DAILY TELEGRAPH: "Don’t downplay your smarts, ladies. It’s not worth it" by Samantha Brett

As First Published in The Daily Telegraph  - June 9, 2017 12:00am

THIS year was supposed to be the year of the smart, successful, strong, independent woman.

After all, there are now more female CEOs (thanks to the AFL’s new appointments), more women “leaning in” to their careers (thanks to Sheryl Sandberg), renewed dreams of being a woman in power (thank you, Theresa May) and more women embracing the notion of strong being beautiful (thanks to Ronda Rousey, Gigi Hadid and Wonder Woman).

So I was mightily flummoxed to read new research out of Harvard positing that the modern, single woman of 2017 wants to be seen as “less ambitious” in order to be seen as more eligible to single men in the marriage market.

Say what?

While it sounds like a superfluous study that belongs to the 1950s, the authors (three economic professors) assure us their findings are legitimate. And considering most of the women I know are successful and single, I was eager to read more.

To get their findings, the professors polled more than 100 single women studying their MBA about their career aspirations — first telling them their answers would not be read by their male colleagues (i.e. potential husbands), and then asking them for another set of responses that would be seen by their classmates.

The study found that when the single women thought their male colleagues would be viewing their answers, they significantly downplayed their ambitions, saying they wanted less pay, less hours in the workplace and less responsibility, leading the professors to conclude that the less ambitious the woman purported to be, the more she thought her chances increased of getting a shiny diamond ring on her index finger.

Less ambition = marriage material? (Pic: iStock)

“Absurd, ludicrous and farcical!” is how the men I polled described the notion they don’t like motivated, intelligent women. “Of course we do!” they said angrily. “There’s nothing sexier than a woman with brains.”

(Clearly none of the men I questioned have ego issues.)

Yet somehow these Harvard educated women who were interviewed believed that their smarts drastically decreased their chances of finding a suitable mate.

Perhaps they have one eye on my generation: a generation of women who were promised we could indeed “have it all”; that we should shun advice from our well-meaning grandmothers who pleaded with us to settle down early. Instead, we were told we should focus on climbing the corporate ladder, travel the world, enjoy all that life had to offer and to follow our dreams because heck, marriage and motherhood could wait.

As more and more of my Gen Y counterparts followed this new-found path to supposed liberation, the marriage age in Australia rose from 21 years old in 1971 to 28 years old today, and that number seems to be steadily rising.

But with the odds now seemingly stacked against older, single women (apparently there’s a Man Drought! Men have too many choices! Tinder has ruined the dating pool! Single women will be single forever!), perhaps the younger generation who answered the Harvard survey are rethinking their man plan. Perhaps they have wised up to the fact that sometimes “having it all” isn’t actually a reality.

Or maybe they’re just worried about bursting the bubble of the sometimes fragile male ego.

A decade ago I wrote about a similar poll carried out by an economics professor at Colombia University. This time both sexes were asked about their mating preferences during a speed dating event. The study found that the men in the room avoided the women they perceived to be more intelligent than themselves.

“We males are a gender of fragile egos,” researcher Professor Raymond Fisman concluded saying that many are indeed threatened by brains or success that exceeds their own.

“Should Hillary Pretend To Be a Flight Attendant?” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asked in response, as Clinton geared up for her first Presidential run. Dowd insinuated that perhaps for Hillary to have any chance in the oval office, she’d have to focus less on being ballsy in the boardroom and more on being mumsy in the playroom.

Hillary says No. (Pic: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

When I asked Maureen Dowd to comment on the latest findings ten years on, she told me she’s no expert. “I don’t think my career interfered in my personal life,” she said. Dowd isn’t married.

Which leads me to believe that perhaps researchers, demographers, writers and authors alike, are all trying desperately to come up with the exact reason as to why so many older women are still single.

The problem (according to the single women I polled) is no-one ever mentions the fact that some actually choose to go at it alone. That with the ability nowadays for women to have children, own their own home, run successful businesses and do so without a male chromosome in sight, that they might actually make the conscious decision to cease the perpetual search for a mate, and decide — shock, horror — that men aren’t really necessary.

In fact, shunning marriage and motherhood has become so commonplace that companies like Apple and Facebook have added “freezing eggs” to employee health insurance benefits.

“Being embarrassed of being single is so old-hat,” a 40-year-old single woman told me. (She’s single by choice and doesn’t want her name being published in this article for fear of being bombarded by date invitations.)

“We are pitied, scorned at, shamed and made to feel like failures. But everyone forgets a simple fact: some of us choose not to settle down.”

But back to the Harvard study.

The researchers say we don’t have to accept the fact men don’t like career women as the status quo; that they’re glad the study proved single women are afraid single men will see their ambitions as a turn off because “the more we know the more we can do to fix it.”

Fix it?

Perhaps if a man doesn’t appreciate a woman for their smarts, they’re not the man for you in the first place...

Samantha Brett is a Seven News Reporter and author of “The Game Changers”.

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