Maureen Dowd, Sports, & The Perils Of Slamming SexismS

Yesterday we noted that female bloggers are frequently subject to comments about their sex lives. Of course, this happens to women in old media as well — as evinced by one conservative writer's vicious and lame takedown of Maureen Dowd.

At issue here (ostensibly) is the sports-heavy culture of the Obama White House. American Spectator Editor-in-Chief R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is no big fan of Obama, but he does want to defend the President against "ladies" who have the nerve to roll their eyes at an all-male White House basketball game and a general atmosphere of sports fandom. Criticizing the woman who told the Times "that her relative indifference to athletics could be mildly alienating," he writes,

Would it have helped if the President had invited this troubled woman to play basketball? He is 6'2" and presumably those who play with him are of above-average size. What are they to do with an average-size woman on the court? Or is she quite large? Nonetheless Obama's basketball players must be pretty strong — at least as compared to women. Yet maybe the eye-rolling women are pretty strong too, but as strong as these men? Is that likely? I know that men and women are equal (which to feminists means identical), but are women equal to men on the basketball court? Why are none of our female college basketball players playing in the NBA? Oh yes, and how did talking sports with colleagues become controversial and exclusionary? I thought there were a lot of women in the country interested in sports.

But the real beneficiary of Tyrrell's snide-fest is NY Times Op-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd, who wrote a column about the President's sporty predilections and challenged him to a game of Scrabble. I'm not a particular fan of Dowd's writing (she calls Obama's family an "estrogen nest," which, ew), but she doesn't deserve Tyrrell's both sexist and ill-informed takedown. He writes,

"Men have always craved private realms — the golf club, men's club, garage, workshop, shed; a place to get away from the chatter and clatter of women and kids," writes Dowd, who has never been married and has no children. In fact, in an embarrassing book she has lamented over how difficult she has found it to be in close contact with men.

Of course, being unmarried and childless doesn't actually mean you live in a convent with no contact with men or understanding of their behavior. And actually, Dowd's book Are Men Necessary? is, for all its problems, a light-hearted bit of pop sociology, not the "lament" of a lonesome lady. But of course, Tyrrell isn't really interested in critiquing Dowd's male-analysis credentials. He just wants to make her sound like a sad, sexless woman, because that's apparently the worst thing a female writer can be. Tyrrell continues,

So what is Dowd up to? Aside from revealing once again why she has so much difficulty getting a boyfriend, she reveals that she wants to play Scrabble with the President. In her stupendously undignified column she admits it.

How embarrassing! She must really be desperate if she wants to play Scrabble with Obama. I'll "admit it" too — I would like to toss some tiles with the President of the United States. I guess that makes me undignified.

At first glance, it kind of unclear why Tyrrell singles out Dowd for his bile. Her column is hardly a radical feminist rant — she even quotes a female friend who says, "Will every game now have to have a certain number of Asians, atheists, vegetarians and public-option hard-liners?" Her Scrabble invitation is really an extremely gentle and playful way of asking Obama to make sure he includes women in the social life of the White House — and aren't we women supposed to be gentle and playful?

But really, what Tyrrell shows is that when a woman dares to have a public voice and then mentions sexism even in the least confrontational manner, it's open season for childish commentary on her sex life or supposed lack thereof. If she happens to be single, there's no reason to bother actually evaluating her arguments — she must not know anything because she can't land a man. And of course, if she keeps talking in such an uppity fashion, she'll never get one. Tyrrell winds up his column with the line, "Sometimes one reads about the controversies such women have over the men around them, and one remembers how happy one was to get out of high school all those years ago." But he's the one whose rhetoric never graduated.

Where The Girls Are [The American Spectator]