06 March 2008

Misogyny and the elections: and it only gets worse...

Charlotte Allen’s article in last Sunday’s Washington Post, “We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get?” —a misogynistic tirade that assails women for their supposed lack of intelligence as evidenced by their behavior during the primaries—is so ridiculously enraging that it’s hard to know where to begin. Putting Allen aside for a second—what in the world was the Washington Post thinking? Did Allen’s editor think the tit-for-tat coverage of race vs. gender in the primaries hadn’t become destructive or banal enough? Do he and his colleagues think they’re at a loss for quality opinion writing to fill their pages? If this is the case, we’d be happy to suggest a long list of brilliant women writers who have insightful, substantive and genuinely witty things to say about race, gender, politics and other important issues of our time. The problem is they generally have very little access to the limited op-ed space offered by the Post and other mainstream outlets. And then they get overlooked for debasing drivel like Charlotte Allen’s?

At the very least, we were reassured to read the uproarious responses from thousands of people nationwide (including bloggers at Feministing and Broadsheet) who’ve chastised the Post’s editorial decisions and Allen’s destructive, embarrassing, stereotype-wielding pen.

We agree with much of what’s been said by this slew of outraged writers, but we wanted to highlight a particularly dangerous thread of Allen’s inane argument: that women (and gay men) are inherently less intelligent than heterosexual men. Frighteningly, her argument is zero degrees of separation from the “logic” of other pseudo-scientific rationales for inferiority. Examples that immediately come to mind are the nefarious and profoundly racist book, The Bell Curve; similarly minded comments made by Nobel Prize winner and biologist, James Watson, last year; and claims made by Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard, about women’s innate inferiority in the fields of math and science. These stances were widely rebuked, but they were covered extensively by mainstream media, with a sense that the logic behind them was actually up for debate.

The fact is, as a society, nearly 100 years since the eugenics movement, we’re still not able to quash attempts to justify misogyny, racism and homophobia with pseudo-scientific reasoning. And it’s not just writers like Allen—whose perspectives we might like to dismiss as fringe lunacy—but editors at mainstream publications like the Washington Post who give credence to such arguments. It doesn’t matter that Allen subsequently claimed she was writing with humorous flair, or that the Washington Post changed the title in attempts to appease angry readers. Her comments are still dangerously vile.

Sara K. Gould
President & CEO

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