My physician is a brilliant middle-aged white man. He and I were having a discussion about my reproductive health, as women of a certain age often do. He asked "don't you want children?" I responded, without my usual annoyance to such questions, "it's not that I don't want children it is more that the right partner and opportunity hasn't arisen and time is running out."
He smiled and said "yes, it will be hard for you." I asked what he meant. He replied, "You are too smart." As in, too smart for most men. I paused to try to appreciate the back-handed compliment and then said, "Why?" He said, "It will take a special kind of person for you to marry. You will intimidate most men. You'd have to not talk." He laughed.
I wasn't sure how to respond. This is far from the first time I've heard this kind of comment. Although in this case I knew it was intended to be a compliment, but it was also an indictment of my intelligence, independence, personality and career. It made what feels like an impossibility seem, well, even more impossible.
Then I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's book We Should All Be Feminsts, which included the quote:
Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.
She wrote this in response to the cultural teaching that she should not do anything to emasculate a man -- do not be too ambition or successful. She goes on to say that her least favorite word is "emasculation" and while I agree it's an annoying word, my least favorite remains "intimidate."
According to Webster, the simple definition of intimidate is "to make (someone) afraid." But I never approach a man intending to cause him to fear. So to me being intimidated just seems like an excuse. If a woman is being mean, rude, inconsiderate, or unprofessional then say that, but calling a woman intimidating because her success, confidence, and/or intelligence makes you feel insecure isn't her issue.
Then, I wondered, are men told that they are still single because they intimidate women? If so, I have never heard of it. Just like people don't tell male leaders to smile more, to be quiet, or to be less aggressive.
Intimidating is just another buzzword for "stay in your place, lady." It's the message that to get and keep a man you can't be too smart, too good or too successful. So, in the end I agree with my physician, it will take a special person -- one who knows that a woman's success isn't all about or a threat to him.