We’re in the middle of a supply chain crisis with no resolution in sight, Biden’s economic plan is being whittled away as we speak, and a Hollywood set’s tragic prop gun misfire just left a female cinematographer dead, but you know what’s really sticking in our craw? Kate Beckinsale has a high IQ and she knows it, and she isn’t going to pretend otherwise. Buckle up, kids — this one is extra asinine.
The controversy began when Beckinsale, currently promoting her new show Guilty Party, a dark comedy where she plays a discredited journalist trying to salvage her career, appeared on the Howard Stern show Oct. 19. At one point, Stern brings up her background. “You went to Oxford, you studied Russian literature, and you speak fluent Russian,” he says. “Did you ever have your IQ tested?”
Let’s note briefly that this is an improvement for Stern’s past infamous typical line of questioning with female guests, which often revolved around crass gags and insinuations, such as joking that Pamela Anderson is “loose” or calling Baby Spice “Swallow Spice.”
But that’s neither here nor there, because a woman said she was smart. Beckinsale tells Stern that yes, her mother had her tested as a child, and found that her IQ was high. “Very bright children are nearly unbearable, I’m sure that’s why she had it done,” she jokes. Stern presses her for more. “Were you in the genius category?” he asks. “I think it was quite high, yeah” she reiterates.
Stern wants a number though, so she rings her mother, who confirms via phone call on speaker that she thinks Beckinsale tested at 152. Stern oohs and ahhs that this is near Einstein levels. “I’m sure I’ve become progressively more stupid,” she says, proof that, if anything, Beckinsale is downplaying her intelligence.
“I wish I had a 152 IQ,” Stern laments. “You don’t,” she replies.
Beckinsale goes on to discuss this high IQ business has been no good to her. That everyone has told her that she’d be happier if she were 30 percent less intelligent. Stern jokes that he’s 30 percent less intelligent but still miserable. Beckinsale goes on to say her high IQ hasn’t been helpful in her career, either. “I just think it’s…it might’ve been a handicap actually.”
So, folks, what we have here is someone going along with an interview and having a little fun with it. Not, as is being portrayed in pieces at The Cut, whose headline reads “Sounds Hard to Be This Hot and Smart,” and elsewhere as a “cringeworthy humble brag,” evidence that Beckinsale is chomping at the bit to let the world know what a genius she is.
Beckinsale shot back at her critics, asking on Instagram, “Are we really jumping on women for answering a question truthfully about their intelligence or education? Are we really still requiring women to dumb themselves down in order not to offend?” She noted that no one (including The Cut) had a problem when Salma Hayek said that “Cinema undermines women’s intelligence.”
She goes on to acknowledge the privilege she enjoyed attending a private all-girls school where her confidence wasn’t undermined at every turn, and an upbringing that certainly gave her a boost. That checks out: Research suggests that higher socioeconomic status correlates with higher IQ. In a piece at The Atlantic that once asked whether it was better to be born smart or rich, the answer is always, of course, rich. Rich kids get a better education and have more resources, and IQ tests are not proof of raw intelligence apart from advantage.
Beckinsale was also right about happiness and intelligence. Some research, while conflicting, has found that higher intelligence can hamper happiness in terms of life satisfaction. Ultimately being smart in the traditional IQ sense can be a mixed bag — it can help you secure the resources to improve your life, but one can suffer from knowing too much to chill out and just enjoy your time on earth.
Beckinsale also cites research that has also found that girls internalize the message that intelligence is a liability, and learn to dumb it down to save face. (I sat next to a cheerleader in high school who was a secret brainiac, and watched her quickly flip her graded test papers over in fear of looking smarter than every boy in the class.)
In the end, Beckinsale never positioned herself as a victim or a braggart, she simply answered a question that her intelligence was high but wasn’t the greatest asset in Hollywood. That is observable reality to anyone with a brain. And anyone with the slightest grasp of sexism knows that being thought of as “overly confident” is among the many occupational hazards women face daily.
Funnily enough, Stern then admits on the show that his IQ is 179, and that, “They can’t even find a test, it’s so high,” bragging freely with the confidence of all men everywhere.
As of press time, there isn’t a single headline about that.
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