A recent study showed that by the age of six, young girls see themselves as less intelligent than their male counterparts. They begin to associate brilliance with maleness and start shying away from activities that are perceived as requiring high levels of intelligence. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever read. The think pieces on this study all seemed to suggest that the reason for this phenomenon is because girls aren’t given smart female role models to look up to. Because the contributions of women in history have long been overlooked. Because everyone can name several male geniuses from fiction or pop culture, but girl genius characters are few and far between. Because this gender imbalance in how we perceive intelligence is so rampant in our society that little girls are picking up on it in kindergarten.
Reading these articles made me even more thankful for the smart female role models I’ve had in my life. More specifically, it made me extremely grateful for the smartest woman I know: my mom. I think that as a child, I managed to escape the message that girls weren’t as smart as boys because every day I had living, breathing proof of women’s intelligence telling me to hurry up and put my shoes on. When I say my mom is a genius, I mean it. And it’s not just because she’s a doctor, or because she went to Harvard, although both of those things are true, and I’ve always admired her for them. Boys couldn’t be smarter than girls, because no boy in the world could possibly be smarter than my mom. In a society where girls are under enormous pressure to be pretty, popular, feminine, and non-threatening to boys, my mom showed me that one of the coolest things a girl could be was smart.
My mom is frequently the smartest person in the room, but she’s never one to make a big deal out of it. Smart isn’t something to hide or lord over other people; it’s just who she is. I remember her talking once about a scholarship she won in high school that was given to one boy and one girl in each state. She jokingly said that that made her the smartest girl in New York, but I’ve always thought it was possible that she actually might have been the smartest girl in the entire state of New York. I wanted to be smart and successful like my mom. I wanted to know all the big words she knew. I wanted to be the smartest girl in Maryland. Most of all, I wanted my mom to think I was smart. I wanted her to be impressed by the things I knew, the words I could spell, the books I read. She often was, or, at least, she pretended to be in order to encourage me to keep reading and learning.
Because of my smart mom, I’ve never felt like I had to dumb myself down for anyone. Because of my smart mom, I was never afraid to raise my hand in class when I knew an answer. Because of my smart mom, being teased for my “nerdy” interests never deterred me from wanting to learn more. Because of my smart mom, I won awards for foreign language in high school. I took three languages my senior year. I got into good colleges and got merit scholarships. I frequently made the dean’s list. I graduated cum laude. Because of my smart mom, I have the knowledge, the critical thinking skills, and the audacity to write and publish about politics and social issues. Because of my smart mom, I am where I am today. I am so proud of my brilliant mother and so eternally grateful for such a wonderful role model in my life. I will never stop learning, never stop thinking, never stop trying my hardest to be the smart daughter my smart mom deserves.