Wednesday, March 05, 2008

On a woman who can speak for herself

Okay, so Jill over at Feministe was kind enough to burden us all with the knowldge that there exist in the world women like Charlotte Allen:
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?

But let's not risk an accusation of taking her out of context. There's a whole lengthy column in the Washington Post about how stupid women are, and she should know, 'cause she's a woman. Enjoy:
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?

She means that every time she listens to a speech by Barack Obama, she looks forward to a future where he's president, because she believes he'll accomplish good things as president. It's okay, Peaches. Grownup writing is complicated sometimes.
“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.

She does have a point there. Since the corset was done away with in favor of unhealthy dieting practices and a societal embracing of obesity, no one has ever gotten overheated, had low blood sugar, hyperventilated, forgotten to eat lunch, or gotten sick. Except, of course, for those dumb, hysterical women who get excited about Barack Obama.
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?

No, Peaches, he couldn't have. Not according to the findings of medical science, anyway. Screaming and gushing are expressions not of some innate stupidity or immaturity but excitement, and in these dismal days of politics, I'd think that excitement would be a good thing. Not to mention the fact that, hey, hello to the double standard; if they'd been shouting and pumping their fists in a sufficiently manly way, or even being moved to tears but having a penis, I'm sure they'd get a pass from Ms. Allen. But then, she can't speak for men anyway; she's not a man. She's a woman, giving her the authority to tell the world exactly how stupid we are.
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.

Well, now I'm starting to buy her argument that women may, in fact, be stupid; she's certainly making the case for her own stupidity, anyway. Peaches, he doesn't eat standing up in the kitchen because he's instinctually guarding against aggression from other males. He does it because he's too lazy to put any amount of distance between his body and the fridge before he starts shoveling in the food. For the record, he doesn't eat his fried chicken cold because of his animal instincts to eat his food raw or because he wants to make KFC tartare; he just can't be arsed to heat it up. But well on you for being the supportive mug of a wife who'd believe it.

It's good for you to be embarrassed by female foolishness, though. Step 1 is to look in a mirror...
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.

A stupid campaign that... is working, apparently, judging by the primary returns from last night. And we won't go into the fact that football players and our very own president can succumb to similar displays of emotion without catching half of the crap that Clinton caught for hers. Nor will we go into the fact that John Edwards let Elizabeth do a lot of his fighting against detractors for him, even taking on Skelator Coulter, without anyone questioning his manliness or indicating that he might be "tellingly dependent" on her. Whatever, you're right, Hillary Clinton isn't manly enough to be a woman, or something.
What is it about us women?

What, this monolithic hivemind that is femininity? Dunno, can you be more specific?
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!

Spoken like a true woman with a perfectly okay (but unexceptional) husband, a steady (but unfulfilling) job, and a social life that's more cats than anything else who wants deeply to chuck it all, move to Italy, eat herself fat on baked ziti, and screw some hot Latin dude on a southeast Asian beach but doesn't have the stones. I can identify. I have a friend who's currently preparing to move to Las Vegas to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a professional poker player. I tried to convince him how ridiculous it was until I realized how jealous I was that I didn't have the huevos to chuck it all and move to Vegas. Now I'm wishing him well and figuring out how I can gather the fortitude to follow my dreams. Even if they may involve Italian food, significant weight gain, and sand in the cooch.
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 soupcon 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.”

Whereas novels by Tom Clancy (war pr0n), Stephen King (horror pr0n), and John Grisham (law pr0n) are innately valuable to an inexpressible degree because they... are... read by people who have pensises? Stop trying to trap me with your logic and go back to your romance novel, woman!
Then there’s the chick doctor television show “Grey’s Anatomy” (reportedly one of Hillary Clinton’s favorites). Want to be a surgeon? Here’s what your life will be like at the hospital, according to “Grey’s”: sex in the linen-supply room, catfights with your sister in front of the patients, sex in the on-call room, a “prom” in the recovery room so you can wear your strapless evening gown to work, and sex with the married attending physician in an office. Oh, and some surgery. When was the last time you were in a hospital and spotted two doctors going at it in an empty bed?

Dude, I work for one of the largest health systems in the southeast. You have no idea. General Hospital pales in comparison.
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.

Women are bad drivers? Really, Charlotte Allen? This is our argument? That women are worse drivers by half an accident every million miles? Really? I'm looking forward to your next two columns, "Asian people are really smart" and "Black people hate dogs and can't swim." They'll be page-turners, I'm sure.

Besides, who'd you rather drive with: the person less likely to get into an accident, or the one less likely to kill you in an accident? I'll be waiting in the car.
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). 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.

Of course, as a foolish female, she can't be expected to know that intelligence is linked less to brain size than to the wrinkliness of the surface of the brain, and that women tend to have wrinklier and more gray matter-rich brains than men. Or to recognize that, with more men at both extremes of the IQ range, the greater number of statistical geniuses is balanced out by a greater number of absolute numbskulls.
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.

If that is, in fact, the case, which, judging from this column, I'm willing to question, what's the problem? If you're able to function perfectly well using the skills at your disposal, what does it matter that your skills aren't the same as some other people's? I can't play the violin like my friend Gabriela or do a Chewbacca scream like my friend Ben, but I don't go around talking like everyone who can't do one of those things is inherently inferior to anyone who can. You do what you're good at and what you enjoy doing, and you leave others to do the stuff that you're not good at and they are. That's why we live in a society: so we don't all have to be good at everything.

Why would you need to walk around knowing exactly how many pairs of shoes you have anyway?
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.

I'll tell my friend Derek that my capacity for tenderness toward children and men make me an ideal homemaker. He'll probably faint from the shock, and that'd be entertaining, because he's a big guy and would make a big thud when he fell over. I'm pretty darn good at making a house a home, though, even if I've yet to master the art of pancakes.

Here's my advice for Char: Take your advice. Take those skills you're good at, the caring for men and children and the weak, and the housekeeping, and do those things. Interior decorating doesn't seem to be your thing, so maybe don't do so much of that. Hire someone, maybe; find someone who is good at it. Here are other skills that don't really seem to be your forte: generalizing personal traits out to entire populations, trying to get in good with the guys by stabbing your fellow women in the back, and interpreting scientific studies. And none of that is because you're a woman; those are just talents that you don't have and that you might want to leave to people who are good at them.

In other words, woman, get back in the kitchen.

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