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.