Do Women Need Equal Treatment or Special Treatment?

Midway through the Vice Presidential debate, it was already obvious how the media was going to spin it. The narrative was predetermined: all Mike Pence had to do was challenge Kamala Harris (a guarantee considering the nature of the event, a debate), and they could accuse him of sexist bullying, or – to use a word that has no place in any self-respecting woman’s vocabulary – “mansplaining.” Harris was able to deploy her obviously rehearsed response to Pence’s comparable mild interruption: “I’m speaking.” She delivered this brave assertion of feminist self-confidence with the joyless snark of everyone’s least favorite substitute teacher, garnering instant praise and adulation.

Actor Mark Ruffalo obliged with one of the first narrative-supporting tweets:

So now a white man debating a woman “of color” is both misogynist and white supremacist. This despite the fact that Harris actually got the same amount of time as Pence by most accounts.

Other tweets, like this one from Brittany Johnstone focused on the evening’s racial dynamic:

White women in 2020 are like the kulaks of 1930 – just the right blend of “privileged” and “oppressed” to be an easy object of scorn. A similar sentiment was recently expressed in a viral article by Leigh Stein entitled “The End of the Girlboss Is Here.” The article tells the story of Sophia Amoruso, CEO of fashion site Nasty Gal, who released a memoir by that name. Amoruso did not seem to think that women needed special treatment, nor that it was necessarily remarkable to see them in positions of power. She asked, “Is 2014 a new era of feminism where we don’t have to talk about it? I don’t know, but I want to pretend that it is.”

Some might have praised Amoruso’s honesty and her refusal to see her success in a political light. But for Stein, the brief era of Girlboss couldn’t end quickly enough:

The white girlboss, and so many of them were white, sat at the unique intersection of oppression and privilege. She saw gender inequality everywhere she looked; this gave her something to wage war against. Racial inequality was never really on her radar. That was someone else’s problem to solve.

Welcome to intersectional feminism, where simply being a woman is no longer enough. In the woke moral universe, one’s moral standing is inversely correlated to one’s privilege, increasing only to the extent that one is percieved as victimized. Ironically, this system tends to hurt women, who seem to rank pretty low compared to other oppressed groups.

Almost any time there is a conflict between women and another group said to be oppressed – say, Muslims or trans people – the rights and safety of women are quickly disregarded. In the U.K., authorities ignored evidence of Pakistani rape gangs preying on lower-income white girls, all because the perpetrators were of Asian origin. To investigate accusations of rape against these men would have meant opening themselves up to accusations of racism and Islamophobia. And so, for years, they did nothing. At least fourteen hundred girls suffered for their cowardice.

The conflict between women’s rights and the trans agenda has recently come to light, best illustrated in the attempted cancellation of beloved author J.K. Rowling. I say the trans agenda and not trans individuals because most of the people raising a fuss over issues like letting trans women into women’s spaces are not trans themselves. Are biological women entitled to their own dressing rooms, prisons, and sports leagues? According to the woke, no. All it takes to be a woman is simply the feeling that one is a woman. For anyone to deny that trans women are women is to invite accusations of transphobia. All this from the party of science.

Even lesbians are not let off the hook; their refusal to consider trans women as potential romantic partners makes them transphobic in the eyes of some (“Some women have penises. If you won’t sleep with them you’re transphobic.”)

But let us put aside, for the moment, issues of race, trans/cis, and sexual orientation to return to the original question: do women need equal treatment or special treatment?

When I play basketball with my kids, I go easy on them. With my oldest son, I can now play at about 80% and still have a good game. Why? Because my skills in this area are superior to his. Because I am an adult and he is a child. He will inevitably be stronger than me one day, and at this point I will no longer have to hold back. This will be a milestone moment, a sign of respect. Anyone who has ever been on a team so bad that the other side instituted something like a “five pass rule” before a shot knows that it doesn’t feel good. If you are a full-grown adult and we are competing in something, I do not want you to hold back. To do so would be insulting to my abilities and my intelligence.

When women compete with men – say, in the context of a debate – we should only ask to be judged by an equal (not a special) standard.

Now, it’s important to remember that not everything in life is a competition. Throughout our history, men and women have also had to cooperate. If anything, men compete more against other men for resources and status, while women compete against other women for superior mates. This pattern applies to many other species as well, as Matt Ridley describes in The Red Queen. Simply making this observation should not be taken as sexist, though it often is.

One problem in today’s society is that women have been trained to compete with men so much that we have forgotten how to cooperate. This dynamic is based on two fundamental truths: 1. Men and women are biologically and (to a smaller degree) psychologically different. 2. These differences are complementary, meaning society needs both. In the context of the family, children certainly do.

How remarkable – how beautiful – that the same sex differences that can cause so much conflict (see: every Jane Austen novel or Shakespearean play) also provide the key to our collective success when properly channeled. How sad that we can no longer appreciate it.

I would argue that if such a thing as “male privilege” exists, then so too does female privilege. Certain things are easier, and others harder, depending on your sex. For women, the biggest sex-imbalanced challenge is safety. Considering the fact that women have on average only half the lower body strength and thirty percent of the upper body strength of men (and that men commit the vast majority of all rapes) and it is clear that women will always need to take certain safety precautions. There are also certain stereotypes that women have to confront, which is only to say that they must take the time to prove them untrue, not that they are insurmountable.

But being a woman carries certain privileges as well. In certain situations, strangers are nicer to you. You are not immediately assessed as threatening. You can talk to someone of the opposite sex in a social setting and even make the first move without coming across as “creepy.” You can express a fuller range of emotion without having your sexuality or virtue called into question.

While men could theoretically set up a Handmaid’s Tale-style dystopia in which they controlled everything – they are, after all, physically stronger – they don’t usually do so, especially not here in the West. Instead we have classically liberal notions of equality along with the vestiges of chivalry, a code of ethics whereby men channel their superior physical strength and risk-taking nature towards the service of women and children.

I’ll never forget how a male colleague volunteered to give me his classroom when I was pregnant with my youngest son. He rolled his materials from class to class on a cart for an entire year for my sake, despite the fact that we were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I will always appreciate this act of sacrifice and generosity.

When I got a flat tire in the faculty parking lot, a male teacher helped me get my car to the autobody class where another male teacher enlisted his male students to replace it, free of charge. There are countless other stories like this… you get the idea. Men need women and women need men. This is not a bad thing, but rather a beautiful one.

In his book The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray points out that women have historically had one lopsided power over men: the ability to drive them crazy with desire. Women in general just aren’t as susceptible to male charms that we will risk life and limb to obtain their company. There’s a reason that turkey hunters call in male gobblers by pretending to be females in heat. There’s a reason males of many species devote precious bodily resources to seemingly pointless ornamentation (bright feathers, large antlers, etc.): they would rather die trying to attract a mate than fail to reproduce. Students of history can find ample evidence of powerful men taking crazy risks to obtain the female companion of their choice; just consider how Henry VIII broke his kingdom away from the Catholic Church, all so he could marry Anne Boleyn.

Perhaps Kamala Harris too exercised this power when she used her relationship with corrupt San Francisco mayor Willie Brown to jumpstart her political career. Either way, it makes no sense for her to cry sexism or racism now, when both aspects of her identity have been a boon to her career and not a hindrance to it, as I have previously argued.

To conclude, we cannot ignore sex differences between men and women, or how they have shaped our interactions over the thousands of years of our evolutionary history. In almost every culture prior to about a hundred years ago, men have been the ones in positions of political authority. Notable exceptions like Catherine the Great and Chinese empress Cixi only prove the rule by their relative rarity. Going back to the ancient Greeks and likely further, governance was considered part of the male domain. This is not to say that women did not have a role in political society: as the ones primarily raising and educating children, they had the important power to shape future citizens.

Starting around the eighteenth century, women began to demand full political participation and legal equality. The right of women to vote in this country was only gained in 1920, a mere century ago. Since then, women have made impressive inroads into almost all branches and levels of governance, the last remaining hurdle being the presidency.

If a woman and a man meet on the street, chivalry may compel him to hold the door open for her, and good for him if it does. But when a woman throws her hat into the political or corporate arena, she should expect nothing more and nothing less than equal treatment. She should be ready to advocate for herself if she does not get it. Presuming that women need special protection or advocacy against “mansplaining” is nothing short of condescending. Women like Kamala Harris who have built their careers by playing political hardball, only to suddenly cry “sexism” when they find themselves on the receiving end, are guilty of trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Kamala Harris Privilege

There are many things to know about Kamala Harris. Americans will take a closer look at the former presidential contender tonight, as she debates Vice President Mike Pence. But in this post, I’d like to start with her unique background. Most Americans will be surprised to find Kamala Harris among the most elite-pedigreed candidates to run for high national office. She is truly the 1% of the 1%.

Per Kamala’s father, she is descended from a notorious slave owner in Jamaica. Donald Harris, a former economics professor at Stanford, wrote: “My roots go back, within my lifetime, to my paternal grandmother Miss Chrishy (née Christiana Brown), descendant of Hamilton Brown, who is on record as plantation and slave owner and founder of Brown’s Town.” Hamilton owned over 1,100 slaves over the years, including some as young as one month old.

Per Kamala’s mother, she is a member of the highest caste in India. In the words of Shyamala Harris (now deceased): “In Indian society, we go by birth. We are Brahmins, that is the top caste. Please do not confuse this with class, which is only about money. For Brahmins, the bloodline is the most important. My family, named Gopalan, goes back more than 1,000 years.”

Kamala’s parents (both with elite backgrounds) met at U.C. Berkley (an elite institution) in the 1960’s. Far from being limited by race or gender, Kamala benefited from affirmative action and used her sex appeal as a woman to jumpstart her political career. In law school, Kamala participated in the Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP) where she received free tutoring and course outlines unavailable to other students. Her relationship with Willie Brown, a married man thirty years her senior, is well-documented. As the speaker of the state Assembly, Brown named Harris to well-paid posts on the California Medical Assistance Commission and Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. In these roles, she received lots of tax-payer money for very little work. As mayor of San Francisco, Brown supported her district attorney campaign in 2003. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016.

And yet if Kamala Harris becomes Vice President, her success will be touted as a win for the disadvantaged and underprivileged. Why? Because according to post-colonialism and intersectional feminism, her group identity as a Black woman trumps the numerous privileges in her individual background (elite parents, good looks, preferential treatment).

I am not blaming Kamala for her privileged past. She should be judged on her own merits, just like everyone else. Voters should consider, for example, the fact that Harris abused her power in the politically-motivated prosecution of David Daleidan, the Pro-Life activist who secretly recorded Planned Parenthood employees nonchalantly discussing the sale of aborted baby parts. They may also find it relevant that, as District Attorney of California, she fought to keep nonviolent offenders locked up in spite of extremely overcrowded prisons, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

But Harris does not seem to have many deep convictions, aside from the desire for power and willingness to do whatever it takes to get it. She accused Biden of racism in a primary debate for opposing bussing, but then laughed off the matter after accepting his offer to run as Vice President. After representing the worst of prosecutorial excess as California’s District Attorney, she twice promoted a fund to help bail out the violent criminals burning down Kenosha, including known sex offenders.

I don’t care whether Kamala Harris can rock a pair of Timberlands or whether she thinks Tupac is still alive. I don’t care that she is a woman, or that she identifies as Black. I care about her record (which is disturbing, to say the least) and apparent lack of principles. With a visibly frail Biden well into his seventies, this woman could well become President of the United States, and sooner than you might think.

I pray to God she doesn’t.

Memento Mori and Be Not Afraid

October is paradoxically both a favorite month for many and also a time typically associated with fear and death. Leaves turn orange, gold, and crimson before falling to the ground to shrivel and decay. The faint chill lacing the morning and evening air is a clear warning that summer, with all its easy lethargy, is over. We know in our bones what this means, despite modern technology’s insulating effects: life is about to get harder, days shorter, survival less certain.

And yet there is an undeniable beauty in the dying. The end of the month brings Halloween, a holiday based in part on the Celtic festival of Samhain – a disorienting, ambiguous time when the traditional boundaries between worlds could more easily be crossed. For Catholics, this became the night before All Saint’s Day, or “All Hallows Eve” – saints by definition being both deceased in body and spiritually present in heaven. The following day is All Souls Day, when we pray especially for dead loved ones. It is a time to memento mori (remember your mortality) and to ask “considering that I must die, how ought I to live?”

We may be the first culture in history to deny the basic fact of our mortality. The most cursory of glances at American life in 2020 reveals that we have forgotten how to live. Sooner or later, death comes for us all, no matter how wealthy or powerful. No one is immune from this most human of conditions. Illness and old age are but its precursors. We were recently reminded of this yet again when it was revealed that President Trump tested positive or COVID-19.

I feared for the president and the country when I heard President Trump was flying to Walter Reed, as he checks a lot of high-risk boxes. Like millions of others, I prayed for his good health. This Saturday, I was very happy to hear he was doing better, though he is clearly not out of the woods yet.

I was annoyed but not surprised by the media reaction. Many leftist individuals and outlets could not restrain their schadenfreude at the president’s diagnosis. This is what you get, they said, in more or less words. Serves you right for not “taking the virus seriously.” Now they are attempting to present Trump’s Rose Garden announcement of Judge Barrett as needlessly reckless, running tape of people talking and hugging and shaking hands (The horror! Pearl clutch! Gasp!). 

But I’d rather live in a world where people talk and hug and shake hands and even spread germs on occasion than a sterile, controlled, “safe” world… where people still spread germs (though perhaps more slowly), where they still get sick and still get old and ultimately, inevitably die.

The media did not cover the recent COVID diagnosis of Virginia’s governor Ralph Northam (a Democrat) with near the same level of scorn or hysteria. Millions of people have contracted this disease, many of whom followed all the recommended steps and precautions. You can wear a mask and maintain a “social distance” of six feet and avoid crowded areas, but unless you are prepared to live in a completely self-contained, total isolation bunker, you can still catch this virus and you can still get sick from it.

If you choose to stay home or take other steps to minimize risk, that is your freedom and your right. But with hospitals in no immediate danger of being overwhelmed, by what logic do you get to tell others to do the same? 

The “new normal” has never become normal for me. Every day begins a new struggle to adjust to a world that has forgotten such fundamental truths. It is not normal to blame people for getting sick. It is not normal to pretend we can do this forever, either maximal prevention (a short-term stalling tactic at best) or a vaccine (a long-term strategy, if it ever gets here).

It would be far better to focus on treatment and improved overall health. COVID-19 is here to stay. We could have done more to slow its spread in our country, but it would have gotten here eventually. Now it’s going to be similar to the common cold; we’re all likely to get it, eventually. Even so, CDC statistics show that it is no more deadly than seasonal influenza for younger Americans. For those under 49, survival rates are 99.997%. Those 50 to 69 have a 99.5 percent chance of surviving COVID, while for those over 70 – a long life by historical standards – it’s still 94.6%, and likely to increase with better treatments.

Considering these numbers, how ought we to respond to COVID?

To put it briefly, we should resume our normal lives. After the September 11th terrorist attacks, we implemented a few sensible (and some unnecessary) restrictions and regulations, and then more or less got back to work. To do less, our leaders cautioned, would be to “let the terrorists win.” During the Cold War, we faced the challenge of nuclear annihilation not with despair but with action – again, some sensible and some ill-advised, but all with a certain level of resolve. In World War II, we took the threat of Nazism and Japanese aggression incredibly seriously… so seriously that we sacrificed over 400,000 American lives to stop them.

The majority of us are called to live normal lives, lives as filled with kindness and compassion and purpose as possible. Our lives are not insignificant in their ordinariness, assuming we live them well.

But some of us are called to heroism. In the Revolutionary War, Nathan Hale’s only regret was that he had “but one life to lose” for his country. A hero is someone who shoulders the risks of others while refusing to hoard their rewards. Heroes display all the traditional virtues of temperance, prudence, justice, and courage, virtues our depraved culture has almost completely forgotten. In their place we have “niceness” and “safety,” which are really fake virtues that prevent the development of others.

In this extra spooky election-year October, many Americans are more afraid that their side will lose the upcoming election than they are of catching COVID. I put myself squarely in this former camp. But like fear of death, fear of political defeat can become paralyzing, depressing, and if we let it soul-destroying.

The ancients of every civilization knew better, be they Greek, Indian, and Chinese. So too did early Christians. Saint Augustine wrote City of God as the Roman Empire was crumbling around him. He didn’t know then that five centuries of darkness and destruction would follow. Still, he urged Christians to focus on building the City of God: certain, fulfilling, and everlasting, not the City of Man: uncertain, unfulfilling, and temporary. Every empire, every polity will in time prove itself just as mortal, just as fleeting, as every human life. Politics, while often necessary, is thus a poor focus of our concern. Even if America crumbles, our true home is in heaven and we will not be fully happy until we get there. 

In the meantime, memento mori, and Happy Fall.