformed him in a math or English course; the men were then asked to imagine how desirable that person might be as a romantic partner.

In this scenario, "men formed favorable impressions and showed greater interest in women who displayed more (versus less) intelligence than themselves." (Research out this year supports the notion that men say intelligence is very important to them in a romantic partner.)

But in the second part of the study — where the men were told they would meet a woman in person — a woman's intelligence worked against her. The participants took what they thought was an intelligence test, and were told that they would soon be meeting someone who had either scored better or worse than them on the test.

Faced with actually meeting a female who was smarter than they were, the men "distanced themselves more from her, tended to rate her as less attractive, and showed less desire to exchange contact information or plan a date with her," the study revealed.

...Put simply: In a hypothetical scenario (one in which the man will never meet the woman), men showed greater attraction toward a woman who was smarter than them, but when they are faced with actually meeting a more intelligent woman, they showed less attraction and desire to date her.
My first thought upon reading the findings of the study is that this isn't really about intelligence at all, but about power. That is, a woman who is smarter than a man in the abstract is compelling, but a woman who is smarter than a man in real life threatens his ability to control the relationship. It's harder to retain power over someone who is smarter than you are—and, after all, the promise of the Patriarchy is that men will own their women.

And this was indeed the conclusion of the researchers:
The reason, the researchers conclude, has to do with threats to masculinity (which are far more acute when the man actually has to meet the woman versus when this woman is merely a hypothetical concept). "Feelings of diminished masculinity accounted for men's decreased attraction toward women who outperformed them in the live interaction context," the researchers wrote.
In addition to the difference between a real woman and a hypothetical woman, I think the difference in the two different kinds of tests used in the two different parts of the study matters.

Part One was about a woman who had outperformed the man in a specific, limited arena like "a math or English course," whereas Part Two was about a woman who had outperformed him on generalized intelligence test.

Men who say they like smart women, but really don't, tend to view a single instance of superior female intellect as a party trick, while they tend to view evidence of overall superior female intellect as a threat to their masculinity and perceived right of ownership.

If a woman just does better on a single test, or in a single class, or with a single game of Words With Friends, it's easy enough for a guy to convince himself he's still smarter than her, but she just got lucky. Thus, she isn't as threatening. But a woman who proves herself a worthy intellectual adversary in multiple ways becomes very threatening indeed.

This is a dynamic I've experienced over and over in my life, and I daresay I'm not the only smart woman who has found herself moving from "delightful exception" to "detested threat" with alarming speed, when we refuse to underplay our intelligence for the sake of a man's ego.

When we want to—and can—win all the games, and do. When we don't throw a game or two for appearances.

It's not even that these guys don't want women who are smarter than they are; it's that they don't want women who are their intellectual equals.

Iain and I are both intelligent people, but we'd be hard-pressed to say which one of us is objectively smarter, because how is such a thing assessed? He's smarter about and better at some things than I am, and I'm smarter about and better at some things than he is. We're a pretty solid intellectual match, and that is a terrifying prospect to lots of men.

Hence the endless jokes directed at men like Iain, paired with intelligent women, about how they are whipped, controlled, bossed, owned by women who are merely their equals.

In such jokes is always the embedded commentary: "Poor guy. She must be a real bitch to keep under control." Because it's not women's intelligence that these men fear; it's women's independence.

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