Feminism | Posted by Katherine C on 05/18/2010
Brilliance is Human
We’ve all read about the studies and statistics on girls in school- that we self-defeat in math and science, that we don’t speak up in class. That we’re afraid. But what about when our teachers and classmates doubt us- when they question our individual intrinsic creativity? Why is brilliance perceived as masculine?
My friend Zoey is a mathematical genius; she was playing around with complex multiplication problems when she was four. She’s in the Higher Math class, in which there is a smaller contingent of über-math-brains: kids who are passionate about math and have a real talent for it. Brilliant people, all. Zoey is the only girl. She asked the teacher if she could move her seat to where these high-performing boys sit so that she could collaborate with them. Her teacher informed her that she wasn’t a “natural” like the boys- “You just work hard,” he told her. She couldn’t be truly brilliant- she was just a girl.
In my AP English class, I am the only girl, in a class with a female majority, that will volunteer to read her work out loud when called upon to do so. It’s not because my female classmates are shy of public speaking- I’ve heard them give history presentations and the like without a hitch. They know they can’t be truly brilliant. They’re just girls.
In art class, a girl’s boyfriend reaches over whenever he thinks she’s not doing her painting “right”, takes the brush out of her hand, and does it for her. I asked her, doesn’t this bother you? “Well, maybe a little, but he’s such a better artist than me.” She knows she can’t create. Only he can.
The list marches on- example upon example of incredibly original people who have their natural expression stifled on account of their gender. We see the same thing in art history: female painters stuck to still lives and portraits rather than work toward knarlier subjects, no matter how skilled they were, because these were masculine territory. Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter, tackled the problem with her “Seville” Magdalene, or “Magdalene as Melancholy,” showing the saint associated with both promiscuity and intellectual excellence in the traditional “melancholy” pose of male intellectuals, which then symbolized creative thought. She subverted the iconography of her day to assert herself as a woman artist.
Brilliance is not male- it is human, and we as young women need to claim it, because as a title it will not be handed to us.
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