When Emily Ratajkowski’s interview with French Marie Claire in 2018 went viral this year, I don’t expect many women were all that surprised by its contents. The writer Thomas Chatterton Williams was shocked to learn that the now 29-year-old model and actress was writing a series of essays about the modelling industry and commodification, because apparently you can’t have boobs AND brains in the twenty-first century. Ratajkowski is sadly not the only victim of the sexist trope, that conventionally attractive women are not intelligent, and any signs of intelligence are merely a ploy to seem even more attractive to men. Time and time again, famously beautiful women are mocked for having an interest in politics, literature or anything other than material items. But this issue doesn’t end with just the famous ladies out there, it trickles down to all levels of society.
Think back to being at secondary school, or sixth form, or even as recent as starting university, what reactions have men had when you let your intellect shine through? For many of us, especially at school, any sign of being smart will have ended in ridicule. We’ve always been told that boys love it when you play dumb with the ‘ditsy blonde’ being the main love interest in every teen movie while the smart girl wore frumpy skirts and huge braces. This dichotomy has been poured into society from the age we are able to consume any type of media. When was the last time you saw a Disney Princess in the library for anything other than swooning gracefully on a chaise-longue? This rhetoric is so damaging to girls growing up, and will often lead to women not wanting to articulate their opinions in fear of being shot down for ‘being too ditsy’ or discounted all together. Personally, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve raised my hand in a seminar to answer a question and had my contribution passed over for one of my male classmates give the same answer and be treated like a genius.
The porn industry presents this stereotype in perhaps its most distilled form, displaying perhaps the most sexist narratives surrounding intellectual women. Spend no more than 30 seconds on any adults-only website and you’ll find countless women with fake glasses and tiny school skirts with some caption involving the words ‘sexy’ and ‘nerd’. Men appear to like the smart girl look, but as soon as she opens her mouth and starts discussing the most recent legislature in parliament or their love for the works of W.B. Yeats, suddenly the fantasy is gone, because this display of knowledge threatens their masculinity. He is no longer the smartest person in the room. And this is the problem, historically men have dominated the intellectual field but for so many years now that’s been changing, female thinkers are both everywhere and beautiful. This shatters the image of ‘the nerd’ being the ugly butt of every joke (anyone remember Ugly Betty or Anne Hathaway before her glow up in Devil Where’s Prada?), suddenly women are no longer just boobs, legs and bums, but beings with pioneering and capable brains.
But is societies treatment of smart and sexy women changing? Recently, a more academic aesthetic has taken TikTok and Instagram by storm: dark/light academia. Think Oxbridge, Hogwarts, leather bound books, red wine and poetry type thing. Women have been incorporated into this aesthetic, a woman being an intellectual equal is now more commonplace rather than intimidating or unexpected, and the blatant sexism of Emily Ratajkowski’s interview is receiving the negative attention that was seemingly lost in 2018. While there are still issues, with progress improving for middle class white women but lagging for women of colour or less financially mobile women, hopefully, all people who identify as women will soon have more freedom to have pursue their intellectual interests without ridicule.
– Aimee Fisher
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