Feminists can’t write? News to me.

Charlotte Allen, guest blogging in the L.A. Times, doesn’t understand feminist writers today, because they can’t write. Poor baby.

As evidence, she produces a sentence by Rebecca Traitser,in a piece that appeared in the New Republic:

“I wish that every woman whose actions and worth are parsed and restricted, congratulated and condemned in this country might just once get to wheel around — on the committee that doesn’t believe their medically corroborated story of assault, or on the protesters who tell them that termination is a sin they will regret, or on the boss who tells them he doesn’t believe in their sexual choices, or on the mid-fifties man who congratulates them, or himself, on finding them appealing deep into their dotage — and go black in the eyes and say, ‘I don’t [expletive] care if you like it.’ ”

That’s it.  One piece.  Or, rather, one sentence. That is all the evidence for “feminists today can’t write” that Allen gives. By the way, the sentence on which Allen based her assessment of the lack of coherence among new feminist writers was the last sentence of a piece that I had read weeks ago, which had spread like wildfire among my Facebook friends.

“But what does ‘go black in the eyes’ mean?” Allen whines. “How about ‘the boss who tells them he doesn’t believe in their sexual choices’? What on earth is that supposed to refer to? The boss is a pimp, and his hookers are picking the wrong johns?”

Three paragraphs before, Traitster said exactly what she meant by “black in the eyes”:

Instead, I’ve been thinking about an anecdote in Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Amy Poehler, then new to “Saturday Night Live,” was engaging in some loud and unladylike vulgarity in the writers’ room when the show’s then-star Jimmy Fallon jokingly told her to cut it out, saying, “It’s not cute! I don’t like it!” In Fey’s retelling, Poehler “went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him,” forcefully informing him: “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”  [emphasis mine]


As far as the “boss who tells them he doesn’t believe in their sexual choices,” how else can she parse the Hobby Lobby decision, and the continued right-wing insistence that single women who have sex are sluts? Allen claims to be befuddled by a sentence (and yes, it’s a long sentence, so maybe it challenged her apparently limited reading comprehension) that was perfectly clear in the context of the article in which it appeared.

There are, of course, many wonderful feminist writers out there. The writing is more informal than that published in the 60s and 70s, but to a large extent that can be placed at the Internet’s feet. The important writers on feminist subjects are likely these days to be bloggers, either at major media sites or independent. There are too many to name; a good place to start is with a blog aggregator like feministblogs.org. There are also a lot of blogs which have a definitely feminist outlook.  Some of them are even by men: one of my favorites, Whatever by John Scalzi, once ran a post on what a feminist looks like. (Among other things, Scalzi has announced a policy of not being part of SF conventions that do not have clearly stated anti-harrassment policies.  One of the upshots of this is that Scalzi’s event in San Diego was not held at Comic-Con, but elsewhere.)

That’s the Internet.  It is the media of the moment in which we live. But women writers in all sorts of media are raising their voices to protest attacks on their reproductive freedom, denounce a culture which excuses rape and other violence against women, expose and object to the inequalities and harassment women are subjected to in the workplace, and so on.

Of course, Allen is just being disingenuous: she begins her piece by saying

I’m not a feminist — that’s an understatement — but I sometimes get nostalgic for feminists.

Not today’s feminists, though, but the feminists of yore — of what’s called “the Second Wave,” the radical women’s movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. It’s not that I agreed with what those Second Wave feminists advocated: It mostly consisted of throwing away your makeup, ditching your husband, and going to live in an all-women, macrobiotic-diet “collective.”

It was because those old gals could write. Their ideas might have been repellent, but they expressed them in bell-clear, eloquent English that any professional writer would envy. [emphasis mine]


(Note her disdain for the very writers she purports to praise: they clearly are not “professional writers.”)

I’ve read a lot of “Second Wave” feminist works, and yes, they are brilliant, but the writing is not the uniform marvel that Allen would have you believe.  There is a lot of pedestrian writing in Betty Friedan’s work, for example. That does not matter to Allen.  She cherrypicks lyrical and moving passages out of important feminist works, and contrasts that with one sentence taken out of context from an informal editorial piece by one writer. On the basis of that, she is willing to dismiss all feminists today as dolts.

Allen ends with

Now, I don’t believe a thing those Second-Wavers wrote. I don’t want to bash the male sex, quit cooking for my husband, or start a revolution. But I’d rather read their writings than the sloppy prose that today’s wave of feminists produces. [emphasis mine]


In the end what Allen really objects to are the ideas that feminist writers have been promulgating. Our ideas are “repellent.”  In the 70s, she would have written the same article, deriding the same writers that she now praises for their incoherent ranting.

There’s just no pleasing some people.  Especially anti-feminists.

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1 Response to Feminists can’t write? News to me.

  1. Geri says:

    She must objects to scientists too, then, because *jargon* 😉

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