The article about Jane Austen in yesterday’s Week In Review — “Pretty Words, Jane; Would That You Were, Too” (Better title: “She’s An Okay Writer, But Damn! She Was, Like, Not That Hot”) — really took the idiot cake. But granted, I’m one of those nutty idealists who think that sexism (and racism and whatnot) are Not Allowed Anymore. The gist: nobody knows what Austen looked like, and there’s speculation that she — wait for it — might not have been attractive. “What if,” Charlees McGrath muses, “she became a writer in part because she didn’t have the looks to land a husband”!? One of the only images thought to be trustworthy — a sketch by Austen’s sister — showcases “a rather plain woman on the wrong side of 30 in a spinsterish cap, with what may even be a hint of a scowl.” Dude, can you believe anyone would ever read a book by a woman on the wrong side of 30? If a chick has the temerity to age, the least she can do is smile, right? Are the physical assets of a female literary icon really and truly worthy of discussion in the paper of record, in an article by no less than the editor of the Book Review? What’s next? Is Michiko going to break it to us that Wordsworth might have had a small dick? No, of course not: we don’t necessarily demand hotness of our male geniunses. Halfway through the piece, Mr. McGrath acknowledges that “as long as we have her books, does it matter, really, what Austen looked like?” And then he promptly resumes fretting about her fugliness, calling her a “sourpuss”. Best of all is McGrath’s implication that he’s only retroactively concerned for her, since “Austen lived in an age when a woman’s physical attractiveness was, next to her fortune, her greatest asset.” Oh, those quaint, bygone times! Riiiiight: just flip on over to the front page story about the ridiculous hoops young female overachievers feel compelled to jump through these days, wherein 17-year-old Kat Jiang (who got a perfect 2400 on her SATs, BTW!) observes: “It’s out of style to admit it, but it is more important to be hot than smart.” How heartwrenchingly en pointe, young Ms. Jiang.
Thank goodness for the antidote of this sensible op-ed, at least. (And yes, I know you gotta be a quicker response-draw on This Here Internets.)
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