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Magic Beans: Something worth trading for or trading in

Last spring I waited through every headline of a news magazine for a report on a study conducted about girls and to which gender and which parent they attributed smartness, or really the most smartness. The girls sat in front of charts with pictures of men and women with small, square cards that read “smart” and “nice”, and maybe a few other descriptors that I admit I no longer remember. They were instructed to assign the photos a characteristic. In the study, the girls overwhelmingly attributed “smart” to males, and subsequently to their fathers, over females and their mothers. This was not to say that they didn’t consider women smart, just not smartest, or what I concluded, more nice than smart.

I roll this result around in my hand with a few other magic beans I think I still hold, and I consider how it affected or was reflected in me. “Smart” had always been one of my beans that I thought I could trade in for anything I wanted: grades, a job, at times even relationships. But recently, it felt like smart was not enough. I stare at the other beans like responses to questions in recent work interviews.

“How would your references describe you if we call them?” the prospective employer asked.

“Determined.” I responded. Yes, determination or diligence had to be one. While I would like to call that bean Spanish or physical strength, such strengths were simply leaves of the same plant grown from determination. When I lamented trading time in for one or the other, I hadn't traded anything at all, at least not yet.

The interviewer nodded and took notes.

“Analytical. Problem solver. Creative. Connector. Translator.” I searched my brain for a professional synonym that meant “nice”. On the way home, I regretted I failed to mention one.

I pick at the smooth seed coat of the final bean. What is it? According to this study, it must be “nice”. Yes, "nice" or "caring" or "dedicated" in the sense that it meant "self-sacrificing". "Nice", the speckled, oblong form I planted in many job situations, but often didn’t feel like I nurtured enough. Yes, that makes sense, it must be “nice”.

I close my hand around the beans and then my eyes. I imagine my legs swinging against the chair as someone sits me at the same table with a different kind of Bingo card ready to play. Contrary to the study, I don’t think how I play it is as important as why. I want to count on the “smart” bean, to place its elegantly coated form under my face. But over and over again, I know I have to plant the “nice” one. Not because I think I’m not smart, but because still buried deep in the dirt of my beliefs and at least thirty more years of girls, is the understanding that for me, for women, we don’t deem smart as fruitful as as being nice.

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