Master's Thesis and the "Smart Girl" Cliche

Thursday, May 25, 2017

I went to SFSU right after I graduated high school.  I was never cool in school at all. I had barely any friends, I dressed weird, listened to loud and "scary" music, I liked to read (I can remember distinctly sitting alone at lunch while reading Paradise Lost) and was just generally  on the fringes of high school society.

Towards the end of my junior year, I got really into having a specific "look."  I was inspired by Dita Von Teese and dyed my platinum hair jet black, shopped for vintage clothes on Ebay, and wore red lipstick to class.  This evolved into being kind of goth and whatever that look was called in the early 2000s when you thought red eyeshadow was a good idea and your male friends suddenly started borrowing your eyeliner.  I was into my appearance because I had always been a really visual and creative person. I liked creating something with my identity.

My roommate in the dorms in San Francisco was into the same music as me, but had a completely different look which I never cared about.  She looked like a hippy, but her favorite band was AFI.  I ended up hanging out with her a lot and making friends with her friends from her hometown.  It was always kind of a joke that my hair had to be perfect and I fixed my eyeliner in the bathroom when we went places.  It was funny, for a while.

Once her "boys" came to visit her.  These were just a bunch of guys she went to high school with that she was friends with, but honestly they were all kind of douche bags.  The first thing they did was make fun of a girl who had purple hair in the hallway.  Then after plopping down in my tiny dorm room and making themselves completely at home, started asking me questions about my makeup while I was trying to mind my own business on AIM or Friendster or whatever the hell I did then on the internet.  After a few rounds of seemingly harmless banter, one of them asks "So when you go to sleep, does your face just come off on your pillow?" and everyone proceeded to laugh hysterically like it was the first joke ever told in the world.  I wore makeup, but let's be clear-I didn't pack it on.

The next year we moved into an apartment.  It was me, my roommate from the dorms, and two of her friends.  It was great!! It was my first apartment and I felt so cool.  I had a boyfriend at the time, and we spent a lot of time together.  So much in fact, that I was rarely at home.  I noticed that they recorded an answering machine message (yeah, this was a while ago) and left me out of it.  They left notes on my door instead of knocking and talking to me.  I left a hair dye box in the bathroom, and came home to a post-it on my door detailing costs for cleaning supplies and "labor" that I owed. Yup, my roommate had charged me "labor" to clean the bathroom that we shared. We had only lived there a month.  About 6 months into us living there, I decided that it was time for me to move on and move in with my boyfriend.  They all said they kind of saw it coming, and I could tell they were excited to be rid of me.  All of the utilities were in my name and I had to switch them over.  Something like the phone company or whatever didn't allow that, so I had to cancel the account, and they would reopen it.  Cool, no big deal.  Only I guess they thought I was responsible for the new deposit all on my own, because apparently they didn't realize that we would get the old deposit back and that would even everything out.  This was obviously the worst thing I could ever do to them (or so they thought) and decided to wage war.

I woke up the morning after I moved and saw a lengthy LiveJournal post (this was the end all be all in 2004, you'll remember) that explained how dumb I was.  Not just that I was stupid, but that I cared too much about makeup and that meant that I wasn't smart.  I was shallow, and insecure, and probably couldn't even read a whole book and that's why they hated me overnight.  They disowned their friends who had become friends with me, because I was that disgusting to them.  I was by far the dumbest person alive, because I wore eyeliner and styled my hair.  This was their logic, and I honestly have never forgotten it.


I dropped out of school shortly after that.


But today I found out I got an A on my Master's Thesis.  I'm putting together packets for applications to PhD programs.  I've curated a show for a major artist and I'm almost a certified expert in my field.  And guess what? I still wear eyeliner and dye my hair.  I don't mean to be braggadocios but one of the adjectives most used when describing me is "smart" and I'm well-known for being an academic and an avid book lover (yes, college roommates, I can read a whole book!).  Where did the stereotype come from that you can't be smart and care about your appearance?  Why can't I perfect a liquid eyeliner wing AND distinguish between Modern Art movements?  Why can't I have a large vocabulary AND be obsessed with finding the perfect matte red lipstick?  Why did these girls, who had once been so fond of me, suddenly think I'm a moron and shallow as a frisbee because I didn't want to pay their phone bill deposit? Maybe I've had a chip on my shoulder about it ever since, because it's something that has always hurt when I think about it.

I don't know what those girls are doing now, but I hope they're happy, and I sincerely mean that.  But part of me still hopes they catch a glimpse of me giving a lecture someday, with my perfect red lips and not a blonde root in sight. And that they will have to call me Doctor while they marvel at my winged liner.

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