What happens when a woman leaves the Left?
"Man is a political animal"
"I flip when a fellow sends me flowers,
I drool over dresses made of lace,
I talk on the telephone for hours
With a pound and a half of cream upon my face!"
– Oscar Hammerstein
David Horowitz, David Mamet, and Jon Voight are among the famous one-time leftists who underwent a conversion to political conservatism. In that sense, I am like them – I am also a former leftist. In another sense, I am different. I'm a woman.
When one changes from leftwing to rightwing, one encounters some bumps in the road. Some of those bumps are different for women. We face different social challenges, and we need different products.
My passion for politics and addiction to current events has always marked me as different from my female peers. My mother and older sister, though, were also political junkies. My mother took me to my first Washington, DC protest rally. Having political mentors protected me from my more classically feminine peers' contempt for politics. Being the lone girl in the all-night political discussion has its perks. I never dated the captain of the football team; I went with the guy who had a copy of the Communist Manifesto in his back pocket.
In other ways, though, I am more typically female. I'm bad at math. I love pretty things. I'd rather bake cookies and clean house than do almost anything else. A huge percentage of my mental energy is devoted to questions like: "Does that person like me? How can I make that person like me? Is that person happy? How can I make that person happy?"
I know that identifying some features as more "feminine" and others as more "masculine" defies a weird maze of Politically Correct dictates that shift like a scaffold floating on ocean waves. When the US Army, say, says that short hair is masculine, that is met with protest. When Caitlyn Jenner says that long hair and cleavage makes him a woman, Political Correctness suddenly tells us that we are all supposed to agree. Me? I generalize based on numbers that accumulate into a critical mass. When I say "I'm bad at math" and "I love to clean house" and relate that to being a woman, I am deferring to masses of data.
I knew when I moved from left to right that I would lose some friends. I knew because I felt a certain amount of fear before saying:
- There are very few things that the government should be allowed to force people to do.
- People make choices. There are inevitable consequences to those choices, consequences from which it is not my duty to offer rescue.
- A fetus is a human life.
- Cultures are unequal.
- I am a Christian.
- I am proud to be American.
- Communism doesn't work.
Facebook provides a unique archive for broken relationships. Final contacts are timestamped and often accompanied by a manifesto.
The loss of my left-wing male friends has often been linear and uncomplicated. It works like this:
A. I say something overtly political and obviously taboo.
B. My left-wing male friend protests.
C. He unfriends me.
D. There is no further contact.
John and I met when we were both grad students. I danced at his wedding. John once drove eight hundred miles to hear me give a talk. One day I posted a meme mocking Sandra Fluke. John posted a terse protest. John believes that the government should compel private entities like Georgetown University to provide free birth control. John, my friend of over ten years, unfriended me. He blocked me. We have not spoken since.
That kind of surgical precision, linear progression, and crystal clarity on policy issues, typical of male unfriendings, is often not how it works with women. The line between what is political and what is not is much messier. Women have worked much harder to convert me back to correct thought patterns than men have. One woman friend repeatedly said to me, "But you are a kind person. Being rightwing is not kind. Why would you do that? Be kind."
Women tend to bond over discussions of food, relationships, and caretaking activities like home décor, cleaning routines, and child care. How does politics enter into any of that, you may ask? What is a leftwing household cleaning product versus a rightwing household cleaning product? Where, exactly, does a woman cross the line and lose a friend? I often only figure that out after I've crossed the line and lost the friend.
A myriad of unspoken assumptions often underlie interactions in the West today. Here is just a handful: America, the West, and Christianity are oppressive; state coercion of income redistribution is synonymous with compassion; non-Western peoples are more environmentally friendly and warm and cuddly; women are better than men. These assumptions appear not just in political manifestos. They appear in soap packaging, in memoirs, in party games. Below is a description of three failed friendships with other women. We did not part over policy issues. We parted over art, over compassion, and over spirituality.
It's a yearly ritual: I wait for the day after Christmas, when desk calendars go on sale. Then I go to a bookstore and buy my Mary Engelbreit desk calendar, featuring her illustrations on every page. She draws women, children, and couples dancing; she draws moms and dads and puppies and kittens and apple orchards and wrap-around porches and sunflowers and moonlight. Her artwork is accompanied by uplifting quotes: "When a child is born, so is a grandmother" and "If you have knowledge, let others light their candles by it."
When I discovered that I could "friend" Mary Engelbreit on Facebook, I was delighted. Short of "friending" Johannes Vermeer, what more could I, as an art fan, hope for?
In the summer of 2015, Mary posted a picture of a weeping black mother embracing a terrified, cherubic toddler holding his hands over his head. Before them lay a newspaper with the headline: "Hands up; don't shoot." The caption read: "No one should have to teach their children this in the USA." Mary's illustration was a comment on the death of Michael Brown. After Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson, a false narrative emerged. The protesters who would tear Ferguson, Missouri to shreds insisted that Brown had surrendered to Wilson. In fact, video and eyewitness testimony showed that Brown had robbed a store, roughed up the store clerk, resisted arrest, attempted to grab Wilson's gun, and charged at him.
I posted on Mary's page that I live in Paterson, NJ. Paterson is listed as one of the top ten dangerous small cities in America. Two black men were shot to death in front of my building by another black man. I wrote to Mary that when rich white liberals encourage blacks to see themselves as powerless victims with no responsibility for their fate, that message helps to doom black people to powerless, chaotic, nihilistic lives. After I posted this comment, my ability to post or like comments on Mary's page was rescinded.
My connection with Mary Engelbreit was tenuous and limited to being able to like and comment on her Facebook page. Mandy and I, on the other hand, were friends outside of Facebook. We used to work together in a university library. Mandy and I never talked about politics. In grad school, as we beavered away in a tiny, windowless, cinder-block office, we talked about her dissertation research on prostitutes, about relationships, and about men, women, and sex. On Facebook, Mandy mostly griped – hilariously and outrageously – about her job. She also posted vintage photos of deceased loved ones. I had never met Mandy's grandparents or aunts or uncles, but the photos were so expressive that I felt that I had. I was always sure to "like" and leave a comment to honor Mandy's family.
One day Mandy linked an article about the invention of color film.
One might think that the invention of color film would be something that one could be proud of, that one could celebrate. We get to live in an innovative civilization, and during an era, when cool inventions make life richer. We're not living in caves trying to figure out how to use clay and ashes to daub images of a herd of aurochs on the wall. When I miss my loved ones, I can take it for granted that I can turn to snapshots of them at their best moments, and delight my eyes and warm my heart. I can "introduce" new people in my life to my departed mother because I have her color photo. People who have an eye for color and design can exercise their talent by snapping backyard flowers or mountain peaks. All good, right? Well, no.
According to a 2009 scholarly article by Concordia University Communications Studies Professor Lorna Roth, Kodachrome was racist. It was invented to best capture the tones of Caucasian skin. It did not adequately depict black people.
I responded to the article Mandy posted. The inventors of color film were white, I said, and they had largely white audiences and consumers. Must we assume nefarious motives? Indeed, as one account has it, "if subjects with different skin tones appeared in the same scene, [technicians] supplemented the calibration process with special lighting or makeup techniques to ensure non-white participants looked good." Technicians never stopped improving. "New technologies have since emerged capable of representing a wider range of skin colors. Kodak devised improved film stocks with an expanded range of brown and black tones. The growth of digital imaging has further transformed both photography and film-making, allowing artists an unprecedented degree of control over color balance."
It seemed to me that the article Mandy linked was taking a good – color film – and turning it into yet another hair shirt we all had to don to shame ourselves for being Americans, Westerners, white, or whatever group you wanted to flagellate that day. Every aspect of life must be a reminder that white people have caused African Americans to suffer. White people have caused African Americans to suffer. One is never allowed to think about anything else, though. Not even just the aesthetic quality and ingenuity of color film. Mandy had posted so many really lovely photos of her relatives. How could she not value film?
I keyed my tone to Mandy's, which falls between "snotty" and "bitchy" on the discourse spectrum. "I think color film is more good than bad; do we have to feel guilty all the time?" I asked, in paraphrase. I have to paraphrase my post because I can no longer see it. Mandy accused me of "hating" her because she is liberal. I don't think Mandy is liberal at all; in all the years I've known her, she has been apolitical. Thinking about prostitutes, relationships and sex, and griping about your job, and posting photos of your loved ones on Facebook are neither rightwing nor leftwing activities. I'll never get to discuss these questions with Mandy, because after sending me the message informing me that I obviously "hated" her as I "hate" all "liberals," Mandy blocked me. I did cry.
Christina and Paula, on the other hand, worked very hard to convert me.
Christina and Paula were promoting the current mass migration of Muslims into Europe. They insisted that theirs was the only "compassionate" response. Promoters of the mass migration frequently cited the photo of drowned Aylan Kurdi. It's impossible not to be moved by the photo, even after discovering how manipulated both the image and the narrative behind it had been.
I responded that I saw nothing "compassionate" about urging millions of migrants to abandon their homes and gamble all in a flight to Europe, a risk that would inevitably result in disappointment for the majority.
Anyone who has ever met an immigrant – like my own parents – knows that under the best circumstances immigration is inevitably traumatic. The United Nations reports that 72% of the migrants are able-bodied males. Siphoning out 72% of the able-bodied males of a population is something that war does, that plague does. For "compassionate" people in Europe to urge this societal drain on struggling nations is not doing them any favors. The Economist reported that 2,600 people are known to have died in their attempts to reach Europe. Of course many more have died without ever appearing on any official tally. We must assume that many have been raped, or robbed, or otherwise ruined. Migrants arrive in a very foreign culture, where even the red cross on aid food and water is offensive and renders the provisions forbidden for religious reasons.
I begged the migration advocates to consider two photos in addition to the well-known one of Aylan Kurdi. One showed migrants waving a terrified, crying toddler at Hungarian police. The barefoot toddler, dressed in a red t-shirt and diapers, appeared to have been shoved, alone, through a crack in a border fence Hungarian police had erected. It was obvious that the toddler was being used as a propaganda prop.
In another image, a migrant grasped a woman and infant. All three were on train tracks. In video taken before this photo was snapped, the man is shown throwing this woman and baby, perhaps his wife and child, onto the train tracks. Hungarian police attempted to stop him, and to rescue the woman and baby. In a video account – whose authenticity I cannot vouch for – a self-described eyewitness reports that migrant men grabbed any child – not necessarily their own child – to use as props to force themselves onto crowded trains.
Real compassion demands that these migrants be helped in or near their homelands, many of which are surrounded by wealthy and peaceful nations. Saudi Arabia's 100,000 air-conditioned, uninhabited tents should be filled. If migrants need help fighting ISIS, let us give them military aid. If they need help with food or development, let us give them that aid.
Christina and Paula insisted that any resistance to the mass migration was "racist" and "dehumanized" the migrants. Women are supposed to take care of others – like that helpless child Aylan Kurdi photographed on Turkey's shore. We were supposed to open our arms and offer succor, like Angela "Mama" Merkel.
Finally, there was Val. Val posted video from the September, 2014 People's Climate March. In Val's video, Mexicans danced in front of a faux stone idol of Coatlicue, an Aztec deity. The faux idol the dancers worshipped was a faithful rendition of the real idol in the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City. Coatlicue is a killer; she wears a necklace festooned with anatomically correct disembodied human hearts, amputated human hands, and desiccated human skulls. Coatlicue's fashion accessories are reflective of the cannibalism and human sacrifice that were central to Aztec religion.
To Val, though, the dance was above criticism. The dancers and their deity were non-Western and "indigenous;" Coatlicue was a goddess – not a god. All these features made Coatlicue superior to the evil, male, Western God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. To believe this, you have to ignore several realities, including the fact that Mexico did see civilizational collapse before Columbus ever arrived, a collapse indigenous people may have brought about through warfare or environmental damage.
Val called the dance "sacred." I commented, "It's not really sacred till they rip out the still-beating heart of their sacrificial victim" – a key moment in Aztec ritual. Val and her friends came down on me like a box of rocks. I had to respect what was sacred to them, they insisted. I responded, "I don't respect human sacrifice." I refused to participate in the charade that non-Western religions are all love fests.
As a woman and a former leftist, I have not found my niche, my community, my store or my products.
There are political women of course, but their styles are often masculinized – abrasive, confrontational, and individualistic. I may agree with Ann Coulter, Pam Geller, or Megyn Kelly, but I find it hard to warm to their delivery. Whom do I like? When I was a kid I saw Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp and Mary Poppins. I fell in love with her then and love her still. She's beautiful, nurturing, all-powerful; she twirls on mountaintops and bursts into song. What's not to like?
A critical mass of women spend more time reading memoirs and novels than political tomes, more time cooking and cleaning than watching Fox News or CNN, more time gossiping with other women than watching sports on TV. Many of us chafe against the underlying leftist assumptions in the cultural products we consume, and the conversations with friends we find ourselves in, and we struggle to find a stance, a tone of voice, a role model, a spokesperson who represents us. We are, I think, a largely untapped market.