Firing Back at Outlook

Sunday, March 9, 2008

These comments come from the more than 1,500 letters and e-mails received by The Washington Post in response to "We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get?" by Charlotte Allen, which appeared in last week's edition of Outlook.

Honestly, the only stupid things men do are drink directly from the milk carton and massacre people at post offices? You're The Washington Post, not Charlotte Allen's MySpace page. If Oprah's success proves women are stupid, then what should we make of World Wrestling Entertainment or the Three Stooges?

If this is the standard, then you could easily prove that men are dumber or even woollier. Has Allen never heard of drum circles? If we're having a pop-culture silly-a-thon, nobody does well. Why pick on girls? We can use her formula to prove that all Americans are stupid, or all human beings, or all carbon-based life forms for that matter. My dog is super adorable, but his driving sucks, and if he had an opposable thumb, he would totally buy a Celine Dion CD. I can just tell.

JEAN HOLMAN

Washington

* * *

The Washington Post should be embarrassed about its decision to publish the "Women vs. Women" feature that dominated the front page of the Outlook section last week. Under the pretext of analyzing women's voting patterns in the Democratic presidential primaries, the paper presented the case that women are stupid and emotional and can't be trusted to protect their own interests. All that was missing was a call to rescind our right to vote.

Charlotte Allen's article was a tour de force of misogyny and self-loathing. No doubt the editors at The Post thought they could get away with printing this anti-woman bigotry because the writer herself is female, but that fact does not make it any more acceptable.

Tellingly titled "We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get?" the piece pretends to be about the Clinton-Obama race, but it's not. It is about promoting gender stereotypes. Allen informs readers (and reassures raging sexists, I suppose) that women are "hysterical," "superficial," "worse drivers than men" and perhaps "only children of a larger growth."

The possibility that voters could elect the first female president this year has unearthed a stream of latent hostility toward successful, smart, ambitious women. Obviously, we still have a long way to go when major newspapers see fit to run screeds arguing that women should just "relax" and not let it bother their silly little heads that they are "kind of dim." The next time someone asks me if we still need a feminist movement, I will point to this article.

KIM GANDY

President, National Organization for Women

Silver Spring

* * *

I've figured it out. Clearly, an adolescent boy wrote Charlotte Allen's article for her. I can just hear their conversation:

"All you have to do is write whatever comes to your mind about girls. Remember, they're icky."

"And thousands of people will read it?"

"Yes. It's that simple."

"But what if I don't know what I'm talking about? I'm just 13!"

"I never know what I'm talking about, but that doesn't slow me down. Now get to work."

The entire article played to the absolute worst stereotypes of women. I doubt that ever entered Allen's field of vision, but clearly The Post should have known better. Next time you want a piece that bad, shoot an e-mail and I'll get cracking on one. I promise it will be less offensive, for half the price.

DAN S. CHAMBERS

Lombard, Ill.

* * *

Let's forget, for a moment, that for every swooning, sentimental belle there is an equally obnoxious and unfairly characterized frat-boy meathead.

Let's discount the obvious and varied accomplishments of women such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, biologist Jane Goodall and Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust.

Heck, let's even forget the scores of highly intelligent women in our own lives. The fact that Charlotte Allen discounts such a swath of people is only a superficial -- if infuriating -- problem with her argument.

Allen holds up examples of male accomplishment (fine, men are smart, too) and odd science (do we really believe that there is a correlation between brain size and intelligence?) and then uses them as counterpoints to her bizarre definition of what it means to be a woman. Her article boils down to this: Women are different from men, and different means dumber.

With her argument, Allen casts her lot with the legions of xenophobia. She forgets that different doesn't equal bad. Different equals different. And we have names for people who, in other contexts, don't understand this. We call them racists, homophobes and anti-Semites.

SARAH PAYNE

Somerville, Mass.

* * *

The recent outpouring of passionate responses to Charlotte Allen's article reveals one of the fundamental contradictions in contemporary democracy: People are free to say whatever they want, as long as they choose what is considered a legitimate topic of debate.

All too often, people hold views that they are unwilling to challenge, and responses to this article are a prime example. Instead of considering Allen's perspective and discussing its pros and cons, people left what she had to say behind them. Then they argued that she said something that no human must utter; to do so is to be a misogynist, after all.

The point of articles like Allen's is not to set in stone the truth about how the world works. The point is to get people thinking -- to challenge them to consider another perspective.

As humble high school English students, we argue that articles like this one should not be censored or dismissed. They should be actively encouraged and published. The mark of a truly tolerant and enlightened society is one that tolerates even those who are intolerant.

PARKER CRONIN

and 50 other Centerville High School seniors

Centerville, Ohio

* * *

Charlotte Allen's article represents a new low in sexism. The Washington Post's recent response to the outpouring of well-deserved outrage over the piece, however, might actually be more insulting to women than Allen's ill-researched, specious and insulting piece.

Would The Washington Post publish an op-ed titled "African Americans Aren't Very Bright," "Immigrants Aren't Very Bright" or "Jews Aren't Very Bright"? Of course not. Any sentient editorial team would recognize that as a blatant statement of bigotry and hatred. So why are women not given the same consideration? Why does The Post feel free to baldly insult more than 50 percent of the population -- who probably make up more than 50 percent of The Post's readership? Either you share Allen's opinions, or you don't value equality. For a publication that has publicly stated that it wants to attract more female readers, either option seems like a losing strategy.

As a recent contributor to Outlook, I am ashamed to be associated with a publication that deems such blatant bigotry acceptable or even amusing. But as the co-founder and editor of a magazine that works constantly to point out that sexism exists and even thrives in the mainstream media, I suppose I should thank you -- you've made my job that much easier. In the future, whenever people suggest that sexism and bias against women are things of the past, this article will be my Exhibit A in demonstrating not only that sexism is still alive and well, but also that supposedly objective papers of record are the quickest to disseminate it.

ANDI ZEISLER

Bitch Magazine

Portland, Ore.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company