Allen's Argument Isn't "Vintage," It's Just Old

Unfortunately, the backlash against's Charlotte Allen was probably just the reaction she desired, one that she sees as somehow proving her point: a chorus of voices inflated in hysterical outrage.
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Last fall, my mother gave me a stack of aprons that my grandmother wore in the 1950s. The colors have faded, but the patterns are still lush; the fabric is threadbare, but still sturdy enough to put up with splatters of sauce and dollops of dough. I now wear those aprons proudly when I cook, thrilled that my grandmother has a presence beside me in the kitchen, confident that she'd be proud of what she sees.

Those aprons represent the very best of vintage: there is a wisdom in their age and a wealth in their provenance. When I tie them around my waist nearly 60 years later, they are recycled, reborn with new use.

But when I read Charlotte Allen's piece in the Sunday Washington Post, I realized that sometimes vintage is just a fancy name for out-of-fashion. The article certainly marks the reemergence of an antique, but in this case, what we get isn't a hip new comeback. Instead, we've been given a moth-eaten scrap of a concept dressed up in bloviated language and sold to the public for far more than it's worth.

What it boils down to is this: Allen's piece doesn't hold a candle to the vintage of my grandmother's aprons. It's nothing more than old hat.

To be fair, I can follow the thin thread of logic that led the Post to run it. I don't for a second buy the whole "satire" trope. That's not just a smokescreen - it's a cop-out. The editorial staff knew people would read the article and pass it on to others, they knew the response to it would be explosive, and they knew that Allen, like the rest of us, deserves to be able to exercise her right to free speech.

But the Post had no obligation to provide her with the soapbox. And we certainly don't have to buy into what she said.

As for me, I found the supposed logic bolstering Allen's piece to be inelegant, untenable, and deeply disturbing. The piece offers not insight into the feminine psyche, but the repackaging of an outdated stereotype. Her diatribe against her own gender, which implausibly gets weak in the knees at the words of Obama, Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert and McDreamy, plays into the most insidious form of misogyny, the kind that denigrates women who do not fit into pre-prescribed roles and infantilizes those who do. Schopenhauer would be proud.

Like you, I read the pieces on this site by Jason Linkins, Alex Leo, and others, and I reveled in their spot-on excoriation of Allen's argument. Unfortunately, the overall backlash against Allen was probably just the reaction she desired, one that she probably sees as somehow proving her point: a chorus of voices inflated in hysterical outrage.

I know I am just as guilty as anyone else of contributing to the din, and I hope Ms. Allen hears it loud and clear. But frankly, I think it's a downright shame to see that so many intelligent women (and men) still feel compelled to eviscerate this kind of commentary. In a perfect world, we could have given Allen's piece the response it really deserves - absolute silence. In a perfect world, her vacuous message would have fallen on deaf ears and we could all have gotten back to the real work of living our lives as intelligent, enviable, and empowered women making a profound difference in the world. That act ultimately does much more to disprove Allen's verbal detritus than any glib response ever could.

Still, words do have power, and Ms. Allen well knows that. I hope it occurs to her that if we're sitting down at our computers, turning on our brains and whipping up devastating responses that far outshine her feeble claims, then we sure as heck aren't wringing our hands or looking for someone to catch us when we faint.

Many of us cook, many of us clean, and many have children, but these pieces of our lives do not fit together to form the whole of us. I also hope that we women will put as much effort into uniting together in the face of real oppression as we do into our lambasting of ridiculous opinions like this one, long ago proven by science and hard work to be false. If we can do that, then we will, one day, uniformly be treated as what we in fact already are: men's equals.

And as for Ms. Allen, I have a suggestion: if you have trouble with two plus two and you think deep down that we're all "kind of dim," then, as a woman yourself, you obviously don't think that even you are capable of cogent thought. So why don't you put on your cocktail dress, make yourself a martini, and trot on into the kitchen to cook your husband his dinner. Don't trouble your pretty little head with what you don't really understand. Just leave the really important work to the rest of us.

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