You may think I'm overreacting. That won't last long. Today, the Post published the most asinine editorial I've ever read. It's worse than every Fred Hiatt editorial times ever, times infinity. It is a Platonic Ideal of bad.
The editorial is by Charlotte Allen, who today cheerfully explains that women are stupid.
No. I am not kidding.
Allen's evidence is, of course, that women like Barack Obama. I mean, obviously, right?
Here's Agence France-Presse reporting on a rally for Sen. Barack Obama at the University of Maryland on Feb. 11: "He did not flinch when women screamed as he was in mid-sentence, and even broke off once to answer a female's cry of 'I love you, Obama!' with a reassuring 'I love you back.' " Women screamed? What was this, the Beatles tour of 1964? And when they weren't screaming, the fair-sex Obama fans who dominated the rally of 16,000 were saying things like: "Every time I hear him speak, I become more hopeful." Huh?
"Women 'Falling for Obama,' " the story's headline read. Elsewhere around the country, women were falling for the presidential candidate literally. Connecticut radio talk show host Jim Vicevich has counted five separate instances in which women fainted at Obama rallies since last September. And I thought such fainting was supposed to be a relic of the sexist past, when patriarchs forced their wives and daughters to lace themselves into corsets that cut off their oxygen.
First, if you want sexism, go to France. They'll deliver every time. Second, yes, people occasionally faint at political rallies. I would argue this has less to do with women being too womanly to stand in the presence of Big O, and more to do with the fact that women and men end up standing in packed, hot arenas for hours waiting for Big O to show.
But Allen has a better theory.
I can't help it, but reading about such episodes of screaming, gushing and swooning makes me wonder whether women -- I should say, "we women," of course -- aren't the weaker sex after all. Or even the stupid sex, our brains permanently occluded by random emotions, psychosomatic flailings and distraction by the superficial. Women "are only children of a larger growth," wrote the 18th-century Earl of Chesterfield. Could he have been right?
I could have spared everyone a lot of anger and frustration, since the answer here is simply, "no." We could move on and enjoy our Sunday. But alas, Allen gives the question serious consideration.
I'm not the only woman who's dumbfounded (as it were) by our sex, or rather, as we prefer to put it, by other members of our sex besides us. It's a frequent topic of lunch, phone and water-cooler conversations; even some feminists can't believe that there's this thing called "The Oprah Winfrey Show" or that Celine Dion actually sells CDs. A female friend of mine plans to write a horror novel titled "Office of Women," in which nothing ever gets done and everyone spends the day talking about Botox.
Yeah, women, always caring about stupid things. Why, a men's office would totally get things done, because...oh, wait a sec, does anyone know who's running the NCAA Tournament pool this year? Larry? You sure? He set us up on ESPN last year, I hate their interface. By the way, did you see Kansas destroy K-State last night? They're looking good, I think they might get a one-seed and...wait, what was I saying again?
We exaggerate, of course. And obviously men do dumb things, too, although my husband has perfectly good explanations for why he eats standing up at the stove (when I'm not around) or pulls down all the blinds so the house looks like a cave (also when I'm not around): It has to do with the aggressive male nature and an instinctive fear of danger from other aggressive men. When men do dumb things, though, they tend to be catastrophically dumb, such as blowing the paycheck on booze or much, much worse (think "postal"). Women's foolishness is usually harmless. But it can be so . . . embarrassing.
So let's recap: men can do awful, destructive things that result in catastrophe or death. Women might occasionally make minor mistakes. And this is reason for women to be embarassed? I'm not sure I follow.
Take Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. By all measures, she has run one of the worst -- and, yes, stupidest -- presidential races in recent history, marred by every stereotypical flaw of the female sex. As far as I'm concerned, she has proved that she can't debate -- viz. her televised one-on-one against Obama last Tuesday, which consisted largely of complaining that she had to answer questions first and putting the audience to sleep with minutiae about her health-coverage mandate. She has whined (via her aides) like the teacher's pet in grade school that the boys are ganging up on her when she's bested by male rivals. She has wept on the campaign trail, even though everyone knows that tears are the last refuge of losers. And she is tellingly dependent on her husband.
Then there's Clinton's nearly all-female staff, chosen for loyalty rather than, say, brains or political savvy. Clinton finally fired her daytime-soap-watching, self-styled "Latina queena" campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, known for burning through campaign money and for her open contempt for the "white boys" in the Clinton camp. But stupidly, she did it just in time to alienate the Hispanic voters she now desperately needs to win in Texas or Ohio to have any shot at the Democratic nomination.
Wow. That is some seriously fact-free opinioneering. I mean, one can criticize the Clinton campaign on a variety of points, most of them tactical. But how can Clinton be both whiny and too detailed? "Tellingly dependent" on her husband? Really? I mean, I know Bill has campaigned for her, but last I checked, Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain were campaigning for their spouses too. And McCain is sort of "tellingly dependent" on his wife not calling him out for the affairs he's had. So are they women, too?
And when did Clinton "weep" on the campaign trail? In twenty years, will Clinton have broken down sobbing in New Hampshire? In forty, will she have been committed following a nervous breakdown?
What is it about us women? Why do we always fall for the hysterical, the superficial and the gooily sentimental? Take a look at the New York Times bestseller list. At the top of the paperback nonfiction chart and pitched to an exclusively female readership is Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love." Here's the book's autobiographical plot: Gilbert gets bored with her perfectly okay husband, so she has an affair behind his back. Then, when that doesn't pan out, she goes to Italy and gains 23 pounds forking pasta so she has to buy a whole new wardrobe, goes to India to meditate (that's the snooze part), and finally, at an Indonesian beach, finds fulfillment by -- get this -- picking up a Latin lover!
So you have what sounds like a mildly erotic page-turner, which probably provides a nice bit of escapism for the reader. Meanwhile, "Girls Gone Wild" continues to sell. Clearly, this proves that women are more superficial than men.
This is the kind of literature that countless women soak up like biscotti in a latte cup: food, clothes, sex, "relationships" and gummy, feel-good "spirituality." This female taste for first-person romantic nuttiness, spiced with a soup¿on of soft-core porn, has made for centuries of bestsellers -- including Samuel Richardson's 1740 novel "Pamela," in which a handsome young lord tries to seduce a virtuous serving maid for hundreds of pages and then proposes, as well as Erica Jong's 1973 "Fear of Flying."
I'm not going to bore you with her takedown of "Grey's Anatomy." Honest to the FSM, though, I'm not sure I'm getting her point. Humans like to read stories about men and women falling in love, having sex, getting married? Stop the presses!
I noted "Girls Gone Wild" above because, well, men like these things, too. Culturally, it's more acceptable for men to buy porn than it is for women, so women instead turn to erotica and shows that focus on relationships and love and sex. Culturally, it's less acceptable for men to like "chick books" and "chick shows" and "chick movies," so they buy porn. I'm guessing if we stopped telling people what they're supposed to like, you'd see more men buying romantic books and more women buying hardcore pornography. None of this proves a darn thing.
Which is why we'll skip to even less-supported stuff.
Depressing as it is, several of the supposed misogynist myths about female inferiority have been proven true. Women really are worse drivers than men, for example. A study published in 1998 by the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine and public health revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men's 5.1, even though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women. The only good news was that women tended to take fewer driving risks than men, so their crashes were only a third as likely to be fatal. Those statistics were reinforced by a study released by the University of London in January showing that women and gay men perform more poorly than heterosexual men at tasks involving navigation and spatial awareness, both crucial to good driving.
Again, you can interperet those statistics however you want to. First, men have more accidents. Second, men have more catastrophic accidents. Third, men get more miles in, and more of the over-the-road stuff that adds in loads of safe freeway miles. I can use these statistics to demonstrate conclusively that men are much worse drivers than women. Needless to say, this myth about female inferiority remains just that: a myth.
The theory that women are the dumber sex -- or at least the sex that gets into more car accidents -- is amply supported by neurological and standardized-testing evidence. Men's and women's brains not only look different, but men's brains are bigger than women's (even adjusting for men's generally bigger body size).
God, I hate amateur phrenology, especially when phrenology was disproven a century or so ago. Albert Einstein's brain was abnormally small. Clearly, this is proof that he was both a woman and stupid.
The important difference is in the parietal cortex, which is associated with space perception. Visuospatial skills, the capacity to rotate three-dimensional objects in the mind, at which men tend to excel over women, are in turn related to a capacity for abstract thinking and reasoning, the grounding for mathematics, science and philosophy. While the two sexes seem to have the same IQ on average (although even here, at least one recent study gives males a slight edge), there are proportionally more men than women at the extremes of very, very smart and very, very stupid.
Yeah, once again, this has been pretty well refuted. But if you want to talk about gendered thinking, consider that women are said to have a greater facility for language than men, which would give them an advantage in rhetoric, politics, writing, and anything communications-related. Which is why Hillary Clinton is considered a much better speaker than Barack Obama, except the opposite. Clearly, gender is destiny.
I am perfectly willing to admit that I myself am a classic case of female mental deficiencies. I can't add 2 and 2 (well, I can, but then what?). I don't even know how many pairs of shoes I own. I have coasted through life and academia on the basis of an excellent memory and superior verbal skills, two areas where, researchers agree, women consistently outpace men.
So women have better memories than men, and this proves that women are inferior to men. Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
(An evolutionary just-so story explains this facility of ours: Back in hunter-gatherer days, men were the hunters and needed to calculate spear trajectories, while women were the gatherers and needed to remember where the berries were.) I don't mind recognizing and accepting that the women in history I admire most -- Sappho, Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth I, George Eliot, Margaret Thatcher -- were brilliant outliers.
The same goes for female fighter pilots, architects, tax accountants, chemical engineers, Supreme Court justices and brain surgeons. Yes, they can do their jobs and do them well, and I don't think anyone should put obstacles in their paths
First, appealing to EvPsych gets you forcibly ejected from decent society. Second, that's a lot of outliers. Almost so many that one might think they weren't so much outliers.
I predict that over the long run, however, even with all the special mentoring and role-modeling the 21st century can provide, the number of women in these fields will always lag behind the number of men, for good reason.
And therefore, why bother? Women will always be behind men, in all fields, even though women by dint of their superior memories and verbal skills would seem to be natural attorneys, and therefore, natural Supreme Court Justices.
But no, Allen believes a woman's place is in the home.
So I don't understand why more women don't relax, enjoy the innate abilities most of us possess (as well as the ones fewer of us possess) and revel in the things most important to life at which nearly all of us excel: tenderness toward children and men and the weak and the ability to make a house a home. (Even I, who inherited my interior-decorating skills from my Bronx Irish paternal grandmother, whose idea of upgrading the living-room sofa was to throw a blanket over it, can make a house a home.) Then we could shriek and swoon and gossip and read chick lit to our hearts' content and not mind the fact that way down deep, we are . . . kind of dim.
Of course, running a home doesn't require math, abstract concepts, logic, or intelligence. Just womanly tenderness and love. No homemaker has ever had to balance a checkbook or teach the kids about math. No, ma'am.
One doesn't have to go far into the comments on this article to find someone arguing that this was just a joke, like Joel Stein's column was just a joke. And I'm sure it was meant as a joke. But it wasn't funny -- far from it. I don't know if my daughter will have my natural facility with words or her mother's natural facility with logic, but I'd like her to be able to find that out for herself, based on what she herself does in life. When we say -- even jokingly -- that women are too dumb to be mathematicians or scientists, we ignore the fact that there are women who excel at science, who excel at math. And when we say women excel at communication, we somehow have to reconcile that with the fact that most famous authors, playwrights, and screenwriters are men.
The fact is that sexism is still making too much of a hash of women's lives to draw any meaningful conclusions about what women are "better at." No doubt, when we exist on a truly level playing field, we may find that the average woman and the average man have some minor cognitive differences. But we're a long way from being able to say that with any measure of certainty, and making pronouncements based on where we are is...well, it's stupid.
And on that point, and that point alone, Allen may have something. Not that women in general are stupid -- those facts are not in evidence. But Allen herself? There does appear to be some evidence for that. Unfortunately, she appears to have taken her failings and generalized them to her entire gender. And that is truly unfortunate.