A Dumb Argument

By Caitlin Gibson and Rachel Manteuffel
Wednesday, March 5, 2008; 12:58 PM

It's hard to know what side Charlotte Allen was arguing for in her March 2 piece, "We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get?" Her thesis seems to be that "women are dumb," which is certainly provocative, but the article is so illogical and incoherent that it more forcefully argues that women who think women are dumb are dumb.

Women are silly for a variety of reasons, according to Allen, starting with the way they gush and swoon over politicians who inspire them. Barack Obama, Allen points out, is responsible for a grand total of five women fainting in the past six months. Without granting legitimacy to this pointless observation, let it be noted that there's no way to determine exactly why these women fainted. Perhaps they hadn't eaten, or locked their knees, or were overwhelmed by their own feeble-mindedness. But we can at least be reasonably sure that they didn't pass out because, say, they were so intent on watching football on TV that they forgot how to chew a pretzel.

Yet despite her list of Reasons Why We Babes are Dopes, Allen has no judgment to make about the equivalent of this behavior in men. For every woman who faints at a rally, surely there is at least one man who has shivered shirtless through a football game, his bare skin smeared with body paint to match his team's colors. Allen's piece implies that men are permitted to indulge and express their own absurdities without it necessarily reflecting on the entirety of their intellect -- but women aren't granted that same freedom.

The saddest aspect of Allen's whole piece is that, while mocking women who gush over Obama, she adopts the insecure seventh-grade girl pose of playing down her own intelligence in order to be popular. "Oh my God, you guys, I'm SO DUMB. I don't even KNOW how I won the science fair!" It's heartbreaking to watch an adolescent sell herself out this way. But Allen is selling us all out, letting us know we should probably be ignored.

Allen's most effective argument -- that women's opinions are meaningless and should not be listened to -- is buttressed beautifully by her inability to support her own arguments, even that one. She allows that there are some women fighter pilots, and good for them. It's just that the rest of us, who are not fighter pilots, probably shouldn't be. Because women are bad at that, unless they are not. Ah, logic. She compares a ratio of women who have car accidents per miles driven to a ratio of men who do so, "even though" men drive more, which actually does prove that at least one woman doesn't know how statistics work. She continues her immaterial rambling with declarations like, "No man contracts nebulous diseases -- such as Morgellons." Even the inaccuracy of this blanket statement is irrelevant, as Allen presents not so much an argument as a puzzle. What is she trying to prove?

Her essay doesn't prove anything so much as raise a question: Is this the best an anti-feminist can do? Perhaps Allen could have some space in the Post each week for her finest material. She could point out that women wear pink and smile a lot and can't lift heavy things. Once a month, women go crazy and eat a lot of chocolate! Did you know babies come out of women sometimes? Yuck!

The more profound question underlying Allen's piece is this: What is it? We know what it isn't -- skillful or comprehensible, for starters. It isn't satire, because there is no indication in tone or substance that she doesn't really mean what she says. It isn't humor, because, to be blunt, it's just not funny. The only possibility is that this is social commentary -- a plea to women to stop acting like ninnies. But she is delivering it with such lack of intelligence, it almost seems self parody.

So ... why on Earth did she write this? Maybe it goes back to the middle school scenario -- someone needs to be comforted that, despite the unusual prominence of women in this election, we are still silly and no threat at all to the way things are. Even if you let us write opinion pieces.

Caitlin Gibson, legal administrator for The Post, is a writer who lives in Bethesda. Rachel Manteuffel is an actor and a writer who lives in Vienna.

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