Even by Maureen Dowd’s standards, her Sunday NY Times piece is remarkably bitter and joyless. At its heart, it reveals a befuddled rage at the mysteries of human nature that feminism was unable to expunge. Her despair that women, after all the sturm und drang of the feminist era, still want to attract men, and are even willing (some of them) to trade domesticity for career, is rendered with a subtle tone of incomprehension that says more about her than the phenomena she is purportedly analyzing. And that’s what makes the piece so uncomfortable to read; it’s about Dowd, not the state of women today. What else to conclude when the author’s analysis includes pieces of pure fantasy like this:
Decades after the feminist movement promised equality with men, it was becoming increasingly apparent that many women would have to brush up on the venerable tricks of the trade: an absurdly charming little laugh, a pert toss of the head, an air of saucy triumph, dewy eyes and a full knowledge of music, drawing, elegant note writing and geography. It would once more be considered captivating to lie on a chaise longue, pass a lacy handkerchief across the eyelids and complain of a case of springtime giddiness.
I’ve never met any women who act like this, and I share a city with Dowd. But the worst parts are when she makes the connection between her social critique and her personal complaint explicit, as here:
It’s funny. I come from a family of Irish domestics — statuesque, 6-foot-tall women who cooked, kept house and acted as nannies for some of America’s first families. I was always so proud of achieving more — succeeding in a high-powered career that would have been closed to my great-aunts. How odd, then, to find out now that being a maid would have enhanced my chances with men.
Someone should tell her that she needn’t bother slumming. Men don’t fall in love with angry, sardonic maids, any more than they do with angry, sardonic columnists. Dowd wants it all to have to do with her smarts — that’s why men don’t like me, I scare them! It’s a nice cop-out, placing the responsibility for her unhappiness at the doorstep of men and their delicate egos, their need for power and dominance. Yet Dowd seems never to reckon with her own need to control everything, not least the nature of sex differences and the limitations of human beings.
Dowd is never able to mount any convincing evidence that women are in a bad way, but she makes it abundantly clear that she is. She’s angry that women want certain kinds of men; angry that men want certain kinds of women; and angry that, apparently, men don’t want her. Probably the reason they don’t is because she’s … angry.
It’s hell, fighting human nature. I wish MoDo luck, and leave her with these lines from Robinson Jeffers:
Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you.