This summer it’ll be 20 years since I enrolled in my first college class. I was 15 and had to get special permission from the dean – that’s right my mom had to drive me to my first few weeks of college. Which, if we’re doing the math, means I’ve been enrolled in some form of higher education for over half of my life, nearly two decades of first days and finals weeks. I’m what Matt Gaetz might consider “overeducated.”
His insult isn’t new or creative, because he is so rarely new or creative, he’s simply the most recent misogynist to imply that there is a limit to how much education a woman can receive before she’s considered undesirable. We’ve heard it all before, chiding about getting your “MRS” degree in college. Or last year’s dribble in the Wall Street Journal about the First Lady’s doctorate. This long-gendered trope has taken on a new political edge lately, with passive aggressive digs at “liberal education,” Meaning as a democrat and a woman, my books and degrees render me doubly offensive – and I guess twice as lonely? (Tell that to my family and email inbox).
Even worse, educated women seem to be an acceptable target for gendered jokes and misogynistic mockery. Some may see this as fair, a sort of “punching up,” that is generally allowed, but with women, even the most educated among us, tying the joke to long-standing sexist ideas makes it more a continuation of degradation and minimization of women rather than any attempt to dismantle power structures.
It’s a double whammy really. Women in professional spaces are nearly always assumed to be less educated than men – assumed to be nurses rather than doctors, secretaries rather than CEOs. When the opposite proves to be true, they’re teased for it. We are dismissed when we are less educated than our male counterparts and denigrated when we are more educated.
Why does education, and the education of women, threaten so many?
I suspect it is like anything, folks fear what they don’t know and they disparage that which intimidates them. They put others down for engaging in something that they either don’t understand or that threatens their own egos. For Matt Gaetz and his fellow misogynists – rabble-rousing, educated women are a certainly a threat – because those women can’t be as easily manipulated into believing that they are less than. They can’t be swayed into accepting lower wages or heavier workloads than their male counterparts. They may, gasp, convince other women to seek out the training and education that breaks the economic chains that keep so many women tied to shitty men. For far too long our country has kept women and mothers from the workplace through formal laws or informal but equally powerful cultural norms, all while devaluing the work mothers do inside the home. They convince young women that they don’t need school and they do this because knowledge and education often lead to economic independence, and an independent woman doesn’t need a man for financial support. If women cease to need men, then they get to start wanting them, choosing them out of desire, not necessity.
I suspect men like Matt Gaetz understand this threat – understand that if the calculation changes, if they are no longer needed, they’ll also no longer be chosen. Then where will they be? Alone.
And if they can’t keep women from seeking out knowledge through laws, they’ll try and convince everyone that an educated woman is someone to be mocked, disparaged, and otherwise avoided. They’ll teach young girls to minimize their education in efforts to be more desirable to men like them.
I’ve been teased my entire life about my education, but only recently has that teasing been delivered with a more menacing, and often political, tone. “Book smart, common sense stupid,” a common slam growing up in a rural blue collar town. As I grew up, I got the sense that this was a preemptive attack. It was meant to counter any possibility that, along with a degree, I also acquired a belief that I was better than someone who chose a different path.
I didn’t, and most educated women I know don’t believe that either. Degrees don’t make you a better person, they may not even make you a smarter person. Knowledge does that, and knowledge comes from places outside the classroom. Even more importantly, being smart isn’t everything – no more important than things like kindness, empathy, and work ethic. Trade schools, apprenticeships, library cards and late night bar debates – those things generate thoughts, knowledge, and understanding too, and to me are just as important as university degrees.
Just as. Not more.
Just like attending university doesn’t make you a better, or necessarily smarter person, choosing not to attend doesn’t make you more American, more authentic, or more down to earth. In reality, our nation needs all kinds of women, and all kinds of mothers, with all kinds of backgrounds. Like with all feminist issues, no one group deserves to be degraded or dismissed – formally educated or not. So there is no such thing as an “overeducated woman,” we are, and should continue to be, as educated as we want or need to be.
That goes doubly for educated mothers.
I prepared for motherhood similarly to how I prepared for anything – I read up on it (or called my mom). I got some flak for my growing mom bookshelf. “There are some things you can’t get from books,” or “There’s no manual for parenthood,” being common jabs (often given alongside unsolicited advice). While both comments are absolutely true, when delivered with a dismissive attitude or patronizing tone, they’re also incredibly shortsighted.
Sure there are some things you can’t learn from words, but there are a whole swath of things you can. In fact, I’d argue that most everything in life can be better understood through narratives. With motherhood these narratives used to be inherited through spoken word, one generation of women passing down their experiences and hard-won knowledge to the next. These days that same advice and guidance can also be found in books and blogs (like this one). For women who aren’t as lucky as I am, armed with a village of strong, capable and incredibly smart women, these books and words are invaluable. They help break toxic mothering cycles. They build bridges that leave new moms feeling less alone. They empower them to make the right choices for themselves, their children, and their families. They provide information and analysis on any topic of motherhood that may come up. Why would we not turn to these sources in preparation for and throughout motherhood?
Why would we limit ourselves, restrict ourselves from knowledge?
We shouldn’t. We should never close ourselves off from learning – through books, people, or experiences. Knowledge, understanding, and yes education, pave a path to progress and to connection.
So kindly F off Matty. Perhaps instead of worrying about the education of feminists – maybe pick up a book yourself. I recommend the civics section.