Why everyone loves to hate clever women….

Gail Trimble has been declared amazing in the admittedly small world of University Challenge. The PhD student from Corpus Christi College Oxford demonstrated a remarkable degree of general knowledge recall and led her College to victory. So far so good.

So how long did it take for the backlash to a woman’s achievement to start? Seconds flat. She’s been vilified and insulted. Here’s a random assortment for your reading pleasure(?)

“Each answer was met with a smug grin or a cocky smirk. My normally placid girlfriend ended half-poetically seething: ‘Not a friend did she own at school’, before physically turning her back on the screen so she didn’t have to bear this odious little smug specimen.”

From Guardian article

“‘a hateful know-it-all’ and an ‘ annoying bitch’….a ‘horse-toothed snob’ who ‘ruins University Challenge every time she is on it with her “better than thou” attitude’

From Daily Mail article

“‘so brain-rupturingly irritating and smug’ that they hoped science would come up with ‘a screen that you can reach through and punch those inside’. ” From TV Scoop (by the way this site has published a disingenious, half-assed apology here

“Bright, she may be, but the girl is “proper butters” as we say over here. I mean, I’m turned on by exceptional intellect like the rest, but it has to be carried in a vehicle of reasonable visual excellence, and this bird is considerably sub par!

Comment from Failed Muso on Riemann’s Cut

Father Jack Hacket over at Fark.com “”She is now studying for a doctorate in Latin literature.”She can’t be that smart then.”

From FastFude.com“Judging from her hair, one can only imagine the state of her vast, unkempt etc etc.”

Defences of Trimble have been interesting, another commenter on Fark.com, Perducci, hits the nail on the head:

There are plenty of smart people out there who others really like or respect (Ken Jennings on Jeopardy, Stephen Hawking, Obama, Malcolm Gladwell…). Not everyone loves them, and they have plenty of detractors, but when they’re attacked it’s for their ideas, conclusions, opinions, etc. — not their attitude.

And – they’re all male. Being male and clever isn’t seen as a problem, being female and clever is.

But perhaps even more frustratingly is that where publications have sought to defend her, it’s been by reference to her being, well female and good-looking. “Men have been captivated by “hot lips Trimble” and “tasty Trimble”, and she has been described as “a fine young lady, beautiful in a scholarly sort of way”.” The Observer. Trimble herself has been asked about her status as a “sex symbol” and her brother was approached over Facebook by Nuts magazine asking whether they could do a semi-naked photo shoot (according to Trimble on Radio 4 this morning). Quite why her brother was asked and not, say, her I don’t know – maybe Nuts believes that close male relatives are the people who can consent to this?

As Ruby at The Anti-Room points out:

Once again we have an extraordinarily bright and academically excellent woman being reduced to her physicality…Why are people threatened by others who are cleverer than them? But this case is certainly about ability as much as it is about gender and Trimble herself says in the article:

“I don’t feel I would have been treated the same way were I a man.”

It’s true. Patriarchy dictates that all the intelligence (and the centres of power that come with that intelligence) should reside in the heads of men. Women shouldn’t dare try to match – or gasp, exceed – their intellectual levels. Smart women are bitches who are too clever for their own good and are asking to be challenged, negated and put down.

So apparently it’s OK to be smart if you are also deemed heteronormatively attractive, because that, of course, makes everything OK! (One site coined the new phrase “smexy” (smart + sexy). But being smart and female is only OK if you don’t put blokes of wanting to have sex with you apparently.