Charlotte Allen: Embrace the Dim

Rarely have I read a newspaper column that shocks me for its sheer breadth of nonsense, but today’s effort by Charlotte Allen in the Washington Post provides one of those I-can’t-believe-she-wrote-that moment. She starts off by scolding the women who faint at Barack Obama rallies, a phenomenon that deserves all the ridicule it gets. Allen runs off the rails, though, when she extrapolates the silliness of five women into supposedly inherent traits that come when two X chromosomes meet (via Memeorandum):

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’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. …

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.

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.

Bobby Riggs during his intentionally provocative promotion of his tennis match with Billy Jean King couldn’t have written this with a straight face. Allen blithely consigns the entire gender into second-class status and advises women to give up their dreams of wealth and power, and instead stick to chick flicks, chick lit, and classic chick roles as mothers and homemakers. That, she promises, will make everyone happier.

What a load of absolute nonsense. Women succeed every day in every arena. If Allen feels a little dim, that may have more to do with her own talents that those of her fellow females. It almost sounds like an excuse. I couldn’t help failing, kind sir; I’m only a woman!

Laughably, she applies this excuse to Hillary Clinton, who has been exposed as a mediocre talent at politics. However, her mediocrity has nothing to do with her gender, and everything to do with her personality and character. Allen’s analysis of Hillary as handicapped by her femininity is a close cousin to the notion that Americans won’t vote for a woman for President. This country would certainly have no problem being led by a woman — they just don’t like this particular individual.

Allen also does something else in this essay that deserves condemnation, albeit slightly more subtly. She denigrates those who choose to stay home and make motherhood and family their primary ambition. Instead of recognizing it as a valid choice for strong, independent women, Allen makes it sounds as if women are suited for nothing else. That shortchanges women whose capabilities allow them a wide range of choices but whose priorities unselfishly focus on the people closest to them.

If Charlotte Allen wants to embrace her inner dimness, she is free to do so. After reading this essay, she has a lot to embrace.

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