Monday, June 12, 2006

How To Write A Wingnut Opinion Column

David Brooks's new column offers such a good example of this. He writes about the conservative angle on boys' poorer school performance. Because his is a conservative angle, the causes of the problem must be innate differences in girls and boys. The solutions he advocates are, astonishingly, quite different from the usual solution winguts offer when they base something on brain differences between the sexes, which is to do nothing. But in this case it is the male sex that appears to be at a disadvantage, so action is needed, and action, which changes the environment. The horror! I thought that the environment never mattered for the wingnuts. Whatever.

Here are the rules for writing a wingnut column, as learned from David Brooks. And if you dare to note in the comments that I do any of the same things I shall smite you with my divine anger:

1. You will begin by stating that your opinion is common wisdom, nay, truth:

There are three gender-segregated sections in any airport: the restrooms, the security pat-down area and the bookstore. In the men's sections of the bookstore, there are books describing masterly men conquering evil. In the women's sections there are novels about ... well, I guess feelings and stuff.

I shop in what Brooks calls the "men's section" of the bookstore, and I have never been chased away from there because of my sex. And notice how he is defining emotions as something...embarrassing...something he knows nothing about. Has David never felt anger, then? Those masterly men conquering evil, are they robots?

See how cleverly the picture is painted? We already know that men and women are really, really different. And if you still doubt that you are told that rather extreme wingnut books on the question are "lucid guides" and that anyone who has questions of the wingnut interpretations of gender science is putting "intense social pressure" on those who just want to talk about neutral science.

2. You will pick studies to prove your point, even if they are not very good studies.

The same separation occurs in the home. Researchers in Britain asked 400 accomplished women and 500 accomplished men to name their favorite novels. The men preferred novels written by men, often revolving around loneliness and alienation. Camus's "The Stranger," Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" and Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" topped the male list.

The women leaned toward books written by women. The women's books described relationships and are a lot better than the books the men chose. The top six women's books were "Jane Eyre," "Wuthering Heights," "The Handmaid's Tale," "Middlemarch," "Pride and Prejudice" and "Beloved."

Note that these are not a random selection of men and women. These are "accomplished" women and men, women and men largely drawn from the fields of books, cinema and theater. And the study wasn't really about the "favorite" novels of these people but about novels that were life-changing for them. Why do you think women in those fields might have mentioned books by women, even if they actually liked some book written by a guy just as much? I liked Camus a lot as a teenager, by the way, but hated Catcher in the Rye because the protagonist in it muses about wanting to learn to play women like a guitar or something similar. I have no desire to read about me as a musical instrument, and I don't want my life changed in that direction.

3. You will condense and insert older arguments into the story so gently that they slip past your conscious brain straight into that "we all know" part where the emotions (which men don't have, natch) then work on them to make them part of our worldview:

Young boys are compelled to sit still in schools that have sacrificed recess for test prep...

Maybe. But is the bit about "sitting still" any different from the past decades or centuries? Remember how schools got started? Remember that girls weren't allowed in at all, so that the way schools decided to make students sit still was all intended for boys. This is not a new phenomenom, not a part of the "war against boys" that the conservative propaganda machine feeds us.

And so on.