Monday, February 21, 2005

Girls girls girls

Girls (sorry, women) aren't scientists. We aren't pundits. And evidently, these days, we aren't public intellectuals, either. I felt I had to read this LA Times piece because, when I described my career plans to my friend Katherine, she laughed and said that what I want to be when I grow up is a public intellectual.

So is it really true, as Charlotte Allen claims, that "The vast majority of women who might otherwise qualify as public intellectuals would rather recite the feminist catechism or articulate some new twists and refinements on it than carve out a place for themselves in the larger public world"?

It depends on how broadly one defines "feminist"--if any female intellectual who ever discusses and/or sticks up for women gets lumped into this category, then sure, many do count as such. I write about some women-related things, many non-gender-specific ones, but my being female and my decision not to completely avoid letting that influence my writing would, by some accounts, make me a feminist writer, or, to less enlightened minds, a "girl blogger." But part of the reason things have changed since Arendt et al is that there's now this huge workforce of female professionals, so brilliant women who might have once gone into public-intellectualizing are now investment bankers, lawyers, etc. So the women who remain are the ones who don't just need to channel intellect, but who really do just want to get paid to write about whatever happens to be on their minds. Well, Andrew Sullivan makes it known that he's gay, Cornel West, rumor has it, is black, so if we take them as they are, do we really need to fault Barbara Ehrenreich for focusing on female workers?

Part of why it looks like there aren't so many female public intellectuals/pundits is that women are dismissed not just for discussing, well, women, but for taking on any subject in a feminine manner. There's a certain way that men write, with a self-assured swagger, confident that they and they alone know how to fix the economy or the Middle East. Women tend not to write this way. While I apparently write like a man, I just don't have that urge to say that I don't think but know what must be done in Iraq. This may well have more to do with being moderate or indecisive than with being female, but anyway....To be a serious public intellectual these days, you can't just muse about culture and books, you need the voice of an over-confident high school debater. Most women don't sound this, even when writing strongly about dry or serious issues....

Would continue the thought, but I need to learn the Hebrew words for different types of vegetables by 9 am tomorrow, so the public intellectualizing may have to wait.

Via The American Scene.


Anonymous said...

Is this something like the requirement in many hispanic families that one but in and speak loudly/firmly if one is to be heard at all? Because if you wait for the family to stop and let you talk, it's gonna be an awfully long wait?

Adam Kraus said...

I wouldn't say that women are dismissed for discussing things in a feminine manner. A feminine manner of approaching something, to the extent that such exists, and which may include as you say being ambivalent or indecisive, is more just not living up to the standards and demands of the trade. Having confidence in the absolute rightness of what you think and say is just part of the requirement for being a successful commentator or intellectual. For better or for worse, people are just not as interested in hearing someone speak who sounds like they don't have definite answers or interpretations. Whether this tendency is harder to come by for women in immaterial to the larger issue that it is simply a requirement of the trade.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Sullivan's gay!????