The Movement Against Smart Women

We are in a moment in the United States in which millions of women across the nation feel, quite rightly, like the presidential election was a referendum on how we are valued by our country. Given the choice between a proudly feminist candidate and a confessed serial sexual abuser, the latter now occupies the Oval Office.

That general election followed a primary in which the proudly feminist candidate, who is the most qualified person ever to seek the presidency, was denounced by her (then) Democratic opponent as an "establishment" candidate, which was an inherently misogynistic argument, being made by a man with tremendously less policy knowledge than she has.

Following the election, we have been subjected to a national gaslighting, a central part of which is telling that historic female candidate to "go away" and telling the women who want to talk about her to "get over it" and STFU.

Despite that fact she was right about the current president, and lots and lots of other stuff, and that many of her prominent female supporters were a bunch of goddamned Cassandras who were right not only about her general election opponent but her primary opponent, as well.

And now, if any of the people who were profoundly, insistently, dangerously wrong can even bring themselves to begrudgingly admit we were right, it is followed immediately by the belligerent assertion that it doesn't matter. A line is drawn: Sure, you were right, but now we are where we are, so let's move on.

Let's not.

Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign can be seen as a turning point at which the harassment of and 'splaining at knowledgeable—and correct—women reached such epic and visible proportions that it became difficult to ignore, even to those most determined to ignore it.

But it was not, as it is sometimes regarded, the instigation of this dynamic. It was the nadir. It was the broadest (pun intended) issue around which people on either side of the dynamic coalesced, the one to which mass media paid the most attention.

Clinton's campaign was the inevitable culmination of a movement against smart women which has been underway for quite some time.

One might reasonably argue that this movement's genesis is virtually impossible to pinpoint, as there are examples of smart women being ignored, shouted down, and harmed stretching back to the origins of the country, and then back before that.

There is a long and ugly tradition into which neatly fits what might called a new iteration of an ancient movement.

This new iteration is heavily centered around online discourse, and the many ways the internet has abetted its rise. By giving women more opportunities to speak, to participate in the public conversation with lower barriers to entry, the internet also provided more opportunity for people to insert themselves as arbiters, contrarians, devil's advocates, disruptors, and silencers.

And while there is no shortage of sadistic abusers who try to silence smart women via threats and harassment, the movement against smart women is largely led by (primarily although not exclusively) white men whose interactions with us are not evidently abusive, but are insistently disrespectful, condescending, patronizing, and hallmarked by pervasive wrongness about basic facts.

Whatever our areas of expertise, they are worthless to these men who have contempt for smart women. There is no deference to our knowledge, no matter how frequently and unassailably demonstrated. Armed with nothing but their own certitude and some reductive bullshit they gleaned from a social media meme, they come at us with hostile lectures, laughable in their inaccuracy.

Any attempt to engage, to provide the actual facts or relevant context or necessary history, is met not with thoughtful discussion but an unaccountable insistence that they are right, that the details don't matter, that their opinions are just as valid as our facts, and, inevitably, that we are bitches.

We are not even allowed to be authorities on our own lives, no less anything else.

On occasions when they are proven indisputably incorrect, they do not concede or apologize or credit us with bettering them. They disappear.

These interpersonal dynamics are replicated across the culture: In almost every industry, women are underrepresented in leadership roles; in academia, female professors are obliged to fret about self-aggrandizing male students giving them poor reviews because their instructors refused to defer to their claimed expertise; in hardware stores and at car dealerships, knowledgeable women are treated like ninny-brained know-nothings.

And of course this infects our politics.

Proof of competency, no matter how consistent, does not qualify smart women as experts. To the absolute contrary, the more a woman is consistently right, the more likely she is to be likely to be treated with hostility.

That is the signature of the movement against strong women.

The more you demonstrate that you know what you're talking about, the more you are hated.

It is a feminist backlash, but a very specific one: Women who are smart—and attendantly capable and independent—are threatening. And must be stopped.

It's no surprise that the campaign of Hillary Clinton, one of the most competent and knowledgeable women on the planet, became the focal point of this movement against smart women, who have no truck with the idea that coasting on privilege is men's birthright.

But this movement is bigger than the campaign, even as the campaign has highlighted one of its essential truths with which we refuse to meaningfully reckon: The mostly white men—and the exceptionalized women who share their meme-based educations, or proudly boast about their "alternative facts"—are resentful about losing their privilege.

They have been activated by being held to the same expectations as women and other marginalized people. And smart women, and other marginalized people, who Know Things are visible evidence that their fortunes aren't exclusively dictated by banks, billionaires, and trade policy.

Faced with the erosion of their privilege, the members of the movement against smart women have done what they've accused marginalized people of doing lo these many years—playing the victim.

Which is not to say that there aren't policies which are harmful to privileged men. Of course there are. But those men aren't turning to the smart women who have solid plans for addressing those policies, because those plans include the expectation of yielding the privilege underwriting the luxury on which they've traded for their whole lives.

They don't want serious solutions. They want their privilege restored.

And they view smart women as a deep and abiding threat to the restoration of that privilege. For good reason, as we aren't keen to remain second-class citizens in deference to lazy men's egos.

So they're coming after the smart women.

And that is in no small part because masculinity has defined itself exclusively in contradistinction to the feminine for so long that challenges to the idea of inherent male superiority has left millions of American men floundering—and the best answer most of them have found for the question "What is my role if not a keeper of women?" is "I am a victim of oppression by women." Femininity has become the center-pin around which masculinity pivots—on one side there is dominion; on the other side, subjugation.

A great number of men have responded to this by being overt oppressors. And a great many more have responded by ostensibly arguing for equality, while remaining firmly indifferent to social justice.

They want to talk about their own dwindling opportunities in an increasingly corporatized, automated state while ignoring that, where their opportunities are limited, so are everyone else's, but they retain the privilege that preferences them.

Justice doesn't look like upholding those rules. Justice looks like changing the rules altogether—which is something smart women have known for a very long time.

Women have had to change the rules, because we were told "You can't," because we had seemingly unnavigable barriers put in our way by people who didn't want us to succeed, because the rules were designed so that we fail. For many of us, the odds have been against us our whole lives; everything we've ever done has been in defiance of the distinct likelihood—and expectation—that we would settle for less than we wanted.

But we wanted more, and so we changed the rules—primarily by raising the bar.

The men who resent that the bar has been raised, their unearned privilege undermined and replaced with an expectation to achieve to the same level as women who hadn't their head start, can now do naught but whine about victimhood. They haven't yet realized that they are not victims of women, who only want the equality that's been denied them, but victims of a patriarchal culture that has spoiled men with the promise of success without effort, and robbed them of the will to expect more of themselves.

Intersectional Feminism/Womanism has built a framework for implementing new rules. And, yes, that progress is a long slog. Instant gratification isn't part of the deal—but smart women who tell you the truth, rather than what you want to hear, is.

And we all need to get real about the fact that there is a vast and reprehensible movement being orchestrated against Smart Women Who Know Things, by men who think the truth sucks.

The endemic rejection of smart women is a problem. It is one of the key reasons we are now saddled with a president who doesn't know anything about the job. It is one of the key reasons why the Democrats are running away from Hillary Clinton and elevating Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that his economic credentials are absurd. It is one of the key reasons that lots of good ideas aren't heard, until a man says them—and sometimes that doesn't happen quickly enough, or at all.

This movement, which transcends political affiliation, must be called out, examined, and dismantled. It is having catastrophic consequences, which is to say nothing of the harm done to individual women by regarding us with contempt.

One doesn't have to be a woman, or even particularly smart, to see that.

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