Why do Brits have a problem with clever females?

Jan 24, 2013
Dina Rickman

Mary Beard scandal suggests Britain’s attitude to successful women is ‘broken’


WHY do we have a problem with clever women? Following the furore over Mary Beard, whose appearance on BBC's Question Time caused an online torrent of misogynistic bile, some are questioning if Britain's attitude to intelligent women is broken.

For former Radio 4 newsreader Alice Arnold, many Brits are simply incapable of coping with clever women. She compares the experience of Beard, a classics professor at Cambridge, with the online reaction sparked by her fellow – male - academics David Starkey and Simon Schama.

When Starkey claimed Enoch Powell's racist 'rivers of blood' speech had some truth in it in the wake of the London riots, he caused offence but people argued against his abhorrent viewpoints rather than his appearance, she says. As for fellow TV historian Schama, Arnold writes, she "looked and looked" online but couldn't find anything like the bile directed against Beard.

So why is a clever, funny, woman such as the Newnham classics professor subject to such taunts?

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism campaign, which catalogues day-to-day abuse faced by women, told The Week it's not just clever women but "women in the public eye full stop" who face taunts.

"Look at the treatment of reality show stars by the Daily Mail, reducing them to pieces of meat and gleefully squawking over an inch of cellulite here or a 'cankle' there - or their cruel comments about airbrushing in Clare Balding's Diva magazine photo shoot," she said.

For famous women, says Bates, we "hold them to standards of beauty and obsessive 'thinness' and dissect them based on looks and sex appeal alone, regardless of what their actual role is" simply because they are in the public eye.

The phenomenon appears to be a particularly British one. According to sociology professor Dr Christine B. Whelan, studies in the US have shown clever women in positions of power are viewed as sexier by men. But back in Blighty, ambitious and clever women tend only to arouse suspicion, with Conde Nast boss Nicholas Coleridge cataloguing the phenomenon in an article for the Daily Mail last year.

 "What is it about ambitious women?" Coleridge asked. "Even now, 12 years into the 21st century, those two words used in juxtaposition conjure up something aggressive, ruthless, predatory and scary."

Speaking on Radio 4's Woman's Hour yesterday, Beard said she thought other women who don't share her "thick skin" feel "crushed" when they receive the sort of abuse she suffered

But why should they be abused at all, especially about their looks? Bates believes men tend to be "afforded the luxury of being appraised and discussed largely based on their actual role" rather than their physical appearance.

For Arnold, it's time for women everywhere – however funny, serious, pretty or plain - to fight back against "sexist abuse and bullying".

"It must not remain hidden. We must shout about it… and shout loudly," she said. "We can't close the social media door now that it has been opened and we need to draw attention to it."

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What's all this "we" stuff? I'm a Brit from generations of Brits, a bloke and I'm over 60, so that presumably puts me in the particularly evil category,. The only problem I've ever had with clever women has been an attraction to them.

Whether as a friends, lover, employer or employee I'd take a clever woman over an outwardly attractive bimbo any day of the week. It's not just me, either.

High achieving, clever women are perceived as a threat to the disintegrating patriachal paradigm.

Mary Beard blatantly lied on that program and was caught on it. The British people are seething with rage over the left here expect far worse than name calling soon.

You must be a deluded lesbian.

I shouldn't need to tell this to a journalist, but don't base your perception of public opinion on the Daily Mail. In fact I think this is the problem with journalism becoming so over saturated and self-indulgent these days that it has become almost completely isolated and irrelevant to the human population. Here's a suggestion, why not get off twitter/the internet/24 news channels/heat magazine and go talk to some actual men (in reality). Maybe then you wouldn't produce such insulting bile from your cave of media-inspired insecurity.

This has really annoyed me this article, it's complete nonsense. It's like me asking why women don't like men who don't drunkenly fight each other in the street.

What a load of lefty-liberal, overanalytical bollocks. Margaret Thatcher was voted into office 3 times in a row in the UK. I think even a numpty like you realises that men would have had to have voted for her for her to achieve this. I cannot believe people like you are so thick, and the irony is that you're a woman. Mary Beard is ridiculed because she talks nonsense and LIES. Period.

The issue is not how intelligent Mary Beard is. The issue is that she, like all academics, have no concept of the real world. They live and work in a very privileged and cloistered environment and do not mix with ordinary mortals who inhabit towns where English is no longer the first language. Go to Sainsburys in Oxford, to cite just one example - you'll be lucky to see, let alone hear, an English person. Us Brits are well and truly fed up with the continuing immigration into this country and its associated problems.

What utter tosh. Immigration and immigrants bring huge economic benefits to Britain. It's the xenophobic misogynists expressing their blinkered opinions who give this country a bad name.

you seem to confuse 'lying' with 'expressing an opinion'. Just because you don't happen to agree with that opinion doesn't mean that the other person isn't telling the truth.

Yeah, right. Thatcher was not interested in women's issues - she was the original NeoCon who planted the roots of this nation's destruction. I know - I've seen it happen.

as for Mary Beard, did you yourself graduate from Oxbridge and then go on to be a Don? Nope? Thought not. Bitterness and jealousy make you sound idiotic, and therefore annul the nonsensical claims of your post.

Much of the abuse suffered by Beard also came from women. But your post - average man - is pretty abusive in itself, wouldn't you say? Why not heed your own advice and get off the Internet altogether. And don't believe for one minute that your views are held by the average Briton. They're not, and in a few years' time, your sort will struggling to survive extinction. Can't wait...

No, I graduated with a REAL degree in a REAL subject with a PRACTICAL application. Microbiology. So I can spot a bitter bacterium when I see one.