Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Amid all the election mayhem and politicized coronavirus hysteria of the past several months, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the cultural realm, not the political arena, is where the deeper threat to our freedoms and civilization lies, because the culture is where hearts and minds are won or lost. The Left has always known this, but the Right tends to obsess over the political and scorn the cultural as trivial and unserious. If we never grasp how critical it is to engage the Left on that front, we will lose the Long Game. Let’s look at a couple of recent examples of one aspect of the Marxist assault on our culture in which the Left is gaining ground – their agenda to subvert our traditional norms of masculinity.
After what was widely touted in the media as a “history-making” appearance, Vanderbilt University female soccer player-turned-football kicker Sarah Fuller was recently named Special Teams Player of the Week by the Southeastern college football conference (SEC), along with Florida University player Kadarius Toney.
What did Fuller do to earn this honor? She “[t]ook the opening kickoff of the second half against the Tigers, as her perfectly-executed kick sailed 30 yards and was downed at the Missouri 35-yard line,” the SEC crowed in explanation.
That’s it. She was on the field for one play – not for a high-pressure, game-clinching field goal, but for a low, line drive of a kickoff that “sailed” a mere 30 yards. In all fairness, this kick was intended to be short in order to prevent a runback, but apparently, as a soccer goalie, longer kicks aren’t her strong suit: “[The short kickoff] was designed for her because that’s what she’s used to striking,” the head coach later tried to explain to reporters. And “perfectly-executed”? Perfectly-executed is the standard, not the exception, with kickoffs. One perfectly-executed kickoff is not an award-winning achievement – unless the kicker is a woman.
What would have happened if Vanderbilt’s opponents had returned the kick? “Football is not a contact sport,” the late Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty is credited with quipping. “It is a collision sport.” At 6’2”, Fuller isn’t petite (it’s unclear what her weight is; she is the only player on the Vanderbilt roster whose weight is not listed), but it’s a fair bet that if one of the male Missouri blockers hurtling downfield at full speed after Fuller’s kickoff had targeted her, or if she had tried to tackle the ball carrier, the question of whether women can compete on a truly equal footing with men in a collision sport would have been settled in one single collision. To avoid that very possibility, Fuller jogged to the sidelines immediately after her kick.
Meanwhile, her co-Player of the Week Kadarius Toney returned a punt 50 yards for what proved to be the decisive touchdown of the game as his Florida team defeated Kentucky. And yet Fuller’s inconsequential kick in a game in which her team was massacred 41-0 earned her equal billing with Toney. This seems suspiciously like affirmative action and virtue signaling, though her head coach tried to distance himself from it as such: “I’m not about making statements. This was out of necessity,” he told the media about his choice to play Fuller, pointing out that COVID and the holiday break had reduced student availability for the kicker position to “almost nil.”
The fact is, the SEC named Fuller Player of the Week, and the Left-leaning media trumpeted it as history-making, not because of outstanding play but because she is a woman who took the field for a single play in a man’s game (a game which feminists – both male and female – decry as brutal and macho; but apparently it’s okay when a woman takes part). She is actually being celebrated for an historic breakthrough not in college football, but in social justice. “Making history” is how you spin a narrative – however false – to promote a culture-changing agenda.
This is not to take anything away from Fuller’s competitive spirit or her athletic ability as a women’s championship soccer player. She likely would excel in a women’s football league. But under ordinary, non-pandemic circumstances, she doesn’t belong on the field alongside men in a collision sport. Affirmation action does not empower anyone; on the contrary, it demeans those it is intended to benefit and breeds resentment, distrust, and division all around. And virtue-signaling to promote a political agenda does not alter the reality that women generally are not physically designed for a game made for hulking men with a degree of upper-body strength that would annihilate the average male, much less woman. It is not misogynistic or sexist to point out what in recent memory everyone still would have considered to be a biological truth. Similarly, hulking men who conveniently “identify” as women so they can dominate women’s sports don’t belong in them (a growing number of female athletes very vocally agree). Such a formerly commonsense stance is now considered “transphobic” hate speech.
In related news in another cultural arena, pop star Harry Styles was celebrated this month as the first man to appear solo on the cover of Vogue magazine. In the cover photo and a fashion spread inside, Styles is decked out in women’s clothing. Conservative commentator Candace Owens expressed her disapproval of this expression of dubious manliness on Twitter: “There is no society that can survive without strong men,” she tweeted. “In the West, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. Bring back manly men.”
The woke internet mob lost what little it had of its collective mind over this triggering term, “manly men.” Celebrities and leftist media personalities, who like to think of themselves as free-thinking individuals but who actually make up the most conformist, lockstep-thinking demographic in the world, piped up to accuse Owens of an unforgiveable lack of cool. “You’re pathetic,” actress Olivia Wilde shot back. Media critic Carlos Maza said Owens sounded “like the pearl-clutching puritans who’ve been around since the 50s and 60s. Genuinely impossible for them to be cool for even one second.” Even radical Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to defend Styles, claiming she got a “James Dean vibe” from his cover photo.
This may seem like a tempest in a teapot, because the fashion world, with its artsy pretentions, is ridiculous and superficial anyway, and pop stars like David Bowie have been toying with androgyny for decades. But the question this Vogue cover raises, like the female soccer player supposedly breaking into a man’s sport, is actually a deeply significant one: why is the Left so heavily invested in discrediting and dismantling traditional sex roles? Why do woke celebrities and their fans so fervently leap to defend the notions that women can compete right alongside men in a collision sport, that men wearing dresses on the cover of a women’s fashion mag is “cool,” and that, as actor Kumail Nanjiani tweeted recently, “Traditional masculinity is a disease”?
The answer is that Progressives are at war with anything perceived as normal and traditional. Everything that has made us in the West who we are, and made us the freest, most prosperous, most accomplished, most civilized civilization in history – our religious beliefs, our values, our traditions, our art and literature, our history, our heroes, even our science – is now deemed either racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, Islamophobic, colonialist, oppressive, exploitative, or a toxic combination thereof, and must be erased. Our past and any links to it are unacceptably unwoke, and so Progressives seek relentlessly to redefine, or preferably eradicate, every cultural norm in order to remake the world according to their self-righteous, allegedly inclusive, collectivist, utopian vision.
The Left claims falsely that sex distinctions derive almost exclusively from an oppressively patriarchal nurture, not nature. This is important to their agenda because erasing such distinctions is necessary for the “abolition of the family,” which Karl Marx called for openly. Why? Because the bonds of the nuclear family are the last and most resistant line of defense against collectivism and totalitarian control, and masculinity is the warrior spirit of the nuclear family. If you emasculate men by disparaging their aggressive, competitive, high-achieving drive as “toxic,” and by denying the hard-wired differences between them and women, then men become neutered, the family unit disintegrates, resistance dissolves, the “community” replaces our family, and the State becomes our parental authority.
Candace Owens was not wrong when she claimed that “the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence.” True – it is no coincidence. The emasculation of Western men is a direct, intended result of the cultural Marxism that has been poisoning our youth for decades. The goal is to sap the independence and fighting spirit of masculinity and to undermine resistance to the power of the State.
Put women on a men’s football team, put men in dresses, celebrate them both as virtuous milestones and mock those who think otherwise, and the distinctions and definitions of the sexes will gradually blur. Masculinity and femininity will begin to have no meaning. This is already happening. Contrary to the Left’s claims, though, this doesn’t make human beings freer and more evolved; it diminishes both men and women and makes us more confused about our roles and purpose in the world. It leaves us unmoored from our true nature, from God, and from each other – just as the State wants us.