The Nail on the Head

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Speaking of heads and being right on, Katha Pollitt responds to the recent Washington Post article by Charlotte Allen in her own article, “Dumb and Dumber: An Essay and Its Editors —
The question is not why Charlotte Allen wrote her silly piece–it’s why The Post published it.

Why do people still buy into this garbage about women’s “inabilities” versus men’s superior abilities? Is there really still a desire among the human race for one gender to be subordinate to another? Don’t we want to progress as a species? Why do we consistently seek methods for undermining “groups” so that our society is based on a savage hierarchy of predators or “top dogs” versus “weaklings”? Wouldn’t we rather, by now, see each other on a level playing field as well as have different ideas and beliefs so that we can commune in and with difference — and see where we can go from there? Rather than trying to find ways to constantly tear each other down or make everyone else become “like us”? Wouldn’t it be a sick society if everyone agreed to behave and think the same? Wouldn’t we just be a bunch of cookie cutter humans perpetuating only one dull way of life?

Am I naive, sentimental, silly, simplistic, or whatever derogatory name fits to continue to wonder how we can even imagine such a human condition?

Anyway, some revealing excerpts from Katha Pollitt’s response to Allen follow:

For Allen, it’s definitely the woman: her brain is just too puny. She cannot mentally rotate three-dimensional objects in space — and that, as we all know, is the very definition of smarts. Funny how that definition keeps changing, as women conquer field after field that was supposed to be beyond them. In the 19th century, physicians insisted women couldn’t cope with college: studying would send rushing to their brains the blood that was needed for the womb. Back then, nobody credited women with the superior verbal abilities and memories Allen says scientists now find women to possess…

True to form, she dismisses these as minor talents that only helped her “coast” through school and life. But back when the experts were explaining why women couldn’t be lawyers or professors or poets (at least not very good poets), nobody said verbal skills and memory were trivial; they only became trivial when women were found to excel at them. Now the sexists diss women as inferior mental-object-rotators. I have no idea whether this is true, and whether if so it’s unchangeable, but you have to admit this is a very narrow scrap of turf on which to plant the flag of manly superiority.

Oh, but I was forgetting driving, a crucial skill. Allen claims that the misogynist canard is true: thanks to their superior visuospatial abilities, men (although maybe not gay men?) are better drivers, with 5.1 accidents per million miles compared to women’s 5.7. “The only good news,” she adds, is that because they take fewer risks, women’s accidents are only a third as likely to be fatal. That’s a very interesting definition of ability behind the wheel: the better drivers are the ones who take more risks and are three times as likely to end up dead.

Why did Allen, by accounts a good reporter on religion in a previous life, write this silly piece? It’s tempting to say she wrote it because she exemplifies the dimness and illogicality she describes — after all, this is a woman who cheerfully claims not to be able to add much beyond 2+2. But I suspect that Allen, who works for the right-wing anti-feminist Independent Women’s Forum, is just annoyed that so many educated middle-class women are cultural, social and political moderates and liberals. Democrats, in other words…

A far more important question is this: Why did The Post publish this nonsense? I can’t imagine a great newspaper airing comparable trash talk about any other group. “Asians Really Do Just Copy.” “No Wonder Africa’s Such a Mess: It’s Full of Black People!” Misogyny is the last acceptable prejudice, and nowhere more so than in our nation’s clueless and overwhelmingly white-male-controlled media. I can just picture the edit meeting: This time, let’s get a woman to say women are dumb and silly! If readers raise too big a ruckus, Outlook editor John Pomfret can say it was all “tongue in cheek.” Women are dingbats! Get it? Ha. Ha. Ha.

Here’s a thought. Maybe there’s another thing women can do besides fluff up their husbands’ pillows: Fill more important jobs at The Washington Post. We should be half the assigning editors, half the writers, and half the regular columnists too (current roster of op-ed columnists: 16 men, two women). We’ve got those superior verbal skills, remember? Drastically increasing the presence of women isn’t a foolproof recipe for gender fairness — Allen is far from alone in her dislike of her sex — but I have to believe a gender-balanced paper would reflect a broader view of women than The Post does at present…

–From Dumb and Dumber: An Essay and Its Editors —
The question is not why Charlotte Allen wrote her silly piece–it’s why The Post published it.
by Katha Pollitt

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By the way, those of you interested in celebrities who write poetry might want to check out “The Best And Worst Of Celebrity Poetry” by John Lundberg in The Huffington Post.

Enjoy!

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