An interesting post by Tanya Khovanova. You should read the whole thing, but this is the part that stood out to me.
Another guy tells me after I explain a solution to a math problem, “I didn’t realize it was so simple.”
Actually it wasn’t simple. When I explained the solution, it may have seemed simple, but that was because I was able to explain it to him with such clarity. People tend to downgrade their opinion of the problem, rather than upgrade their opinion of my ability. It actually affects my reputation as a mathematician.
Another guy said to me (and I quote!), “I am so dumb. I tried for a week to write the program that computes these numbers and you did it in one hour. I feel so dumb. I didn’t expect myself to be so dumb. Why am I so dumb?”
After the fourth “dumb”, I started wondering what it was all about. Many guys try to compete with me. And they hate losing to a woman. It creates a strong motivation for them to discard my brilliance and to explain away my speed, even if they have to claim temporary dumbness.
This is something I have to work to keep from doing, although I hope that I don’t do it in a gendered way. It’s interesting to think about why; here’s what I’ve come up with.
(1) Every hill looks shorter from the top. When I see a really good explanation, the matter being explained looks trivial.
(2) Especially when I was a kid, there was a lot of pressure not to look like the high-achieving freak. So I have a reflex to grab opportunities to knock myself. At this point, I make a pretty deliberate effort to counter this. A line I use a lot is “I think I should be able to do , but I’m arrogant.”
Whatever makes it tempting, though, Tanya is right that it is insulting. Whether someone has just grasped a point faster than you, or if they have grasped it more slowly, either way it is more complementary to them to speak well of your intelligence, and thus implicitly of theirs.
Go over to Tanya’s blog to read about the other two guys!