One or the Other

By: Kateland Kirk
Edited by: Zachary Sparks

Why in today’s day and age – when we are so technologically advanced and making ground-breaking discoveries – are we still stuck so far in the past when it comes to important social expectations regarding women? For example, why is it that a woman cannot be intelligent AND attractive: why are we expected to be one OR the other? I will not say I speak for all women, but I do feel safe to say that almost every woman in their lifetime has experienced a moment where they had to be either/or. One particular moment that comes to mind occurred right after my 20th birthday, while I was waiting to catch a plane.

I was sitting at my terminal, waiting for my flight when a man in his mid-to-late 30’s asked if anyone had a phone charger he could borrow. Thinking nothing of it, I offered mine. After some small talk and pleasantries, he asked if I was in school. I replied, “Yes, I am in school for chemical engineering.” His eyes got big and the expression on his face said it all: he could not believe that I was in school for something that intellectually difficult. Not wanting to have misread the situation, I asked if he was expecting me to say I was in school for something else. With an almost immediate response he said yes, he hadn’t expected someone who looked like me to be in school for something so hard. Starting to become irritated, I asked what he meant by this. His last words to me were, “well, because you’re too pretty.” In that instance, part of me felt overwhelming anger. This man had just attempted to set my life’s bar and society’s low expectations of me, as a woman, without even knowing me?! He did this all based on me ‘being too pretty to be that smart.’

This made me start thinking…why do women get shoved into an either/or situation? A woman can be attractive OR smart, but why can’t she be both? Men don’t get looks of shock and awe when they say they went to school for something that is thought to require intelligence and then happen to also be attractive. Women are so much more than just their looks, yet this is still where a bulk of our value is tied. Is this our own faults for not fighting back, when society pushes us into a corner and makes us choose? Or, are we too quick to bend and not advocate for ourselves in fear that we will not be liked?

I am not saying that being complimented on our appearance is undesirable or that being proud and confident in our bodies is bad. I am simply saying it is an issue when this is the only thing women seek to be complimented on, or that men choose to compliment us on. We work hard for our achievements, just like men do, yet that part of us often gets overshadowed by our physical appearance. It will take men and women alike to change this social norm of making women choose one or the other. Women need to start advocating for themselves and stop tying their own value just to their looks. Men need to get out of the mindset that a woman can only be one or the other. Next time you choose to compliment a woman, try giving one on something she worked hard on, not for something she was simply born with. After all, she could be –and definitely is – so much more than what you see on the outside.

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