Kate Beckinsale is, as they say, my girl crush. It’s not just her mane of caramel hair, her wing with a smile, the English rosyness that years in Hollywood haven’t spoiled; it’s her intelligence.
She went to Oxford University; she speaks fluent Russian; she hands out wasp-like jokes like a 21st-century Dorothy Parker.
Intelligence is part of her attractiveness. So it raised a few eyebrows last week when she heard her talk about her brain, not as an asset, but as a hindrance.
Talking to American radio shock jock Howard Stern, Beckinsale was pressured several times to reveal her IQ. When she called her mom live on the show, it turned out that her IQ as a child was measured at 152 — not an Einstein level, but comfortably in the “gifted” range.
Clare Forges explores how men’s desire to be masculine attracts them to dumb women, after Kate Beckinsale (pictured) suggested her intelligence hindered her Hollywood career
Beckinsale graciously disdained her staggering brain power, suggesting that her intelligence had been more of a detriment than a help to her Hollywood career.
Let out a chorus of ridicule: one website accused her of “a chillingly modest boast”, another rebuked “sounds hard to be so pretty and smart.” Unwittingly, these pea-brained critics underlined her point: that a woman must be careful not to display her intelligence, or else she will be fooled for being arrogant.
Beckinsale reacted furiously: ‘Do we really still require women to silence themselves so as not to offend?’ No woman, she stormed, “should feel that under ANY circumstances she has to lie down or be stupid not to be a target.”
Amen, sister. I have no idea what my IQ is, but with a master’s degree, a few children’s books published, and a past career as a No. 10 counselor, I’d say I’m smarter than average. But on many occasions I have emphasized the average over the smart.
Why? Because from an early age we absorb what makes us attractive to the opposite sex.
We learn that men don’t like nerds and blue stockings, know-it-alls and brain teasers. They like women who are stingy and wide-eyed, clueless and cute.
Beckinsale cited a study that found that 60 percent of women had “dumped” themselves on a date to impress a man. I can very well believe it, because I did it myself.
During my single years, I worked as a chief speechwriter for then Prime Minister David Cameron. While I was proud of this feature, I also knew it would be just as appealing to many men as halitosis. They would make assumptions: that I was unfeminine; that I should continue with politics. Carry on with tax policy and, in Scooby Doo terms, you just switched from Daphne to Velma.
Kate (pictured) cited a survey that found that 60 percent of women had “dumped” themselves on a date to impress a man
And so, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I often lied about what I did for a living. On a speed dating night, where I got three minutes with each guy, I told the first I was making teddy bears, the next I was a tennis coach, and the third I was a secretary.
This was pretty funny until we all went to the bar to continue our chats en masse. With one man talking to me about tennis and another about hugs, it didn’t take long for my fraud to be exposed.
The numbness, I’m ashamed to say, continued even in some real relationships. A friend got annoyed when I yelled out more answers than he did while watching University Challenge.
At first I trembled the answers I luckily knew: ‘Phosphorescence!’ ‘King Richard III!’ ‘Bruch’s First Symphony!’ This was also fine if he was shaking, but I noticed he would go into a threatening mood if I ‘won’. And so it was easier to keep quiet, or admit that you only knew a few answers.
This is very common for women, I think: we shrink to meet the desires of men. Many men would protest that they like intelligent, quirky women — and I’m sure some do, but a fascinating 2015 study showed just how fragile this attraction can be.
Researchers asked 105 men if they wanted to date a woman who had performed better or worse for them academically. The men rated the women who had performed better as more attractive. So much feminist.
But in the second part of the study, the men were asked to take an intelligence test and were told they would soon meet a woman who outperformed them.
Clare Forges (pictured) said that when some men see a woman as weaker and more vulnerable, it sparks an age-old desire to defend themselves.
Faced with the prospect of a really smart cookie, “the men distanced themselves more from her, tended to judge her as less attractive, and showed less desire to…plan a date with her.” The authors concluded that ‘feelings of diminished masculinity were responsible for men’s decreased attraction to women who outperformed them’.
And there we have it – the main reason why some men seem to be “triggered,” in Kate Beckinsale’s words, by female intelligence. It’s not straightforward misogyny. It is a desire to be masculine.
As controversial as it may be today, men and women are very different in many ways, but united as prisoners of our biology. On the one hand, women often enjoy taking care of someone, mopping eyebrows and going to the sick bed.
Likewise, many men are determined to want to protect. Seeing a woman as weaker and more vulnerable evokes an age-old desire to defend herself.
It follows that if a woman has three degrees and is fluent in Mandarin, she may be less vulnerable, need less protection and thus less attractive.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to all men; George Clooney happily professes to be the “arm candy” for his lawyer wife Amal – and my own husband, a surgeon, likes that we’re smart in different ways.
But something in the hearts of many men melts with folly and hardens with cleverness. For intelligent women, the answer isn’t to “shrink to fit” like I used to do, but to be defiant, proud of ourselves.