Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Nerve of Charlotte Allen!

The blogosphere has been in a furor over this article written by Charlotte Allen, in which she reaches the very tongue-in-cheek conclusion that women are rather dim. Though the article isn't perfect, it is funny, and the fact that so many women took it seriously and are now outraged adds a layer to the humor that makes it even more enjoyable.

But as funny as it is to see feminists of all stripes stomping their feet in the direction of this article all while shouting, "We're not! We're not! We're NOT!" at the allegations that women are sometimes hysterical and overly emotive, I think there's something a bit more serious going on here, something that may start coming more and more to the forefront of the social realities of women these days.

In the early days of the feminist movement, women like my mother, who rejected feminism and stayed at home to raise their children, were the target of everything from cold contempt to vicious satire. Choosing to remain in traditional roles while your "sisters" were out there fighting for corporate careers, the right to behave according to the worst examples of male sexual behavior, and the right to remain standing on the bus was an act of betrayal, as far as the early-era ERA drones were concerned. Stay-at-home moms, happily married to the fathers of their children and rejecting the revolving door of divorce and the false values of materialistic success, were a rebuke to the women who burned their bras and insisted on being drafted (not that they ever were; I sometimes think a female draft could have solved the problem of rampant liberal feminism once and for all). The two sides, traditional women and new feminists, were inextricably opposed to each other.

But as time wore on, a truce was forged. If feminism was really about giving women more choices, some reasoned, then how could anyone object if a woman really chose to stay at home and raise her own children? Branding this as an illegitimate choice had the potential to call into question other choices women made. Granted, no one wanted traditional women to insist that their choice was better, or that their decision to raise their own children amid a stable married environment was somehow a better thing for society than institutional daycare, multiple partnerships (married or not), and a succession of priorities all of which were elevated above the cares of home and family; but as long as traditional women were willing to see their place in society as that of a quirky individual making quirky individual choices which had no larger ramifications for society as a whole, then the feminists would stop being openly contemptuous and hostile, and move instead to an attitude of indulgent patronization.

That truce has held together for a couple of decades, give or take. But with the explosion of homeschooling, the rise in the number of women who see their choice to stay at home to raise and teach their children as an intelligent and beneficial one, and the awareness of many people that women who are stay-at-home and/or homeschooling mothers are actually making positive contributions to society by doing so, the old truce is beginning to crumble. Moreover, mothers who do work outside the home are no longer uniform in seeing that life as the perfect one; the pressures of trying to take care of children while working for a company that expects your undivided attention 24/7 is beginning to take its toll, and women are starting to see that, in many cases, feminism is leaving them with the short end of the stick. Instead of seeing stay-at-home motherhood as a dead end life of thankless drudgery, some young moms are starting to look at it wistfully, as something they'd actually like to do, if they could figure out the financial aspects.

And the old guard of feminism is getting alarmed. Linda Hirshman is a prime example of the rattled old feminist, who sees this new wistful appreciation for stay-at-home motherhood as a threat to the heady principles once forged over the scent of burning bras and patchouli. Women have to go collect paychecks, according to people like Linda, or the whole feminist movement is going to fall apart; there's no value other than the material, and if you're not getting paid to work outside the home, you might as well not exist. Besides, everyone knows that if women stop working outside the home we're all going to devolve into sixties sitcom wives, talking enthusiastically about cleaning products and standing on chairs at the first sign of a mouse, right?

Into the midst of this old-guard feminism tizzy rides Charlotte Allen, to point out with a wry smile that the feminists themselves are the ones acting like silly girls. Whether they're fainting for Obama, shrieking for Oprah, sighing over trashy TV romances or whining about the glass ceiling, they're acting far worse than even those old sitcom wives did; they're insisting on one hand that they can do anything men can do and should be treated just like "one of the guys," and on the other hand they're spending small fortunes on shoes and consulting iffy psychics or popular pseudo-psycho-spirituality experts in alarming numbers. It's as though feminists threw out the baby and kept the bathwater, if only to fill it full of expensive bath salts, stack smutty novels beside it, and immerse themselves simultaneously in bath and bathos.

And so Allen's article has gathered lots of attention, if you can call tomato-flinging "attention." But the ire of the feminists is rather transparent, after all. They're mad at Allen for having the nerve to point out the uncomfortable truth that for all their hard work and efforts, they're still the sort of people who react emotionally, buy into the culture of sickly-sweet girlishness, and think "That's not fair!" is an argument--or, in other words, they're still women.


drewann said...

Well said and thanks for the link to Charlotte Allen's article. Very funny & insightful!

Sarahndipity said...

some young moms are starting to look at it wistfully, as something they'd actually like to do, if they could figure out the financial aspects

Amen - I'm a young working mother who would love to stay home if we could afford it. I simply don’t understand why working is considered so great.

I agree with you 100% about your assessment of feminist attitudes towards stay-at-home moms and motherhood. It has ranged from patronizing at best to hostile at worst. And don’t get me started on Linda Hirshman. :)

That being said, while I’m sure this article was written at least in part as a reaction to patronizing feminist attitudes towards mothers who choose to stay home, I didn’t find it particularly funny. I mean, it didn’t make me have a hissy fit like some of these bloggers, but it still wasn’t that funny. When I first read it, I thought, ok, I’m pretty sure this is supposed to be a satire, but a lot of people won’t take it that way. If you think about it, the article is merely the other side of the coin from the feminist attitude. Feminists like Linda Hirshman say women who choose to stay home are too stupid to know what’s best for them. Then Charlotte Allen comes along and says “yep, women are stupid,” albeit arguing from the opposite side of the spectrum.

While I absolutely believe that there are real differences between men and women, there are also a lot of stereotypes, and this article relied almost exclusively on stereotypes. I don’t know about you, but I’m a woman who has absolutely no use for Oprah, trashy romance novels or Deepak Chopra.

And this is kind of off-topic, but as far as the fainting thing goes – I think everyone is making waaaaaay too much out of that. Why are people fainting at Obama rallies? Ummm, maybe because there’s a lot of people and it’s hot? People faint in large groups like that all the time. I saw a youtube video where someone fainted at a Clinton rally. If it happens more at Obama’s rallies, it’s probably because there are more people there. The media seems to be trying to say “look at these mystical powers Obama has, people faint in his presence!” When the reality is much more mundane.

Anonymous said...

I am familiar with Charlotte Allen's work, and she always struck me as having a little bit of Ann Coulter in her, meaning I may agree with some points, but I find the approach distasteful and unhelpful. Sort of too cute by half.

Charlie and Andrea said...

Thank you for a thought provoking (as always) and interesting post! Your blog is one of my favorite stops of the day!