Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
After Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the primary race, the predictable whining commenced from all those supposedly independent, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better feminists. The stock clichés filled their complaints: “misogyny,” “patriarchy,” “sexism,” all the usual suspects rounded up to excuse the glaring electoral incompetence of a terrible candidate. As is the case with Hillary Clinton, criticism of a political persona dripping with schoolmarm condescension, self-righteousness, and arrogant disdain is redeemed by transforming these flaws into question-begging slurs like “shrill” and “strident,” and dismissing them as an “irrational prejudice,” a neurotic failure on the part of men to acknowledge her superior talents and “competence.”
Once again, we see how a movement that started as the removal of barriers to equal opportunity and women’s agency, has degenerated into an identity-politics weapon that strangely reinforces what equity feminism tried to eliminate: The notion that women who are supposedly equal to men are in fact victims still needing protection from men and their stubborn sexist prejudices and “toxic masculinity.” Half a century after feminists started to “roar,” as Helen Reddy sang, they’ve regressed to the whining of the weak.
One manifestation of this incoherence is the return of the once demonized “double standard,” with feminists now employing it to serve their interests. So a Clinton or a Warren should not be criticized by men, at the same time women can be as vicious as they want to their ideological rivals. Just ask any conservative Christian woman like Sarah Palin. An accomplished politician and hunter who raised a Downs child instead of killing him for her own convenience, was viciously demonized and slandered with impunity by her progressive feminist “sisters.” And who can forget what Hillary and her minions did to Bill’s sexual assault victims like Juanita Broaddrick?
So, according to the new double standard, Warren can brag about publicly berating and insulting Mike Bloomberg during a debate. But nobody accuses her of misandry, using sexist “dog whistles,” displaying “toxic femininity,” or throwing around crude stereotypes about boorish men insufficiently sensitive to the fragility of women. At the same time, she whines about the Bernie Bros whom she accuses of assaulting her with “hateful tweets.” And have you noticed how Tulsi Gabbard––smeared by Hillary as a “Russian asset”–– who is still in the running, has been disappeared as thoroughly as Trotsky from a Soviet May Day photograph? And where is the feminist outcry against the sexist DNC for changing the rules in the middle of the game in order to keep “woman of color” Gabbard from participating in the next debate? All we hear are crickets from the same “woke” scolds whining about a primary finale starring two old, rich, heterosexual white males, the epitome of “racist, sexist, classist privileged” evil.
In other words, women are the equals of men––until it comes to the political or business or dating arena, which in real life has no laws. But now, when a woman loses an election, fails to get a promotion, or uses bad judgment in picking a date, suddenly we’re back in Victorian England, where men were supposed to follow the chivalric code predicated on women’s weakness and need for male protectors. Today that knight is usually the feds, with its HR commissars and poorly written harassment laws, that monitor and punish insufficiently “woke” men, even if the behavior is decades old.
Look no further than the recent Kavanaughing of ultra-progressive MSNBC host Chris Matthews, whose leg Barack Obama set a-tingling. A politically clumsy comparison of Bernie Sanders’ campaign to the Nazi invasion and occupation of France was punished by excavating charges that he made “inappropriate” comments about some women’s appearance and flirted clumsily. Now, a truly strong, confident woman knows how to handle such behavior, if she really finds it offensive. But the new snowflake feminists, whether through careerist cunning or a sincere sense of grievance, can rifle through a powerful man’s history and, like Beria, find the crime. Matthews was forced to retire for his old sins, which were pretexts for punishing his politically offensive metaphor that denigrated progressive heart-throb Bernie Sanders.
It’s this presumed fragility of women that violates the whole foundation of first-wave feminism. And it insults generations of women who had the cultural, religious, and familial resources for handling boorish males. This infantilizing of women, moreover, follows from the class origins of modern feminism among the women who benefited most from modernity. Remember, the greatest liberators of women had nothing to do with dubious feminist theory like the “social construction of gender,” or wacky “herstory” myths about ancient matriarchies, or pop-psych fads like “women’s way of knowing.” Rather, cultural and historical changes driven mostly by white males improved women’s lives.
The doctrine of unalienable human rights beyond the power of the state was the first. Once this belief was encoded in the Constitution, it was a matter of time before existing violations of this foundational principle would be challenged and eventually eradicated. The right to vote was just the beginning of changes that called on the authority of our foundational document to remove man-made, arbitrary barriers to women’s full enjoyment of their unalienable right to equal treatment under the law.
Second, new knowledge and technologies began to liberate women from their primal oppressor: nature and its ruthless reproductive imperative. Every woman after menarche is reminded every month of that nonnegotiable law. Even a hundred years ago, pregnancy and childbirth were a lottery that selected those mothers and infants who would survive, and those who would die. Only when science discovered how to treat water to eliminate infectious disease like cholera, and piped clean water into homes, did the rate of infant and mother mortality began its steep decline: from 165 per infants per 1000 in 1900, to under six per 1000 today. For mothers, the rate dropped from 600 per 1000 to 15 today. Later, new contraceptive devices gave women more agency over how many pregnancies, if any, they would have.
Similarly, new technologies and developments like indoor plumbing and electricity liberated women from the back-breaking drudgery of domestic work. Remember, not only did women have to lug water to the house from wells and creeks, they had to carry waste-water back out. In 1921, a Michigan farmer calculated that a neighbor’s wife during her lifetime had walked over 5000 miles and carried 2000 tons of water for household use. Electronic appliances likewise reduced the amount of time women spent on the labor of washing clothes and cleaning carpets by hand. These improvements freed up women’s time and saved them from physical ailments caused by hard work.
By the postwar period, the improvement in women’s lives created the Fifties icon of the housewife seen in television sit-coms like The Donna Reed Show and Leave it to Beaver. But these gains were a benefit of an expanding economy powered by free-market capitalism that distributed wealth more widely. Even still, there were millions of women who could not reap the full benefits of that wealth, and the increase in leisure and opportunity for women. While the daughters of the middle and professional classes dreamed of going to college and having a career, rural and working-class women still were subjected to household drudgery or industrial jobs.
Modern feminism began to flourish during the economic expansion of the Sixties. And like many revolutions, in the main, the feminist one began among those women who had the leisure and education to develop the ambition for more improvement. That’s still the essence of feminism today: It’s a luxury for those who can afford it. For women who worked menial jobs or in the service sector, a well-heeled daughter of a lawyer agitating because she wants to be a lawyer rather than marry one would get little sympathy.
So political philosophy, science, technology, and a dynamic economic system profoundly improved women’s lives. Indeed, the average middle-class woman in a Western nation today enjoys a material existence superior to that of 99% of all women and men who ever existed. They live longer and healthier, are liberated from back-breaking physical labor, are freed from the lethal reproductive lottery, and have autonomy, freedom, and leisure undreamed of by our ancestors of both sexes. For progressive feminists to call for more socialism, the failed system that has led to the immiseration and oppression of millions of women, makes their ingratitude even more shameful.
So what gives? Why do our modern feminist elite keep on whining about “patriarchy” and “sexism”? Because progressive identity politics is not about facts, but about leveraging power. Identity is created by victimhood, and victimhood creates the predicate for compensatory power and privilege to atone for the offenses of males, or whites, or heterosexuals, or the “binary gendered,” against women, blacks, Latinos, homosexuals, transsexuals, or whatever other new victim-group that will no doubt in the future join the conga-line of victims. And if there are no offenses, no “crises” that should never be “let go to waste”? Make them up by turning words and thoughts and subjective interpretations of otherwise innocuous behaviors and language into crimes.
Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren and others of their ilk––some of the luckiest, most privileged women ever to exist––still want the political power to institutionalize and enforce their progressive utopian policies. When they don’t get it because of their own failings and unpleasant personalities, they fall back on clichés and question-begging epithets rather than seeking to improve themselves and figuring out how to appeal to the average voter, millions of whom are women, including Democratic primary voters.
Rather than the strong, autonomous, independent women that equity feminism set out to create, today’s feminists are petulant whiners, always blaming others for their own shortcomings, and dependent on the new patriarchy of the Big Daddy Government. Whatever you want to call them, they’re not feminists.
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