Boobs and Books: How Women get Told They Can Only Have One or the Other.

When Emily Ratajkowski’s interview with French Marie Claire in 2018 went viral this year, I don’t expect many women were all that surprised by its contents. The writer Thomas Chatterton Williams was shocked to learn that the now 29-year old model and actress was a series of essays about the modelling industry and commodification, because apparently you can’t have boobs AND brains in the twenty-first century. Ratajkowski is sadly not the only victim to the sexist trope, that conventionally attractive women are not intelligent, and any signs of intelligence are merely a ploy to seem even more attractive to men. Time and time again, famously beautiful women are mocked for having an interest in politics, literature or anything other than shoes. But this issue doesn’t end with just the famous ladies out there, it trickles down to all levels of society.

Think back to being at secondary school, or sixth form, or even as recent as starting university, what reactions have men had when you let your intellect shine through? For many of us, especially at school, any sign of being smart will have ended in ridicule, whether you we’re seen as ‘pretty’ or not, but especially if you were ‘pretty’. We’ve always been told that boys love it when you play dumb with the ‘ditsy blonde’ being the main love interest in every teen movie while the smart girl wore frumpy skirts and huge braces. This stereotype has been poured into society from the age we are able to consume any type of media. When was the last time you saw a Disney Princess's in the library for anything other than swooning gracefully on a chaise-lounge? These types of dialogue are so damaging to girls growing up and will often lead to women not wanting to articulate their opinions in fear of being shot down for ‘being too pretty’ or discounted all together. Personally, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve raised my hand in a seminar to answer a question and have my contribution passed over then for one of my male classmates give the same answer and then treated like a genius.

The porn industry presents this stereotype in perhaps its most distilled form, as with most sexist narratives surrounding women. Spend no more than 30 seconds on any adults-only websites and you’ll find countless women with fake glasses and tiny school skirts with some caption involving the words ‘sexy’ and ‘nerd’. Men appear to like the smart girl look, but as soon as she opens her mouth and starts discussing the most recent legislature in parliament or their love for the works of W.B Yeats, suddenly the fantasy is gone, because now the man feels threatened. He is no longer the smartest man in the room. And this is the problem, historically men have dominated the intellectual field, but now that’s changing, female thinkers are everywhere and all beautiful. This shatters the image of the nerd being the ugly butt of every joke (anyone remember Ugly Betty or Anne Hathaway before her glow up in Devil Wears Prada?) and suddenly women are no longer just boobs, legs and bums but beings with a brain.

But are societies treatment of smart and sexy women changing? Recently, a more academic aesthetic has taken TikTok and Instagram by storm: dark/light academia. Think Oxfordbridge, Hogworts, leather bound books, red wine and poetry type thing. Finally, the female academic aesthetic is being appreciated and a woman being an intellectual equal is now alluring rather than intimidating or unexpected, and the blatant sexism of Emily Ratajkowski’s interview is receiving the negative attention that was seemingly lost in 2018. While there are still issues with representation of all women that is somewhat lacking so far in the academia trend, hopefully the values surrounding it will stand the test of time and finally women will have more freedom to have boobs AND like books.

I’m Aimee, an English Literature Undergraduate at the University of Exeter, writer and poet.

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Aimee Fisher

I’m Aimee, an English Literature Undergraduate at the University of Exeter, writer and poet.