April 23, 2008

mathematicians and mentors

Over cocktails the other night and again while walking along the river with a few friends, I'm struck by the power of brilliant women - and although I know and love many brilliant men, keep wondering why the vibe of a group of brilliant women is so different.

I think some of it has to do with how unique it is to be with a group of women when no one is being self-deprecating. I know that may be harsh, but we are socialized from a young age to be apologetic for our talents, maintaining the stability of a group because no one feels threatened (some of this I'm getting from The Female Brain but it resonates with my own experiences with group dynamics). But at the same time women know how to be so passive aggressively cruel, especially if they feel threatened. So any time I'm with a group of women who are unabashedly and unapologetically brilliant AND are intrigued in each other's different takes on an idea - it gets wild, with ideas and thoughts and questions all buzzing around the table as we order another round.

One woman at the table was expressing that it's such an important skill, particularly for a woman in a field of men, to know when to get her bullshit on (because according to her, men are much better trained at this) and front like you know slightly more than you actually do. It's true - the successful women I know do know how to "turn their bullshit on" - but, and perhaps this is actually more important, they know when to turn it off, too.

Another aspect that is unique to groups of brilliant women (versus a group of brilliant people that includes men) is that everyone asks more questions. And when everyone is brilliant and confident, the questions aren't clarifying an already known answer, but actually make everyone reach a little bit further into what they know to be true. Questions, my female friends and I have learned, can really make or break whether women feel like you're connecting with them or just talking at them. In our experiences, men don't really feel the same way. I wonder if this continues to be true as we all get less self-absorbed. I guess I probably have enough questions to go around.

"It's spring fever...you don't quite know what it is you DO want but it just fairly makes your heart ache you want it so"
- Mark Twain

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