Being a Smart Girl

The other day, Jon came home from a shopping trip with KBear and said that a woman had started up a conversation with KBear, which went as follows:

Woman – You are so beautiful!  You could be a model!  Do you want to be a model?

KBear – I want to be a doctor or an engineer.

Woman – But you are just so pretty.  You could be a model!

KBear – I want to be a doctor or an engineer.

Woman – But, don’t you want to be a model?

KBear (to Jon) – I don’t want to talk to this person anymore.


My first reaction was to laugh hysterically and feel a sense of pride.  That’s my girl!

My second reaction was to feel a sense of awe for the advantage of KBear’s autism-y type ways.  How fantabulous that her social difficulties can also allow her to simply say what she thinks and write off silly strangers who are trying to convince her that what she wants isn’t legitimate or valuable.  My younger life could have been so much simpler had I been able to be more oblivious to other people’s reactions.  I certainly would have found my own way of being true to myself much more quickly had I cared less about hurting other people’s feelings.  KBear’s autism tendencies can make social situations challenging for her, but they also innately provide her a level of differentiation within relationships that I am regularly trying to instill in my own life and in the lives of my therapy clients.

My third reaction was to feel a sense of sadness that the world continues to pass on these archaic and nonsensical messages to my children.  Messages that there’d be more value in a girl to be a model than to be a doctor or an engineer.  I was the smart girl in class who intuitively knew I should hide my intelligence if I wanted to fit in.  I was the girl in class who finished her tests about 15 minutes before anyone else but pretended to keep working on them because no one likes a know-it-all.  I was the girl in high school who knew answers to the questions teachers were asking, but kept quiet because the other boys and girls looked confused, so I should be too.   I was the girl in class who pretended that exams or papers were difficult because everyone else said they were and I certainly didn’t want to make them feel bad that I felt the test was easy.  I was the young woman who allowed my own opinions to sit quietly in the background so the young men around me wouldn’t feel intimidated.  I played stupider than I am.  And by doing all these things, I actually began to believe I’m stupider than I am.  I began to doubt my knowledge, my thoughts, my own voice.

Thank God all that changed.  I’d thought it’d partly changed because I’m growing older and wiser.  But I’d also thought it’d changed because the world is changing and is no longer expecting girls to play dumb in order to appear more attractive.  I thought my part of the world no longer valued a girls’ appearance more than her intelligence.  But, the truth is, I guess I knew all along that the world still has changing to do.  Sometimes it just feels easier to pretend that my daughter won’t have to face the same challenges that I did.  So, I cozy up to naiveté to avoid the sadness, until I hear that some woman was trying to convince my daughter that being a model would be better than being a doctor or an engineer.  And the sadness rushes in.

But then I go back to my second reaction.  Thank God KBear can think a little black and white and can simply write off silly people touting ignorant ideologies.  Thank Goodness her wiring allows her to be herself and choose the people she wants to listen to and disregard the people she doesn’t want to listen to.  And for all the times when I feel twinges of loss and sadness as I watch her try to navigate our complex social world, I will remind myself of the flipside and the positives of her wiring.

For all of you who are hiding your true intelligence or talents – take a lesson from KBear and learn to be a bit more autistic!

Your playing small does not serve the World.
There is nothing enlightening about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel unsure around you. . .
As we let our own Light shine,
we consciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
— Marianne Williamson