In 2005, a year after Ellie Grossman, a doctor, met Ray Fisman, a professor, on a blind date, she was talking to her grandmother about her guy.
“Never let a man think you’re smarter,” her grandmother advised. “Men don’t like that.”
Ray and Ellie “had a good laugh, thinking times had changed,” he recalled. The pair went on to marry — after she proposed.
But now, he says, “it seems like the students at Columbia University should pay heed to Grandma Lil’s advice.”
Mr. Fisman is a 36-year-old Columbia economics professor who conducted a two-year study, published last year, on dating. With two psychologists and another economist, he ran a speed-dating experiment at a local bar near the Columbia campus.
The results surprised him and made him a little sad because he found that even in the 21st century, many men are still straitjacketed in stereotypes.
“I guess I had hoped that they had evolved beyond this,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s like that ‘Sex and the City’ episode where Miranda went speed-dating. When she says she’s a lawyer, guys lose interest. Then she tells them she’s a flight attendant and that plays into their deepest fantasies.”
As he recapped the experiment in Slate last week:
“We found that men did put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner’s beauty, when choosing, than women did. We also found that women got more dates when they won high marks for looks.”
He continued: “By contrast, intelligence ratings were more than twice as important in predicting women’s choices as men’s. It isn’t exactly that smarts were a complete turnoff for men: They preferred women whom they rated as smarter — but only up to a point ... It turns out that men avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition — a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date.
“When women were the ones choosing, the more intelligence and ambition the men had, the better. So, yes, the stereotypes appear to be true: We males are a gender of fragile egos in search of a pretty face and are threatened by brains or success that exceeds our own.”
Hillary Clinton, who is trying to crash through the Oval glass ceiling, may hope that we’re evolving into a kingdom of queen bees and their male slaves. But stories have been popping up that suggest that evolution is moving forward in a circuitous route, with lots of speed bumps.
Perhaps smart women can take hope — as long as they’re built like Marilyn Monroe. Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Pittsburgh have released a zany study on the zaftig, positing that men are drawn to hourglass figures not only because they look alluring, but because hips plumped up by omega-3 fatty acids could mean smarter women bearing smarter kids.
Yet Alex Williams recently reported in The Times that the new income superiority of many young women in big cities is causing them to encounter “forms of hostility they weren’t prepared to meet,” leaving them “trying to figure out how to balance pride in their accomplishments against their perceived need to bolster the egos of the men they date.”
Professional women in their 20s are growing deft at subterfuges to protect the egos of dates who make less money, the story said, such as not leaving their shopping bags around and not mentioning their business achievements. Or they simply date older men who might not be as threatened.
Even though men and women in surveys often say that a salary gender gap doesn’t matter, in the real world it can play out differently — either because the man has subterranean resentment he can’t shed, or the woman equates it with a lack of male drive.
Evolution is lurching ahead unevenly at the office, as well. The Times’s Lisa Belkin wrote this month about the confusing array of signals for executive women that can leave them hamstrung.
Catalyst, an organization that studies women in the workplace, found that women who behave in ways that cleave to gender stereotypes — focusing on collegiality and relationships — are seen as less competent. But if they act too macho, they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”
Ms. Belkin said that another study shows that men — and female secretaries — are not considered less competent if they dress sexy at work, but female executives are.
Women still tend to be timid about negotiating salaries and raises. Men ask for more money at eight times the rate of women.
Victoria Brescoll, a Yale researcher, found that men who get angry at the office gain stature and clout, even as women who get angry lose stature because they are seen as out of control.
That may be why Obama is trying to get “fired up,” in the words of his fall slogan, while Hillary calmly observes that she can take the heat and stereotypically adds that she likes the kitchen.