Recently, actress Kate Beckinsale was lambasted for flaunting her high IQ during a radio interview. In actuality, it was Howard Stern who brought up that the 48-year-old had studied at Oxford and was fluent in Russian. He then asked about her IQ. She joked that her mother had her tested because “very bright children are nearly unbearable,” but she didn’t know her score. So Stern had her call her mother.
According to mom, little Katie had scored 152. And while Stern was appropriately impressed, Beckinsale played it down. She said, “It’s really not helpful in my career. I just think it might [have] been a handicap actually."
Immediately, critics complained about her “humble brag.” Others snarked how awful it must be to be beautiful AND brilliant.
Ironically, they’re reactions proved her point. The media assumed she was bragging and then condemned it. Apparently we’re still in the Victorian ages. Women aren’t supposed to be smarter than men. At the very least, they should know that education is wasted on women. And talking about one’s intelligence is just crass.
Okay, maybe they didn’t say that. But they might as well have.
Early Hollywood loved the dumb blond – the queen being Marilyn Monroe. And yes, she had a limited formal education. However, she was an avid reader with a library of first editions. In fact, friends said she was autodidactic, or self-taught, on numerous subjects. Unintelligent? I think not.
But Marilyn was definitely schooled on how to manipulate the industry to her success. And being “smart” for the men who ran Hollywood, was not part of her M.O. So many followed her lead.
Of course, that was decades ago. Today, women are educated and working everywhere.
And yet, study after study finds that female students will underestimate or downplay their intelligence compared to others, while male students do the opposite. In the workforce, employers still find highly educated women less appealing and interview-worthy compared to male applicants.
And while film and TV seem progressive and forward-thinking, the entertainment industry is still definitely old-school. So admittedly-intelligent women are practically unicorns in Hollywood.
The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and The Wonder Years’ Danica McKellar co-authored a physics theorem. Geena Davis is a member of Mensa and Sharon Stone has an IQ of 154. (That is according to Penn State University. But really, who can trust such a fly-by-night organization?)
And then, there’s Kate Beckinsale, the braggart.
But has this helped them garner roles? Not likely. McKellar’s been relegated to Hallmark movies and both Davis and Stone have reputations as being both “outspoken” and “difficult.” (Funny how those two adjectives always seem to go together.)
Yes, high intelligence can be a “handicap” to female actors. After all, they might think they have the right to better contracts or equal pay. They might want input on a production. They might want to run the show.
Sure, there are a lot more “smart women” roles in film and television today. But thus far, Hollywood and the media still seem to prefer those roles be put away after the closing credits.