July 31, 2014

Not A Word To Spare: Charlotte Allen has a problem with the way that feminists today write.



It's only recently that I've begun reading feminist tomes.

As I spent a long time insisting that I wasn't a feminist, my reading in the are was, needless to say, sparse. But I had encountered The Feminine Mystique in college, and I jumped into several great blogs online when I owned up to my feminist tendencies.

When I ran across a piece in the Los Angeles Times titled "I don't understand today's feminists--because they can't write", I was understandably intrigued. Allen says:
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.
I don't disagree with Allen's admiration. I do, however, think she's out of touch.

Allen, the problem isn't that they can't write. It's that you're too old.


Allen has an example for us. She says:
I started thinking about them when I came across this recently written sentence -- yes, it’s a single sentence -- by New Republic senior editor Rebecca Traister: 
“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.’ ”
 Allen has issues with this statement, stylistically. She has an issue with clauses that she considers murky.

But can we be honest?

I'm a young woman, not even thirty, and I completely understand it. It's written in my dialogue, to my generation.

For just one example, Allen asks:

But what does “go black in the eyes” mean?
Obviously, Allen is not a fan of the show Supernatural, unlike so many of us who've grown up on the show over the past ten years, or she would recognize the imagery:


So for me, rather than being left confused by the statement, I draw on the pop culture reference, and I recognize a whole level to that one simple phrase. I pull my favorite demons from the show. I can hear the demonic voice that says "I don't [expletive] care if you like it."

That passage has tapped into another level. It's gotten me to engage with it.

What is the point of writing, if not to communicate? If someone wrote in the style that Allen puts forth, they wouldn't connect to people from my generation, let alone younger. They wouldn't have a connection with that audience.

Perhaps it's not that they can't write, but that they write a certain way to reach a certain audience.

Which is exactly what a writer should do.

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