Smart, Not Smarter

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After a movie, two single friends, Robert and Elsa, are having dinner at a restaurant (their names have been changed to protect their identity):

Robert: Women today are so dense! I would very much like to meet someone with half a brain.

Elsa: Would you like to meet a woman with more than half a brain?

Robert: [puzzled by Elsa’s question] But, of course. I meant to say AT LEAST half a brain.

Elsa: How about a woman with a full brain?

Robert: [even more puzzled and unsure where Elsa was going with her line of questioning] Uhm, sure. I would like her to be smart, if that’s what you mean.

Elsa: How smart?

Robert: [casually shrugging his shoulders] However smart she is will be fine by me.

Elsa: How do you see the two of you interacting when an important decision would need to be made?

Robert: We would talk about it and together we would make a decision.

Elsa: If during the discussion she would make a suggestion about the final decision and you found her suggestion to be wise, then you would go along with it?

Robert: Oh sure, absolutely!

Elsa: What if you two found yourselves making more decisions based on her suggestions than on your suggestions? Would you be ok with that?

Robert: [pensive and after a few seconds] No. I wouldn’t.

Elsa: Why not?

Robert: Because that would undermine my role as the leader and it would emasculate me. As the leader, I need to be the one doing more of the decision-making for us.

Elsa: So, you would like to be with a smart woman, but she can’t be smarter than you?

Robert: [with a deeply pensive and sad and disappointed and shocked look on his face and facing downward toward the table] No. I guess not…

“So, [Robert] you would like to be with a smart woman, but she can’t be smarter than you?”

Elsa was able to get Robert to confess what so many people, men, pseudo-egalitarians, neo-egalitarians and even some egalitarians are not willing to acknowledge. A smart woman is preferred over a dense woman, just like a smart man is preferred over a dense man. The difference is that society places limits on women’s—but not on men’s—intellect in dating, marriage, and the church, both consciously and subconsciously. This limit is one that girls learn to “submit” to at an early age when they start to become interested in boys. A limit that women place on themselves as adults when they dumb themselves down in order to accommodate men like Robert. A limit in intelligence, wisdom, and giftedness advocated by gender-hierarchicalists who instruct women to “step-down” so the men can “step-up” both in the home and in the church.

A smart woman is preferred, but she cannot be smarter than the man.

In order for the woman to accomplish such a feat she must regularly monitor herself to not surpass the man who is the reference point of her limits. Sadly, far too many women find themselves in this predicament in dating, in marriage, and in the church. In fact, women carry this self-monitored debasement with them into the workforce and society at large. Not to mention, the media does a superb job in reminding women and setting expectations of their place as the inferior sex and serving as partner to the patriarchal church in debasing women so that men may rise and remain dominant.

At the time when Robert and Elsa had the above conversation they were attending a gender-hierarchical church, a Calvary Chapel in Los Angeles county, where the following event took place. A male member of the church, who was also an elder, just graduated from a well known university in Southern California where he received the honor of the top student in the school of engineering. The senior pastor dedicated a Sunday service to teach on the value of this man’s accomplishments and the significance of his witness and evangelism as Christians live out their faith before the world. The following year, the same honor of top engineering student from the same university was awarded to a member of their church. What are the odds of that?! Certainly, the senior pastor would have topped his sermon from the previous year now that two of their church members had received the top engineering student honor. However, there was no sermon. There was not even a mention from the senior pastor or from anyone on stage during the church service of the second student who had received the same scholastic honor. There was only a quiet celebration party for the second student at a nearby coffeehouse and the senior pastor and his wife showed up for a few minutes. Why the disparity?

The second award winner was a woman.

A double-standard of praise was clearly at work, and even research on the subject confirms that society’s patriarchal conditioning leads people to give praise to men and deny it to women even on identical accomplishments.

This gender-hierarchical church has a history of struggles with educated and intellectual members on many fronts. First, women could not be “smarter” than men because the men would feel “emasculated” and their authority would be at risk of being usurped by the women. Second, intellectual women could not be publicly praised because other women in the church, particularly stay at home wives and moms (many of whom had no education beyond high school—if that) would “feel bad about themselves”. Third, educated and intellectual men and women, were advised to not freely discuss their backgrounds when meeting new people because “people’s jobs do not define who they are”. This principle is a great point, but the underlying reason was to avoid making the non-educated members and visitors “feel bad about themselves.” Of course, this advice was selectively dismissed by the pastor when he publicly praised the male honor student, then chose to abide by it one year later when he kept silent about the female honor student.

Perhaps, the pastor did not intend to practice a double standard of praise and chose to not publicly praise the female honor student for numerous of valid reasons. Perhaps after his public praise of the male honor student he received negative feedback and was reminded of the principle to not make people “feel bad about themselves” on the subject of education and intellect. On the other hand, members in the church practiced various forms of double standards regarding education and intellect between men and women as already mentioned above, such as the requirement that the women could not be “smarter” than the men in order to avoid emasculating the men and avoid usurping the leadership of men, such were the concerns of Robert and he was not unique.

Consider this detail that indicates the senior pastor in most likelihood chose to practice a double standard of praise. In fact, this additional detail, to some extent, aligns the senior pastor with Robert. Both the senior pastor and his wife attended the quiet celebration party for the female honor student. The senior pastor’s wife showed up thrilled and her bright smile made it clear she was a proud ‘mama’ of the female honor student. She stayed for an extended amount of time in joyous fellowship with the party attendees. The senior pastor, on the other hand, did not have the same enthusiastic and proud smile. He greeted the attendees, congratulated the honor student, and remained in the party only a few minutes not interacting much—which was not his typical personality. Maybe he had other business to attend to? Maybe he felt guilty because he had not publicly praised the accomplishments of the female honor student as he did the prior year when he praised the accomplishments of the male honor student? Maybe, he felt awkward in comparison to such a brilliant woman? Actually, that is quite common among men particularly in gender-hierarchical churches, including male pastors in comparison to their female congregants. It is that awkwardness in men that drives women to debase themselves. It is that awkwardness in men that requires women to not be as ‘smart’ as men. By the way, the female honor student went on to perform even greater accomplishments in the field of science…and she no longer attends that church.

Now what?

People in marriages and churches frequently navigate educational and intellectual differences in a healthy way that does not create separation, division, or inferiority. Instead, they practice mutual praise, admiration, and support. Unfortunately, others do not navigate educational and intellectual differences well and as a result, division and even antagonism is fostered.

What are the key character traits that help us stay in loving community with people who are different from ourselves and allow us to foster an environment where everyone in the group is valued?

Edited: 6.15.2015

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