Since I’ve been writing down my memories, some of these things I figured would become evident over time. However, that project is moving very slowly, so maybe I’ll summarize a few points. First of all, there are two things I think about myself, but I don’t like to say because I have learned appropriate social behavior well enough. First of all, I had the misfortune of having been born smart. Don’t for a moment think that that makes me believe that I’m always right. Trust me, when I make blunders they can be doozies. But I don’t fit in to society well. The television just doesn’t amuse me much. Neither does shopping. Or “girl talk.” Usually, I explain it to people as being similar to being very tall. Everyone thinks taller is better, but, once you get past a certain height, it’s difficult to fit in certain cars, chairs can be uncomfortable, doorways can be too low. There are definitely good points to being smart, but sometimes you don’t quite fit in.
Here’s the second point, and it’s frankly anti-social to say this: When I was young, I was pretty. It’s not good to say positive things about yourself, but a woman describing herself as pretty is a particular taboo. You’re supposed to pretend you don’t know, like you don’t even own a mirror. Maybe I can say this because I’m a dumpy middle-aged woman now. I wasn’t beautiful in the tall, imposing ice queen sort of way. I was the “hot number” in the petite, vaguely exotic, little “spitfire” sort of way. It’s a little weird because my inside doesn’t match my outside very well. Outside of the fact that I do, indeed, like sex, most of the other assumptions people make about me based on my appearance are highly inaccurate. Most of them are more amusing than annoying. For instance, on several occasions, I’ve had people ask if I wanted to join a band as a singer. A singer! Ha ha ha ha. Man, I am the world’s worst singer. Just because I’m cute and was wearing some hip clothes that day? Wow. To paraphrase Groucho, I wouldn’t join any band that would have me.
While that one’s funny, one assumption that people make about me, or often made when I was younger, was that I was dumb. Throughout college, I felt that I had to prove to every damned professor that I was worth something. I once turned in a mid-term paper and had a professor tell me he didn’t believe I wrote it. I said, “If you’re accusing me of plagiarism, I’d like to know where you think I got it.” He said, “I don’t know, but you couldn’t have written it.” I had to go to his office and defend my paper verbally. In the end he apologized. Mostly, the examples are smaller. Like the first week of class having the professor make eye-contact and single you out and say, “Are you following.” I’d watch and they wouldn’t say that to the other students. There was something about me. I looked dumb. Usually, after the first paper or exam, that would stop.
If college was bad, work was worse. Job interviews are damned near impossible. A male programmer I was dating asked why I was going for an MS in Comp Sci. By a coincidence, we were having dinner at a table next to a couple of other programmers. They were discussing a movie they had seen recently. They didn’t like a casting. A female scientist looked to hot to be believable. A nodded towards their table and said, “That’s why.”
Anyway, the consequence of all this is that the accusation that I just don’t understand something because I don’t have the intellectual capability is a sore spot for me. It’s an old sore, and something I’ll never be able to entirely shrug off. It’s funny, because on the internet it has nothing to do with my appearance.
On top of that, there’s a second hurt. It’s funny because I’m probably not the most gung-ho American as a general rule. I can be pretty critical of our society and our politics. I’ve had a disproportionate number of foreign boyfriends. (Sometime I joke that after a Canadian, a Korean and an Israeli, I said that I wasn’t going to date another foreigner – and I didn’t get laid for two years. Finally I broke down and wound up with an Argentinian.) I like spending time in certain other foreign countries.
However, that aforementioned Canadian, I married him. I spent four years living in Quebec City. If I had felt that stereotypes about small, dark, attractive women were a pain, I hadn’t yet felt how it was to be stereotyped as an American. Yes, we’re all dumb, religious and anti-intellectual. I’m sure anyone who has read this blog has an idea of how well that description fits me. Add to that the fact that I was in an entirely Francophone environment, making huge grammatical mistakes and with a limited vocabulary. Everyone treated me like a half-wit. My only consolation, and I thought of it often at that time, is that I had never been mean to immigrants in the U.S. I never called anyone stupid for not speaking English. I was isolated. Lonely. I can’t even express the depths of the lonliness I felt at that time. I feel like it permanently scarred me. Regularly treated as if I was a half-wit. Ever since then, I haven’t had the same tolerance for certain American stereotypes. The stereotypes of Americans added to my loneliness and isolation.
Maybe I’m just thin-skinned. Maybe these aren’t really explanations. But it’s easier for me to deal with disagreements based on ideas than with implications that I’m just not that smart.