In her gutsy book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, attorney and national television legal analyst Lisa Bloom paints a dire picture:
The problem is not just about that 25 percent of young women who would rather be hot than smart; rather, it's about a culture that actually makes that a rational choice: rewarding girls for looks over brains. And it's about ALL of us, intelligent American females, ranging from girlhood to old age, who are dazzling ignorant about some critically important things.
An aggravating thing happened in the last generation. As girls started seriously kicking ass at every level of education (girls now out-perform boys in elementary, middle, and high schools; we graduate from college, professional, and graduate schools in greater number than males -- go team!), our brains became devalued.
I had to take a break after reading those paragraphs and ask myself four questions:
Did Lisa Bloom drink an extra shot of espresso before she penned those paragraphs? Does she have a hidden agenda that is fueling her passion? Is she exaggerating a personal opinion just to be heard? OR are we, in fact, raising stupid girls?
A few hours later, I sat down with my daughter as she watched the Disney Channel and, in between segments of Witches of Waverly Place, where Selena Gomez plays Alex, the naughty girl who has never opened a book in her adolescence (unlike her intellectual brother Justin, who loves the life of the mind), I saw the music video of the pop star Selena as she danced around a set in a skimpy dress, singing about lightning and thunder -- which apparently meant more than lightening and thunder by the way she was groping the microphone, practically licking it.
Alright, maybe Bloom does have a point, I said to myself, after less than 10 minutes in front of the tube. Young female celebrities aren't exactly rewarded and celebrated for their cognitive abilities and IQs. Imitating bold hip thrusts seem to matter more than SAT scores. And the more I see my seven-year-old stand in front of the mirror and mimic their moves, the more tempted I am to send her to a convent. One with lots of bookshelves holding scholarly works of all kind!
When I asked a friend of mine if she were saving for her daughter's college education, she sarcastically remarked, "No. I'm spending all the money on her wardrobe now, hoping that she'll be discovered." I laughed and cringed at the same time, because even as she intended sarcasm, there is too much truth to that philosophy in our culture. Look at the payoff, says. Bloom. "Many of us spend more time looking in the mirror than looking out at our planet, and the thing is that doing so is rational because there can be a bigger payoff for being sexy than brainy."
Now you're really lucky if you're cute and smart!
But seriously, I didn't realize how repressed I was intellectually and academically during my junior high and high school years until I attended an all-women's college. Even as I promised myself I'd never become one of those girls who paid more attention to tossing her hair back and forth than taking down algebra notes, I certainly held back in those co-ed classrooms. I didn't ask questions. I didn't engage with texts. I let the peer pressure of looking good win over stretching my mind, and so by trying to be ladylike, I compromised my education.
After the first semester at Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, I could clearly distinguish between a classroom that sets women up for success, and those that indirectly tell girls to shut up. It can be so subtle that you don't pick up on it until you are out of that environment, and in one that nurtures and encourages a woman to use her mind to make the world a better place. Writes Bloom:
We've got to use our brains for more than filler in the space beneath our smooth, Botoxed foreheads. The generation before us fought like hell and won for us equality in education and employment. Let's use that for a higher purpose than sending pictures of kittens on Facebook ... Bottom line: your critical thinking skills are desperately needed right now for your own good as well as for the sake of your community, your country, and your planet. That nagging little voice? It's your brain, and it's telling you that it wants back in the game.
Originally published on Psych Central.