His emails are always filled with their/there/they’re mistakes, but you never say anything. A friend asks you both a question about, say, what’s going on in Egypt and you have a strong opinion, but you let your boyfriend respond. Date night involves watching a high-brow French film and you just nod your head politely as he explains the movie’s complicated message, even though you understood it perfectly fine on your own, thank you. You are also capable of assembling a piece of Ikea furniture on your own, but you ask for his help anyway, because it makes him feel manly. These are all examples of what journalist Liz Jones, writing in the Daily Mail U.K., would call Silly Me Syndrome (SMS), which “happens when a woman dumbs herself down so as not to offend the man in her life. It is something we learn to do at a very early age, because women are born smarter than men.” You know, “Oh, silly me. I forgot what nine times seven is again.”Jones takes herself to task first, writing about the time she didn’t correct a boyfriend who pronounced “Arkansas” as if the end rhymed with “Kansas,” and for five years she was stuck pronouncing it incorrectly too whenever she was in his presence. “I knew that if I had pulled up the boyfriend who had not familiarised himself with the pronunciation of all 50 American states, he would not have had sex with me for about a fortnight,” she writes. “He would have gone quiet for a bit, and resented me for ever.”
Jones says that women also use SMS to get what they want — acting more giggly and sexy around men they want something from, rather than using their skills or intellect. She rather depressingly notes that she can’t think of one woman she knows “who does not morph into someone dimmer … when a man enters the room.” The reason, Jones says, that SMS has become so common — at least among the women she knows — is that women fear men won’t like them if they’re smarter or more capable than they are, and that men prize beauty over brains anyway. Jones cites a recent study which found that 73 percent of men “said they would prefer a stupid, pretty woman over a clever, less attractive one.”
I don’t deny that there are certainly women who dumb themselves down in order to appeal to men — Paris Hilton, I would say, has made an entire lucrative career out of that very thing. But I just don’t think, at least among the women that I know, that it’s as rampant as Jones believes. Plus, any man worth his salt — or my time — wouldn’t want or compel me to act dumber than I am, just to get his attention, affection, or to inflate his ego. (And I think it’s worth noting for both genders, that being smarter about something than someone else doesn’t mean you get to be a d**k about it; throwing your intelligence around like a weapon, just to make someone else feel small, isn’t an attractive quality in anyone.)
But that’s not to say I haven’t done it. For disclosure time! I once dated a guy who I would venture to say was significantly less sharp than me, at least when it came to certain subjects. And usually when he would weigh in with something stupid about a subject he clearly didn’t understand, I let it go, allowing him to think, I suppose, that I agreed with him (so long as it wasn’t, you know, offensive). But we weren’t a match, and I knew it, so maybe I felt it wasn’t worth the effort.
I’ve also been known to play up the part of my personality that’s a little more vapid — the side of me that loves reality TV and boys and shopping — as some sort of exercise in humor. For example, sitting across from John DeVore at dinner recently, I said something along the lines of, “So, like, can you explain the situation in Egypt to me in under a minute, before the wine comes?” And he laughed out loud and it was funny but why? I suppose because he knows that in actuality I am many things, including occasionally vapid, but mostly funny and nice and smart. He was in on the joke. And plus, I wasn’t trying to sleep with him. Obviously. If I was, I wouldn’t have even asked about Egypt … wait, where’s Egypt?
But what about you? Have you ever dumbed yourself down for a man? Do you or many of the women you know suffer from SMS? Tell us in the comments!