Women never would have invented television?

Author Fay Weldon argues that in a women's world, babies would be treasured but we'd have no technology.

Published February 1, 2008 4:55PM (EST)

Fay Weldon's at it again, pontificating on biological truth with all the nuance of an a.m. shock jock!

Perhaps this Belfast Telegraph thumb sucker was contrived to revive sales of her pseudo-self-help book "What Makes Women Happy" (which Publishers Weekly slapped down as a "mishmash of pointless parables and banal advice that won't make anyone happy"). Or maybe it was intended to grease the P.R. gears for her 2007 novel, "The Spa Decameron." Whatever the case, Weldon has unleashed another bassackward, barely intelligible diatribe on one of her favorite topics: how women should adapt to men's sexism.

Using a new study about how men overestimate their intelligence while women underestimate their own brainpower by British psychologist Adrian Furnham, Weldon feeds the research through her collection of Darwinian cookie cutters. The result is a batch of noxious generalizations about both genders: arrogant men whose hard-wiring requires them to boast, grunt and "live by testosterone" and "estrogen-based" women whose survival strategies compel them to "tuck in the chin, lower the eyes and pretend" to be stupider than they are because they want to get their men. Weldon helpfully points to research that men want to marry women who are dumber, younger and lower status than they are.

But like so many fans of evolutionary dogma, Weldon unfortunately confuses what sometimes is with what always has been and should always be. "Men single-task. Women multi-task; it's in their natures to do so, the better to look after the babies we were designed to have," Weldon writes. "Women pride themselves on this ability, but perhaps it is not so much of an advantage. Men focus better. In a world of their own, would women have invented television? I doubt it." With feminist punditry like this, who needs amendments to the Southern Baptist Convention?

This isn't new territory for Weldon: In "What Makes Women Happy," Weldon recommended that women fake their orgasms to keep men happy. But Weldon moves far beyond bedroom politics when she suggests that women's perceptions of their grandfathers and fathers as smarter than their grandmothers and mothers might not be a matter of internalized discrimination but an accurate perception of reality because as the research shows, guys like stupid chicks. "Today's woman ... sees her grandfather as cleverer than her grandmother, but this need not be only prejudice," she writes. "It may well be that she remembers him accurately. Grandpapa's tendency would have been to marry a sweet girl rather than a clever girl."

I hate to slam a grande dame of literature -- especially one whose wickedly dark humor I've relished so many times. But dreck like this only compels me to wonder, what kind of herb is she growing on her windswept hillside in Dorset?

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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