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Published Date: June 5, 2019

Published Date: June 5, 2019

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Smart Women and Fragile Men: How Patriarchy Shapes Identity and Romance

Do men want to date smart women? This was the question behind a 2015 study published by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.1 What the study learned is that men like the idea of dating women who are smarter than them, but when they meet an actual woman who fits the profile, they suddenly become much less interested.

Why? According to one of the researchers, “when men were outperformed by a woman in a domain that they cared about—intelligence—they felt threatened, assessed by diminished self-ratings of masculinity, which then led them to act in a way counter to what their expressed ideal preferences were.”2 In other words, they felt like less of a man in the presence of a smarter woman.

Reading this, one is reminded of a controversial interview in which Baptist leader John Piper suggested that it was okay for a man to read a commentary by a woman or obey laws and structures created by women, but it was not okay for him to learn from her in person. Learning at a distance, he says, does not involve gender (because a man can ignore the fact that the writer is female), but he cannot ignore her gender in person. As a result, learning from a woman in person demeans a man’s manhood.3

To some Christians, the 2015 study on dating confirms Piper’s views. I would suggest that what we are seeing is evidence of patriarchy in American culture—Christian and secular.

For centuries, Christians have taught that men are superior to women, and these teachings have contributed to the cultural values that shape American society. Much has changed, but many of the ideas that uphold supposed male superiority persist. For instance, popular wisdom holds that men make better, more rational decisions. Evidence shows otherwise.4

Patriarchy is intertwined with masculine identity, too. Boys learn that to throw like a girl is humiliating and that being “disrespected” (made uncomfortable or embarrassed) by a woman is degrading. Boys are told that women are equal but shown that manhood requires them to be better than women at things like reason, intelligence, athleticism, leadership, income, and physical and emotional strength.

To the extent that patriarchy defines one’s masculinity, equality will be emasculating. This is the reality revealed by the dating study. Sadly, this is the kind of masculinity promoted by many Christians.

When it comes to navigating romantic relationships, patriarchal patterns appear at every turn. The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. Egalitarians the world over are setting aside patriarchal norms, doing the work of identity re-formation, modeling romantic relationships that better reflect Scripture’s ideal, and challenging the idolization of marriage in some circles. In this issue, our authors invite you on that journey with them.

1. Lora E. Park, Ariana F. Young, and Paul W. Eastwick, “(Psychological) Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: Effects of Psychological Distance and Relative Intelligence on Men’s Attraction to Women,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, August 2015,
2. Jenna Birch, “Do Men Want to Date Intelligent Women?” Psychology Today, Feb. 2018,….
3. Interview with John Piper, “Do You Use Bible Commentaries Written by Women?” Desiring God, March 2013,….
4. Kathy Caprino, “How Decision-Making Is Different Between Men and Women and Why It Matters in Business,” Forbes, May 2016,….