A Feminist History of Women Who Didn't Play Dumb

Fancy a bit of feminist history? Since quite possibly the beginning of time, women have played dumb in situations where they don’t want men to feel threatened or undermined. A study in 2014 carried out on school children found that “girls feel the need to play down their intelligence to not intimidate boys”. Society has been built on a system which expects men to be dominant, more intelligent and strong while women are meant to be followers, supporters and not as smart as the men in their lives. While intelligence in men is desirable, sociologist Dr. Julita Czernecka’s research reveals that women are judged more by looks in various spheres of life. Instead of dwelling on the millions of reasons why this is so wrong… let’s celebrate some of the women who didn’t play dumb and as a result, changed the world.

1. Marie Curie (1867-1934)

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Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel prize for her pioneering research on radioactivity. Not only that, but she was the first person to win the prize twice and she was the first woman to be a professor at the University of Paris. Her work made a massive contribution to research into the treatment of cancer and is grounds for many of the cancer and terminal illness treatments we see today.  


2. Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007)

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Serving as Prime Minister of Pakistan twice, Benazir Bhutto was the first democratically elected female leader of a Muslim country. At the start of her political journey she was considered a ‘symbol of hope and resistance to the repressive, regressive’ regime that had made Pakistan the first country to revoke rights that were granted to women. She had a great academic career at Harvard and Oxford, and created a programme, the Benazir Income Support Program, to support the poorest families in Pakistan by distributing cash into the bank account of women, empowering them to be the decision makers of the family.

3. Dr Grace Hopper (1906-1922)

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Dr Grace Hopper was a computer scientist and Rear Admiral in the U.S Royal Navy. She invented the “large-scale electronic digital computer” and the COBOL software program which we still use to this day. She was awarded the first ever Computer Science Man-of-the-Year Award from the Data Processing Management Association. She was a professor, a mentor, and made outstanding contributions to computer science that continue to benefit us today.


4. Dr Shirley Jackson

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Dr Shirley Jackson is a theoretical physicist and famous inventor who has been credited for conducting “breakthrough basic scientific research that enabled others to invent the portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting”. She is the first African-American woman to have earned a doctorate at MIT and first to be awarded the National Medal of Science. Without Dr Jackson’s breakthrough research, we wouldn’t be using most of the technology we have today!

5. Maria Beasley (1847-1904?)

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Maria Beasley decided that she wanted better life rafts that were “fire-proof, compact, safe, and readily launched” when needed. She patented a new life raft design in 1880, which was later used on the Titanic to help save over a thousand people. She also made money from a range of other inventions such as the foot warmer, steam generators, anti-derailment device for trains and wood barrel-making machine. A census from 1880 describes her as ‘an unemployed housewife’, but she proved to be an entrepreneur, business woman and inventor.

The moral of this feminist history? If all women played dumb, we would probably still be sitting in caves trying to figure out how to make a wheel out of stone. These women didn’t care about the fragile state of masculinity, and didn’t play down their intelligence. They knew their worth, and used their brains to make an impact in the world. Women have played an integral part in implementing vital social and technological advancements throughout history. Let’s not forget it.

Article by Chanju Mwanza