I’ve never felt quite as stupid as I’ve felt the past month. Since grad school started, every day seems to present a unique WTF moment. What is the differentiation principle? Is Cronbach alpha some sort of fraternity? Was Kuhn drunk when he wrote about shifting paradigms? Is there a goddamn truth? How the heck am I supposed to drink a beer out of a 34 oz mug?!
At least that last one I solved. (A straw may look ridiculous but it is extremely useful in drinking mass quantities of Upland IPA.) But usually I’m left scrambling, attempting to look things up in my dictionary app or doing that awkward nodding yes shaking no head bobbing thing.
I’ve taken to calling myself stupid or poking fun of my own flailings and failings. Since I decided to throw myself into this crazy town of grad school, I thought I’d just embrace the stupid girl identity that felt like it went along with this academic journey. Self-deprecation has always kind of been my thang anyway.
But this week I found myself kind of believing I actually was stupid, like perhaps this whole academia thing had been one big mistake. I was becoming this silly girl persona I created for myself.
Which was flipping whack cause I’m a pretty smart lady.
I’m a smart lady who happens to have a lot to learn about communication theory and method. As my adviser reminded me, it’s only week 3. I’ve got some time before I really know something, and still more time before I know anything, and even more time before I know everything.
The thing is, as a woman, I often have to fight off the impulse to accept these convenient nicely packaged social scripts that the media has created for me. Women are usually depicted as less authoritative, less knowledgeable, less intelligent, and weaker than male characters in the media. This kind of messes with all of us. Did you know studies have shown girls actually perform worse on math exams if they are asked to identify their gender? They aren’t just stereotypes, they are societal norms that start to limit who you think you can be.
I’m particularly susceptible to the manic pixie dream girl type of prototype. You know Zooey Deschanel in every single role she’s ever played. How easy is it to just be that kind of quirky, nonthreatening, vaguely artistic girl?
But even if you are just “acting” a little Zooey, even if you are just joking about your inability to comprehend a full sentence of Kuhn, even if you just kid about being the slow one of the class, this act eventually defines you. You stop seeing the line between yourself and the persona. You become a silly girl. I became a silly girl. And when you are a silly girl you don’t even take yourself seriously.
And if there is one thing I think is absolutely essential about grad school it is that you take your fucking self as serious as James Franco in that 127 hour movie. Because if you don’t believe that you are smart enough to be here, then you aren’t, you silly, silly girl.