Friday, 26 February 2010

And Don't Do His Homework

So the husband and I are working our way through a series of Coen Brothers' films. On Tuesday night we watched Barton Fink, and it took me a day or so to really process the kooky thing. But one performance haunts me now, and it's that of Judy Davis as Audrey Taylor, the Southern secretary to a famous Southern writer named W.P. Mayhew (loosely based on William Faulkner).

The film is set in 1941, so Audrey has fantastically feminine 1940s clothes. But she has the misfortune to be Mayhew's mistress as well as his secretary, and he's an abusive drunk. In one scene, Mayhew, having gotten drunk at a picnic lunch, slaps Audrey in front of Barton. Barton, the self-appointed playwright of "the common man", is furious. But Audrey tells Barton that she understands Mayhew and that Mayhew is a great man. He needs her and can't write without her. Blah, blah, blah. Emotionally abused women tend to talk like that.

Now Barton is having a terrible time with writer's block and loneliness. He calls up Audrey, one of the only nice people he knows in Hollywood, and begs her to come over. He sounds insane. And probably because he sounds insane, Audrey comes over. She says she'll help him with the film script he has to write; she does it all the time "for Bill".

It turns out that Audrey more-or-less writes all of Mayhew's film scripts. And Barton, who is a huge Mayhew fan, is suddenly horrified when he realizes that Audrey might have been writing Mayhew's books, too. After much hemming and hawing and pleas for understanding Audrey admits it. Barton goes ballistic. And then they go to bed and— . Well, anyway, things don't end well for Audrey.

It was a day before I remembered the Episode of the Essay. Dear me, what are the statutes of limitation on a high school essay? Twenty years? Thirty? It was definitely over twenty-five years ago.

I had a big crush on a boy in high school. A huge crush. And this boy was not into me at all. I didn't understand why not when I was so smart. We would have long intellectual arguments in which I would defeat him and he would curse me out for a feminist. At the time I thought intellectual victories were a way to win a man's love. (Ah, ha ha ha. Well, I was a teenager, what do you want? Men in the movies love sparky women who best them in arguments.)

Our friends knew I had a crush on him, and he probably did too. And one day he called me up, frantic, because he had an essay due and he hadn't started yet. I talked him through the planning of this essay. I asked him about the books. I asked him about his thesis, his arguments, his conclusion.

"Can't you just write it for me?" he whined.

"No, I can't just write it for you," I said, although thrilled above all else that HE NEEDED ME, me and me alone. "But come over here and I'll see what I can do."

So he came over with his books and his miserable notes, and I got out a sheaf of typewriting paper and turned my typewriter on. (These were still typewriting days, you see.) And we wrote the darned essay "together".

Afterwards, I was disgusted by the whole thing. We went to two different schools, so there was no way I was going to get into trouble. It's not like my crush object was going to confess. But I knew I had done something very wrong, and I knew my crush object had behaved shamefully. It's not pleasant, having a crush on somebody like that.

And, of course, I had my reward. The crush object was sounding off one day to a female friend of mine about what a gentleman he was and how he always treated girls well.

"Well, what about Seraphic?" she said.

"What about her?" he said.

(I was in the room, by the way.)

"She's a girl, and you don't treat her well."

My crush object clicked his tongue.

"She's not a girl girl," he said, and his words went into me like bullets. They lodged in my brain. When, ten years later, my therapist remarked that I was a very feminine woman, I was startled. I said, "What?" I was probably wearing my blue-and-black mediaeval goth top and ankle-length black velvet goth skirt at the time. And I was, in fact, a very feminine woman. But this fact had been completely obscured for me by a teenage boy--one who got nice girls to do his laundry at university--who couldn't have given a damn.

And so I'll augment what I said to Modest Millie, girls: not only don't bake them brownies, don't do their homework, either. If you let boys take advantage, they surely will. And you won't have just them to blame.

Update: And here's something else for Singles at my other blog.


theobromophile said...

There are some men who like women who can keep up (or even do them one better). For the most part, they are all over the age of 40 - or maybe 50 - and are tremendously intelligent and successful themselves.

That's why movies always show the middle-aged man with the sparky, smart woman who is 20 years his junior. Sometimes it's the boy on the motorcycle or who is captain of the football team who falls for the girl who is super-smart.

But young, intellectual men? No, no, they do not really like smart women; they like women who make them feel smart.

Seraphic said...

Yes! And smart girls know this and use it to their advantage. Ah ha ha ha ha ha! The secret to getting along with young intellectual men at cocktail parties is saying, "So what do you think about X? Wow, I never thought about it that way before. Are you a professor or something?"

Then, if he was gorgeous and smart but a total snooze, you can tell him you just don't feel a spark when he calls you up.

Meanwhile, if a guy thinks you are hot, he won't care if you have totally different opinions (unless they are about his own personal fabulousness). He will just think "she's so hot" whenever you talk. The really bright ones might think "How tragic that such a hot girl can be so wrong."

Sheila said...

I had a friend who wasted a year helping the object of her affections with his Latin homework in college. I doubt he would have passed without her daily study guides. She literally spent hours making these handy crib sheets he could use in class. And yet he still could not imagine going out with her. When it came time for the Spring Formal and he was desperate for a date, our friends tried vainly to get him to think of her name. In the end I think I actually said "What about X?" and he looked at me like I was nuts.

The following year a male friend took this girl aside and said, "Y does not care that you exist because you do everything for him. Stop right away, or he will never care about you."

Luckily, there was a happy ending. She stopped doing his homework, wouldn't go with him anywhere unless he asked nicely, and even teased him from time to time. They got married last month, and the man never stops marvelling how he managed to get himself such a wonderful woman he looks up to so much.

A lesson for you!

Seraphic said...

You're sure it's a totally happy ending? Like, does he have a job? Does he do anything around the house or garden? I'm a little worried here, Sheila!

Elspeth said...

I've had the same issue. "You have problems talking with girls? Why don't you just practice on Elspeth?" (I was in the room, and the conversation.)

However, I am going to stick up for (some of) the men here. I'd draw a distinction between the ones who want to feel intelligent, and the ones who actually are. Men who like intelligent women are easy to recognize by their habits (being impressed by cleverness, marriage proposals) (Hi, BA!)


Meredith said...

Re: Sheila's friend (who is also my friend)and her crush, yah, it's a happy ending, and he does have a job. He's doing cool stuff for the Navy, actually. He was just a bit thick sometimes as an undergrad... as was I... as were many of us. As to doing stuff around the house, I expect both of them are chipping away at making their Navy digs habitable. They just moved last month!

Seraphic said...

Great! I love a happy ending. Yay!

I was an incredibly thick undergraduate myself, come to think of it!

Lemons said...

I know a guy with a bachelors in economy who refuses to date anyone without her being able to match up with his intellect. He is very smart, extremely physically fit, but he has extremely high standards and "says" that he wants someone just like himself in intellect and fitness (he expects her to spend 8 hours at a gym per week!!) and political and corporate know-how. However, since he's never actually dated and having been one who's seen the effects that stroking his ego has (i.e. "So, Bill, can you explain Wall Street to me *again*") I have a feeling he'll probably change his mind when he meets the right girl-- who will probably not be able to do his homework.

I have definitely struggled with this though. I have a hard time dumbing myself down, even when I know I should.

Alex said...

Theobromophile- I think you are missing a subtle distinction when you say "(men) do not really like smart women; they like women who make them feel smart." I think it's more that we like women who don't make us feel stupid. It's really attractive when I know someone is smarter than I am but she doesn't feel the need to remind me of that all the time. Maybe some women also prefer men who make them feel smart? Something to think about.

Also, there are two different kinds of debates/arguments: one where you simply try to poke as many holes in another person's position as you can with no real regard for letting them "save face," and another where you actually try to change a person's mind about something. I'll admit that I don't much care to have the first type of debate with a woman (whereas I might occasionally enjoy it with another man) but I'm really impressed when a woman actually knows her stuff well enough to persuade me to change my mind about something. I find that extremely attractive. And it's definitely happened to me.

Elspeth-- Look on the bright side. If guys "practice" talking to you, that means you get to practice talking to them, and you'll eventually figure out a way to improve whatever attribute of yourself it was that caused the other person to say that about you in the first place. Now you're in on the joke, and you know what's coming.

Seraphic-- I'm deeply amused at how half of your comment boxes seem to get taken up by comments that are tangentially, but only indirectly, related to your original post.

Anna said...

Hmm....does this sort of thing have any application in terms of you doing your OWN homework while he does HIS own homework, but you both do it together at the same table?

Seraphic said...

So much to say, dear me.

First, Lemons, nobody is talking about you "dumbing down". I'm not even sure what that means. If you are in a classroom, and you know the answer, you put your hand up. If you are at a cocktail party, you give someone else a chance to shine. It's just good manners. Saying "What do you think about X? Wow, I've never heard that before. Are you a professor?" is not dumbing down. It's being nice.

Alex seems to have the answer: it's not that men don't like bright women: it's that they don't like being made to look stupid. Extra-sensitive (and immature) men feel stupid rather easily and therefore are often threatened by a peppy girl with a mind of her own. But even reasonable men can get annoyed (and bored) if a woman jaws at them constantly about how she's right and he's wrong and doesn't he agree and SCORE!

Alex, I am happy that my readers comment at all. I don't care how "indirectly" they respond to my posts. Say you are "amused" by my readers again, and I won't post your comment. I am always happy to get a guy's eye view, but mind your manners.

Anna, I think each doing one's own homework together sounds very nice--a nice companionable activity, and a good incentive for getting it done!

Lemons said...

Well, I was using a bit of hyperbole when I said "dumbing down." Mostly because basically, I have been told, literally, in those words, to "dumb down and act like a stupid female" in order to gain a guy's attention. *shudder* I've never actually done that. :P

I definitely agree with the fact that we shouldn't let men feel inferior at all. But there's a fine line between being respectful, polite and trying not to commandeer the conversation, and then listening to the people who really do think you should "dumb down" for a man. For me, anyway. I know I often face conflicting interests when I want the guy take the intellectual reigns and when I want him to know I'm smart, too. When I should do it, how often, on what subject, etc.

Seraphic said...

Frankly, I don't know what "dumb down" means!

Does it mean you are actually supposed to lie and say or pretend you don't know something you do know?

Does it mean you are supposed to come clean about not knowing something you might otherwise fake knowing? (This second idea strikes me as not "dumbing down" but being refreshingly honest.)

I wish I knew what your interlocutor really meant when he said "dumb down and act like a stupid female." The sexism of that statement takes my breath away. Females are not naturally stupid unless they are (as in some places they sadly are) deprived of adequate nutrition and sleep! So anyone who says something like that deserves to be completely ignored.

IA_ said...

Auntie Seraphic,

I've two comments I want to make. First in response to the article about my experience doing homework for girls. The second is in response to the comment thread to affirm men do like intelligent women.

Many years ago in high school I would sit in a classroom during lunchtime to avoid socially dealing with other high school students. I would take the opportunity to pursue my own personal studies or read.

Sometimes these two very cute girls, a blonde and brunette, would sit in the classroom to gossip where the other girls couldn't hear them. It didn't take long for them to get the idea to ask me to "help" them on their homework. Since through most of school I was ignored by girls I was more than happy to help in exchange for their gratitude.

Sure I kind of liked the blonde, but only because of her looks and the fact she wasn't outright mean to me like so many other girls. I was under no impression that they liked me (they regularly discussed their college boyfriends who would buy them things) but I was just glad some attractive young lady was impressed by any quality of mine, even if it was only to exploit me.

I never outright cheated for them. It was a small ego boost for me and I did actually help them in their studies.

IA_ said...

Now that I'm older I've my girlfriend. I'm in love. She is incredibly intelligent, smarter than me in fact. She is highly educated but we're both trained in different fields.

She is one of the smartest people of every one she works with, but she is very humble about it. She never tries to show me up, she is always impressed by my knowledge and I am always impressed by hers. (Which is easier since we've studied different things.)

I am impressed by her knowledge and quick-wittedness, among other things (she is also very beautiful.) An intelligent woman can make men look very good. Unintelligent women can make men look very bad. Men laugh about others behind their backs if they parade substandard women on their arms. Men are in no way repelled by intelligence.

What many women confuse though is the fact that men are repelled by women who don't look up to them. Men don't care for women who don't respect them. It makes sense since women shouldn't put up with men who don't respect them either.

This respect is shown through many ways, the most common is through little actions, little interactions, subtle body motions, even the tones of voice people use.

When two people get into intellectual arguments it is easy to see each other as enemies. Men are trained to dispatch enemies quickly, deftly, and ruthlessly. When people view each other as enemies they communicate that through actions, subtle and explicit. Would you expect a man to like you if you've just bested him in an intellectual discussion where you've communicated through your voice and body language the message, "I'm better than you, I'm smarter than you?" You've just insulted him!

Some girls confuse their ability to argue and best a man in a debate with intelligence. Through debate experience I can tell you many women are very good debaters, but they don't try to ask their opponents for a date after a thirty two minute Lincoln-Douglas debate. (Many of these girls I've met are very smart and have ideas about becoming hot-shot lawyers. In the meantime they are very frustrated in their love lives because so many have bought into our culture's lies, but that is a different story.)

Seraphic's magical advice about dealing with intellectuals at cocktail parties is dead on.

Men do like intelligence, it is very attractive. What men don't don't care for are women who are disrespectful to them and make them look bad.

Thank you for letting me ramble Seraphic. I apologize for its length. I don't know how accurate my comment is, it is just how I understand things through the filter of my life's experiences. Everyone should feel free to take this comment with a grain of salt.

Lemons said...

By dumbing down, I mean exactly how it sounds. This "friend" who *is* very sexist and is no longer my friend, told me once, when I liked a guy in one of my classes, that I should call him and ask him for help with a big assignment I had due. I said "But... I don't need help. It's almost done."

His response was: "That doesn't matter. Act like a stupid female if you want him to like you."

Needless to say, I *did* ignore my friend, and didn't ask the guy for any help, except when I legitimately needed it. i.e. "I don't know why my car is making this noise!" And cars is something I definitely know little to nothing about. So it goes back to what you were saying-- don't pretend you don't know something when you do. But don't be a know-it-all, either. I don't know anything about cars, so I didn't pretend to.

Seraphic said...

In general, healthy young men like to feel useful. If you give them a chance to help you with something, they tend to respond with enthusiasm, especially if it presents a challenge.

(See IA's confession, above.)

theobromophile said...

I think you are missing a subtle distinction when you say "(men) do not really like smart women; they like women who make them feel smart." I think it's more that we like women who don't make us feel stupid.

Alex: before law school, I was a nanotechnologist. I scare men when I answer their questions about my background - no scoring points, cheap debating, or put-downs required.

I don't feel like going into detail about my horror stories, but, suffice to say, I've learned the hard way that following the Suzy Sweetheart lines above leads to a life of misery. Single is not the worst thing in the world; dating someone who refuses to reciprocate on emotional support is far, far worse.

Adding some data to this: a British study which followed people over several decades found that, for every 16-point increase in IQ above 100 in men, they were 35% more likely to get married. (The small exception came about three or four standard deviations away from the norm.) For every 16-point increase in IQ above 100, women were 40% LESS likely to find a husband.

On a less-scientific note, but one that cancels out the personality factor, one of the ladies' mags (Glamour?) sent out its staffers to bars, posing as flight attendants, masseuses, kindergarten teachers, stockbrokers, and such. Same woman, different profession, madly different results. Stockbrokers and dentists got panned; the same woman, as a teacher, got drinks bought for her and men's phone numbers.

Is anyone really surprised? The intimidation factor often comes from women's audacity to exist as they are, not from any behaviours.

Seraphic said...

Well, how do you explain the Marry Smart woman's research into S.W.A.N.S (or whatever she calls ambitious, earning women)? SHE thinks women like you have a better chance of marrying well. I don't know--take the quiz or whatever.

I had a similar experience on a Catholic dating site: I didn't have much luck as a theology grad student, so I set up an alter ego on the same website with a different email address. "Arwen" was a kindergarten teacher, and the cute lawyer from a nearby parish I had my eye on, emailed right away. Of course, "Arwen" was half-Italian, half-Polish, and the lawyer was Italian and.... Ah, let's face it. There was a lot in "Arwen" for a man to love. She even loved the "Godfather" movies except for the third one, of course. That "Arwen" was such a smoothie.

Anyway, the right man won't care that you were a nanotechnologist and now a lawyer. That's the thing about the right man. Meanwhile, he's probably a lawyer himself, and my prediction is older than you. Older men have less baggage than younger men about job status.

The important thing, for a successful-in-work woman, I think, is to not get a chip on one's shoulder. Also, not to look down on men in supposedly "lesser-than" professions. A Ph.D. friend of mine is marrying a plumber, and they're both very happy.