Photographer William Meyers is seeing things. Usually, people; but also, their surroundings by way of the work they’re doing or the play they’re enjoying, or the places where they’re doing it. The emphasis, though, is on the seeing, rather than the things being seen. In that way, what we experience in his photographs is the present tense of being somewhere, of having a coincidental participation of events with him.
The theme of Meyers’s recent collection, Music New York, hung in a jewel box of an exhibit at New York City’s Art@840Masion, are the people involved in playing music in the many different settings that life in a big city allows. The reach is from downtown to Harlem and the boroughs, letting us witness a wide array of encounters.
With their blur of motion at the outer edges, their unaffectedly, gently cocked angles suggesting surreptitious, sometimes waist-height positioning of the camera, and their reliance on what ambient lighting might happen to be there, Meyers’s photographs immediately bring to mind the work of the great Garry Winogrand. But where Winogrand reveled in the conceit of happenstance, often forcing us to join him on his swift trip down sidewalks and into streets, Meyers lingers and offers us a few moments to get to know his subjects, without the winking self-consciousness that might turn attention back to the photographer.
In the case of these photos, that casual, though not unconsidered style of looking is particularly well aligned with their subject matter: the sometimes impromptu, sometimes rehearsed, but always immediate performance of music. From a toy piano sitting on the floor, to a baroque theorbo on a church stage, or a klezmer accordion in a crowded café, instruments and their players are caught in the throes of joy, deep focus, or whimsical impassivity, but always in medias res, with the camera letting us in on action already begun, or on the verge of happening. In some cases, that means music’s rhythmic expression by uniformed dancers, concentrated rumination by thoughtful listeners, or even its being ignored by hurried passersby.
In a Greenwich Village café, we’re sitting with Meyers at the end of a row of small tables listening to a quartet with people we don’t know as we sip a house wine. At the 14th Street subway, we stop for just a moment to lean over a handrail to see the echoing clatter of two guys drumming ecstatically on overturned buckets, the cropped bodies of commuters jostle past. Up in Harlem, we share the pride of serious-faced, choreographed dancers representing their community in a parade. But whether it’s buskers who play for tips we might offer from the curb, or the professional dancers of Alvin Ailey we can see through the crowd from our second ring, center seats at Lincoln Center, the focus is on human beings, and the live-action occurrence of their craft in real situations. That his subject is bound up with his method of looking makes his work figural, human, even humanist.
As a result, Meyers’s work is at odds with, or at least (and very happily) outside of, what passes for the “vanguard,” as anything that might be considered the current trend in contemporary art seems determined to have as its subject some ideological point to make, some social observation to expose, or some political lesson to teach. So much of what’s on show in galleries or museums today must rely on lengthy wall texts painfully explicating in turgid verbiage the alleged intentions of the artists’ work, begging the question, which is the work being called “art” – the thinly executed thing in the frame above or the longwinded essay printed below it? In contrast, Meyers’s work needs no such intervening device to convey what he’s doing, because what we’re doing in seeing his pictures is perforce what he was doing when he took them.
In this way they are much like drawing—made on the fly; not finessed, or at least not speaking of their finesse. And conveying the immediacy of our having just been there with him in the seeing. His unobtrusive camera seems to happen by chance—whether it’s upon street players singing in a doorway; or in the tightly framed confines of a nightclub or concert hall as seen from middle range—and we get the feeling we are there. Our pulse quickens. Our sense of expectancy sharpens, and our perception broadens. They generate an atmosphere we experience not vicariously or pseudo-intellectually, but extemporaneously and viscerally. Unsurprisingly, if still quite amazingly, its this being occupied with the essential visual activity of looking that makes William Meyers’s work so wonderful: he is making his enjoyment of a fleeting awareness into a shareable physical object. And that, by my account, is what art is supposed to do.
For anyone who’s stayed home more than they wished to recently, the show of work is almost wistful in mood, but ultimately redeeming of lost time. And that is quite a feat for still images to achieve.
For those visiting or living in NYC, you can reclaim some of your engagement with the world at The Armoury, 840 Madison Avenue. The show is up until May 15.
Benjamin Marcus is an architect, illustrator, and graphic designer in Manhattan.
Trips to Israel began for me in the 1970s, when I traveled with family for my brother’s and later my own Bar Mitzvah, at the ancient site of Masada. I’ve returned numerous times to marvel at the prolific development of the country as well as witness the unfolding history and varied, natural beauty of her land and cityscapes.
On my most recent trip in March 2022, on my first day’s visit to the Kotel, surrounded by Jewish worshippers of every persuasion and engulfed in the combined nusach (tunes) chanted around me, my instinct to pull out a sketchbook to draw was felt—not for the first time, but perhaps most acutely—as a kind of davening*. And as with any true meditative praying, the action was a form of communion with the Eternal: immersive, aware, enthralled—and fleeting. It confirmed that for me, what’s meaningful in drawing is the act of seeing, more than any material record preserved in a finished artifact. Benjamin Marcus
Benjamin Marcus is an architect, graphic designer, and illustrator practicing in New York City. He uses drawing as a way of seeing and takes greater pleasure in the process of bringing the view to paper than in beholding the completed work.
* Davening: Of uncertain etymological origin (including the Latin “divinus” – “divine”; the Aramaic “d’avhatana” – “from our fathers”; the Lithuanian “davana” – “gift”; and the Middle High German “doenen” – “to sing”; among numerous others), the word’s sense of prayer simultaneously includes audible, yet private connection between the self and God; praising yet striving; presenting, but not without continually preparing.
What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. Kazuo Ishiguro
Why does great design feel as fresh today as it did a century ago? The source of its timelessness can be found in the principles of nature; its roots tap into the deeply subtle veins of restraint. Design evolves by pushing the edge just a bit, but not too much. Style, a very personal form of art, is rooted in the principle of individuality as well as in restraint. For women, this is expressed as controlled sexuality. The greatest fashion designers are artists who understand this—Dior, Givenchy, Lavin, Chanel—as well as the photographers who have captured the distinctiveness of their work: Lillian Bassman, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon. Brilliant illustrators like Mats Gustafson push the edge a little further still, bringing restraint into the 21st century.
One could exist, just breathe and live,Do what needs to be done.Or one could live a splendid life,That adds an awe, a stun. One could only do as much,That’s required to get through.Well, that is how I would be,But that is just not you. You never let anything be,A piece of trifling.You live life as…
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It’s ironic that this is a generation of parents who will insist that every morsel of food that passes their little darling’s lips must be pure in origin while effectively presenting that child the key to a chamber of horrors disguised as a gadget.
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Life is about balance. Nature is about balance. And so our civil society also requires balance. That balance is found and grounded between men and women and the roles they play intuitively and biologically.
What men contribute to the world as protectors, teachers, fathers, guides, and providers is not only under-appreciated, it is also often maligned, dismissed, and denigrated.
What has today’s feminism done for women? In many ways, it has made life harder. It has given men the easy out from traditional and essential roles. It has relieved them of serious requirements of chivalry, gentlemanly conduct, family responsibility, ambition, and commitment.
Growing up, I wasn’t very aware of “feminism” as such. There were girls in my high school who were on the bandwagon and were very vocal and outspoken about being feminists. I never really got it. There was an underlying hostility to it that always turned me off, a denigration of the boys that seemed wrong.
Sadly, what I see today from feminism is outright hatred of men and of masculinity. I’m not sure that early feminism meant for this to be the outcome.
Early feminism stemmed from legitimate desires for equality, including the ability to vote, and for a woman to have access to the same economic and social opportunities as a man. Women demanded an equal place in society for themselves and their daughters, and a respectful rather than condescending and dismissive regard for their sex, their innate abilities, their intelligence and talents. And to the benefit of society, feminism has allowed for female contributions to further enrich and add depth to all areas of our world, from medicine to business, and everything in between.
Today, there is nothing a man can do and nowhere a man can go that a woman legally and culturally cannot. How fortunate are we that we live in a time when nothing holds a woman back from achieving anything she wants to accomplish in her life? I don’t think many women appreciate this. They are trapped in the mindset that women are still somehow restricted, even as they themselves continue to achieve, accomplish, innovate and rise to new heights in their own lives.
But feminism has not stopped with achieving equal access and rights. Having achieved much of its original purpose, it has been warped into something unnatural and destructive. Modern feminism has become an ideology that pushes and berates men into feeling that they have no place in society or the family, and that they are not welcome nor are their contributions appreciated. “Women can do what men can do” has mutated into “women should do everything men do, and everything women do, too. And men should step aside.”
Predictably, this attitude has not resulted in empowerment. It comes from a vindictive, non-cooperative place, and nothing good can come from that. What I see happening, is that women have paid a price for it in their daily lives. Women are paying a price for the lengths that feminism has gone to, to disempower men while trying to empower women.
It is possible to advocate for and celebrate who you are without dismantling the other side. There should be appreciation and acknowledgement for the things men do that are positive. It’s done by recognizing the good that the other side brings, and then saying, “and here is what we bring that is also good and valuable.” This provides cooperation and support. In life, it’s always better to add support than to take away praise.
But this isn’t what is happening. What I see is women sending the message that “female empowerment” doesn’t have room for men. So some women take on very masculine energy, masculine roles, while at the same time making everything that is truly masculine into something toxic and dismissible.
It has been the neglect and dismissal of our natural roles in the family and in society that has perpetuated and fueled this imbalance. Stated very simply, as far back as “caveman” times, women and men had their biologically assigned roles. Generally, men protected the family from outside threats, went out to hunt for food and furs, and taught the next generation of males their tasks; women cared for offspring, gathered additional foodstuffs and created useful materials from what was hunted and gathered. Together the men and women were a unit, working together, each responsible for what their natural strengths allowed them to do for the well-being and survival of the group. Male and female brains were wired uniquely to most effectively attend to those natural roles. We are still wired according to those original and ancestral roles, no matter how much society has evolved. Studies show that boys are still generally drawn to occupations that deal with machines and “things,” such as construction, trades, and engineering, and women continue to be overwhelmingly drawn to careers that deal with nurturing, such as nursing, teaching, and therapy.
Modern feminism has dismissed the importance of each role in the family, the mother with the children, the father as the protector and teacher. With that dismissal has come a heavy cost to women, because while feminism and rhetoric might dismiss it, babies and children don’t fall in line with that.
Today, women can achieve great heights in the workplace, but their duties and importance at home remain. Children still need their mothers, and most mothers still want to be there for their children. As a result, we have an epidemic of exhausted and overwhelmed women who work all day, and still have to juggle the demands of children and household. Yes, there are wonderful men out there who share the childrearing and household duties, without question, but there are just as many who abandon their families, or who leave the woman to be responsible for both financial support and household management. That’s because feminism has told men that they aren’t needed; that they are accessory appendages and that women can do everything they can do. So, they step back and let us.
And I haven’t even addressed the damage that the feminist sexual revolution caused, further demeaning both women and men, eliminating any sense of respect or awe for the monogamous, committed relationship. When all sense of responsibility or meaning is eliminated from sexual and romantic encounters, what reason is there for any man to commit and embody his masculine role? This has led to an overwhelming surge in men who aren’t interested in anything more than one-night stands or casual dating that leads nowhere, that requires no emotional investment or commitment from them and sends them merrily on their way to the next conquest.
When you tell someone often enough that they are not needed, that everything about them is “toxic,” what do you think they’ll eventually do? They’ll turn around and leave you to deal with it all.
Feminism has never really tried to understand men. Instead, it has tried to either make men more like women or just push them out of the way, whichever is most expedient. This shows a great ignorance and disdain for the role that men play in the natural balance of families, raising children, and relationships and in the way society works.
For that matter, modern feminism also ignores the true nature of women. Feminine power and essence aren’t centred around what we “do,” rather feminine power and energy rests in our “being.” Men “do;” women “be.” Our value lies in who we are, not in how much money we can make or how high on the corporate ladder we can climb, or how much we kill ourselves running to do everything for everyone. Imposing masculine expectations onto women ignores and negates our natural purpose. Women are wired to nurture, create, and care for others. The fact that more women gravitate to professions of service such as nursing, teaching, or social work is a testament to the intrinsic nature of the feminine.
We don’t have to have big corporate careers to be validated as women, and often in chasing after those goals, women leave behind everything that nature has intended: young women delay starting families, they neglect themselves, they stop creating and focus instead on “producing.”
It’s time to recognize where a woman’s worth lies and stop trying to impose masculine standards on women. And at the same time, it’s time for us to value our men for who they are. It’s time to encourage them to embrace their masculinity, to tell them they are needed and wanted in our world, and to celebrate them for who they are. The more we do that, and the more find ways to work together, in symbiosis and balance, the more women will benefit and the more the world will benefit.
Life is about balance. You can’t have light without dark. You can’t have women without men. When we welcome men back into their natural roles within our families and society with appreciation, we will see healthy masculinity, and we will see a naturally healthier society.
I am Woman: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century
we are stars wrapped in skin the light you are seeking has always been within Rumi
A century after women attained the right to be educated, to work outside the home, and to vote, regression to anti-feminism has been nearly achieved.
Girls are encouraged to compete for male attention by showing as much skin as possible, both on social media and off. “Believe all women”—because women are helpless and lack the capacity to lie. Women must adhere to the leftist orthodoxy because we have no ability to think on our own. Elect any fully woke woman no matter her qualifications because women aren’t smart enough to be judged by anything other than Instaporn selfies. What’s wrong with women twerking on national TV or selling our bodies to strangers? What’s wrong with biological males playing on women’s sports teams? What’s wrong with biological males sharing a bathroom or shower with women? Just shut up and take it.
The “patriarchy,” for all of its flaws, was based on power, not degradation and misogyny. Leftism, hip hop culture, and millennial narcissism have created a misogynistic world where girls and women humiliate themselves on an hourly basis. The resulting spike in female depression, self-harm, and suicide is unconscionable. Yet it rarely gets mentioned.
In fact, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez cheers it all on with selfies that would make Betty Friedan cringe. She is the icon of today’s anti-feminism: unwilling to learn history or facts; eager to make her looks and provocative poses the most important aspect of her being; blissfully unaware of her glaring lack of qualifications.
It’s well past time to reclaim the feminism that our great-grandmothers fought to achieve. That feminism meant freedom—but it also entailed personal responsibility and self-respect. That feminism envisioned strong, dignified women—whether they stayed home to raise their children or ran for president. But before we can reclaim that feminism, we need to fully understand what went wrong in the past fifty years.
The fallacies of anti-feminism
The worst setbacks began with Second and Third Wave feminism in the 1970s and ‘80s, which promulgated six fallacies:
“The personal is political,” which had the effect of telling women that we should assume no responsibility for anything that happens in our lives: it was all “structural”;
There are no biological differences between the sexes so women should force themselves to act like men in every part of our lives;
All women think alike;
Beauty is a myth;
Femininity and masculinity are toxic;
Victimhood should be privileged.
Second and Third Wave feminists actually restricted women’s freedom by adding onto feminism a set of doctrinaire politics, a list of acceptable behaviors, even fashion choices.
And then it got worse. Today’s Fourth Wave feminism—intersectional, leftist feminism—promotes the absurd notion that biology itself is a social construct. The result: the “patriarchy,” which does in fact still exist in countries leftist feminists never talk about, has given way to an increasingly repressive Gender Industrial Complex.
The meaning of the word “gender” has morphed beyond its traditional use in grammar to become a politically constructed term weaponized against women. This notion of gender, no longer the same as being biologically female or male, privileges an emotional state over physical reality. The Gender Industrial Complex tells those who “identify” as female: who to like, who to hate, which ideas to regurgitate, what colors to wear, which pronouns to use, which films not to see—and most important: how to shut down anyone who disagrees with you.
Under the GIC, biology is not only an illusion but it can be easily morphed to suit one’s political needs. The most substantial effect: girls and women are being forced to live in a misogynistic hip hop song—and no one sees this as anti-feminist. Since females have no special hormones or body parts, we can be objectified to suit the reigning political dogma. Oversexualization, mass degradation, trans rape—all are things we must simply accept.
The trans co-optation of everything female—the complete erasure of women—was merely the final nail in the coffin of feminism. As Christine Rosen put it in Commentary: “The claim that anyone can be a woman is a denigration of all women.”
Feminism means freedom
So let’s start over. Feminism means freedom. That’s it. The right of each woman to be herself: unique, complex, imperfect. “We intend simply to be ourselves,” declared Marie Jenney Howe in the early 20th century. “Not just our little female selves, but our whole big human selves.” Howe was the founder of Heterodoxy, a Greenwich Village group that demanded only that its female members think for themselves—as individuals.
In its zeal to abolish women’s “little” femaleness, the women’s movement ended up trapping women in a massive collective identity—with ever-consuming multitudes of “gender” rules, terms, and regulations. Women’s ability “simply to be ourselves” was thoroughly undermined in the process.
Feminism is not about following a set of rules or politics imposed by the woke group du jour.
Feminism is not about voting for a woman just because she’s a woman. Feminism is not about legislating equal numbers of judges or CEOs.
Feminism is not about exploiting your sexuality when it’s useful. Feminism is not about destroying a man’s career because of a compliment. Feminism never demanded that women ditch our babies three months after giving birth.
Feminism is not about empowering women through victimhood—or shutting down all voices of disagreement.
When I was a writer and editor at The New Republic in my 20s, real feminism spoke to me. Having left a somewhat sheltered suburban home in Philadelphia, my focus was on discovering who exactly I was—even if that meant annoying some of the more proper ladies of D.C. with my miniskirts and fishnet stockings. As well, I wanted to prove my intellectual equality in a very male-dominated office.
But then along came the idea of “pantsuit nation,” and I was like: wait, what? Why do I have to dress or act like a guy? No, I did not want to sleep with every guy I met. No, I didn’t like being told what to think or how to act. And perhaps worst of all: the relentless emphasis on the political—and the complete lack of emphasis on self-strengthening—failed to prepare me for toxic people and situations, which became all-pervasive as leftism took control of the country.
What is feminism? The freedom for women to become the unique individuals that we are; the spaces to allow that freedom; the removal of societal demands to enslave us.
Individualism vs. identity
At the core of classical feminism—just like at the core of classical liberalism—is individualism. Women are individuals. Yes, we share the identity of being women, but we don’t all think or feel or act alike.
It’s not always easy to be yourself. In fact, in times like these when conformity is trending, it can be very difficult. But instead of maintaining a focus on individualism, feminism came to mean “sisterhood,” which soon came to mean conforming to every aspect of the leftist orthodoxy.
The one part of a shared identity that leftist activists should have focused on was our shared biology. Not only are there biological differences between the sexes, but female hormones like estrogen create many of the thoughts and feelings that are geared to ensure the survival of humanity. The 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, stated unequivocally that women were different from men but no less equal.
Through the decades, Christine Rosen writes, “Despite considerable disagreement, no one before had denied women the reality of their own biological existence.” Until now.
Every parent is aware of biological differences; those who deny them are outright lying. One day at a New York City playground when my son was around four, there was a great deal of construction on the other side of the fence. Nearly all the boys ran to stand on the benches so they could check out the action. Not one girl did so.
This is not to say that some girls aren’t interested in construction or other typically male interests. Social scientists use bell curves—the peak represents the majority of men or women—to show our biologically based pursuits. Natural female hormones explain maternal instincts and thus why women, in general, tend to be more compassionate, empathetic, and nurturing, as well as less aggressive, combative, and competitive. The bell curves for most attributes look very different for males and females—but there will always be some women who are, for example, naturally more aggressive than some men.
Because of hormone levels—biology—most women probably shouldn’t play professional football; some women probably shouldn’t run large companies; and yes: some women probably shouldn’t be mothers. The larger point: biological differences are not socially constructed. They stem from evolution and are passed along genetically.
What bell curves don’t mean is that we exist along a “gender spectrum.” I am a female; I have two X chromosomes. Males have one X and one Y. The weaponization of “gender” for political purposes cannot change these biological facts. Dress however you want; have sex with whomever you want; call yourself whatever you want. But don’t impose your highly specified identity on the rest of us, especially when it leads to injustice (males replacing females in sports) and unsafe spaces (males showering with females).
Women were lied to for centuries. The Gender Industrial Complex represents yet another form of the bigotry of low expectations. Sorry, but we’re not dumb; we know you’re lying.
With rights come responsibilities
After individualism, the most important component of both liberalism and feminism is personal responsibility. A woman’s foremost responsibility is to herself. This means self-respect, but it also means women shouldn’t act or be treated like children or perennial victims.
The notion of personal responsibility began to disappear when the phrase “the personal is political” was introduced in the 1970s. Initially this meant that laws regarding rape and domestic violence needed to be strengthened—and they did. But the focus was soon extended to include all facets of life, from flirting to miniskirts.
Just as with classical liberalism, you can’t have freedom without responsibility. Why? Well, who else should take responsibility for our lives? The government? Our husbands? Our dates?
By hyper-focusing on the “political,” which came to mean the “patriarchy” and then all of society, women were essentially told to not even look at the personal. As a result, developing our inner strength—a key component of true feminism—was completely lost. Inner strength builds self-respect, and self-respect sets a high bar for how you treat yourself and how you allow others to treat you.
The effect of all of this has been largely unreported. Women stay in abusive relationships; allow men to cheat on them; indulge in daily Instaporn; succumb to hook-up culture, which is essentially a form of self-harm. As well, the obsessive focus on the “political” seems to have occluded basic common sense. Women should know not to go to the hotel room of a well-known philanderer; not to dress provocatively for a business meeting; not to expose their bodies on social media. And yet far too many do.
The #MeToo movement made everything worse. The underlying premise of many of the non-assault #MeToo cases is actually quite unfeminist: it is based on the false notion that all women become helpless in difficult situations. Sadly, many women do. But that’s not the fault of “the patriarchy.” It is largely the fault of the feminist establishment for, essentially, teaching victimhood rather than strength.
Denying that harassment, even workplace harassment, is complex, that women have responsibility for our own behavior—that life isn’t perfect—doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.
Right now, any woman can destroy a man within seconds—by merely describing or fabricating an awkward pass. Is this empowerment—or is it the same passive-aggressiveness we’ve spent a half-century trying to overcome?
For feminist leaders in the past three decades, personal responsibility were dirty words. Why? Because focusing on a woman’s responsibility, they said, would take the focus off “the patriarchy.”
We don’t live in a patriarchy.
Anyone who seriously thinks we still live in a patriarchy—where men control and oppress us—needs to visit countries like Iran or Pakistan. Indeed, this is another great irony of today’s feminist leaders: they have entirely ignored Muslim women, who must endure everything from the compulsory hijab and forced, child marriage to female genital mutilation and honor killings. This should be at the top of Western feminists’ priority list. Instead, it never gets mentioned.
The obsessive focus on “gender identity” has also trumped the very real political problems women still face: rape, domestic violence, trafficking, single motherhood. Indeed, the Gender Industrial Complex has enforced a systemic erasure of women’s real political problems.
Strong femininity empowers
Second and early Third Wave feminists attempted to make women feel ashamed of our femininity and sexuality—to neuter women. Leaving aside the fact that real feminism had no interest in neutering women, a neutered woman is by definition a less empowered woman. Being at one with our femininity and sexuality is an integral aspect of our strength and self-esteem.
The 1960s sexual revolution gave women permission to finally take ownership of our sexuality. And by taking ownership—by feeling it and knowing that it doesn’t undermine our ability to run companies or fly planes—women were made whole in a way that we hadn’t been since hunter-gatherer times.
But. It needs to be a responsible sexuality. It’s not about sleeping our way to the top; going to a man’s hotel room and then claiming victimhood; wearing scanty clothes at inappropriate times. Sexuality, true sexuality, comes from within—from self-respect and confidence.
Sexuality is part of a strong femininity—where women are in control of not just our sexuality but also our emotions. Pre-feminism, women had no choice but to succumb to a weak femininity, where their emotions often consumed them.
Second Wave feminists believed that femininity distracts from our minds, but the opposite is actually true. Femininity empowers through restraint: just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
And such strong femininity can’t just be bought or tied on your head. It needs to be developed, through hard work. Which is why the complete disregard of women’s personal growth in the past forty years has been so appalling.
Leftists have also promoted an anti-feminist disdain for motherhood and child rearing. Democratic activist Elizabeth Spiers now famously called her son in the New York Times an “alien” and the natural hormones that beautifully flood a mother’s brain: “biological brainwashing.” AOC calls childbirth “forced birth.” As I said, some women shouldn’t be mothers.
Sexuality is sacred
I recently dropped my son, now 12, off at a fancy Saturday evening party. I think it’s safe to say that the young girls were wearing two band-aids—one around their chests; another around their hips. Both band-aids refused to stay in place, so they spent most of their time pulling them up or down to cover what could be covered.
Who owned their burgeoning sexuality—the girls themselves or every person who stared at them?
To be clear: women’s sexuality is a key to our strength—but only if we’re in control of it. I still wear miniskirts. When I feel sexy, I feel strong. But that’s because I’m in control. A woman could feel equally sexy in more modest clothing: the key is the self-respect that comes from being in control.
Today, hook-up culture, hyper-sexualized selfies, the faux “sex positive” agenda, and the GIC have again removed women’s control over our own sexuality. Everyone except women now control our sexuality.
Hip hop culture merely offers a slightly more extreme version of today’s sexual subjugation. Women are referred to as bitches and ‘hos; slapped around; told to shut up and take it. Then women destroy any remaining shred of dignity by twerking an inch in front of a camera.
One of the many disastrous fallouts of the “no biological differences” insanity was that women were told that they must act like men in the romantic and sexual realms. In denying our evolutionary feminine wiring, women were forced to view sex as just another activity—to deactivate natural feelings of needing to connect sex with love.
Thus began the hook-up culture of the past three decades, which not surprisingly has had disastrous effects on women’s self-esteem, to the point where some women actually use sex as a form of self-harm.
Without this cultural brainwashing, it should be assumed that women think about sex differently from men. This doesn’t mean that women don’t think about sex. This doesn’t mean that women don’t love sex as much as men do. What it means is that women are evolutionarily built to connect our emotions to sex.
So while some women have no problem with today’s hook-up culture—where sex is typically expected upon a first meeting—many other women, as hard as they try, can’t do it without feeling lousy afterward. Instead of seeing this as a special aspect of being a woman, leftists today blame this lousy feeling on men—either on a particular man or again on “the patriarchy.”
Truly owning your sexuality also means not broadcasting it to the world or imposing it on others. Today, I see women on social media who are the furthest from owning their sexuality—the guys who are “hearting” their boob and crotch shots own it. Incessant external validation erodes any shred of self-respect.
In another linguistic perversion, “sex positivity” has come to mean embracing polyamory, BDSM, porn for kids, “sex work”—anything and everything that makes sex violent, ugly, and soulless. It should really be called sex negativity because all of it degrades and humiliates women.
As Phyllis Chesler writes: prostitution is “the most extreme form of violence against women.” But sexual slavery and trafficking never gets mentioned by “sex-positive” activists.
What is real sex positivity? Understanding that our sexuality is sacred. That owning it—feeling at one with it—is fundamental to a woman’s self-confidence. That it is such an integral part of our identities, it should be treasured and kept private.
Sensuality is an essential part of nature—but you don’t immediately see it. That is the essence of sacred sexuality.
Courtship + chivalry
Masculinity is not inherently toxic, just as femininity is not inherently toxic. But it can turn toxic. Raising a boy has shown me the role parents, coaches, and teachers play in restraining aggression and impulsiveness.
Parents need to teach their sons to be proud of their strengths and abilities—but to always have manners and respect. It’s not easy but it’s doable; again, it lies in the element of restraint. But non-toxic masculinity also requires bringing back two concepts that leftists have trashed: chivalry and courtship.
The most empowered thing a young woman can say to any guy hitting on her: You like me? Court me.
According to anthropologist Helen Fisher, courtship has historically served as a perseverance test, allowing women to figure out if men are strong and assertive enough to commit to a long-term relationship, pass on good genes, provide for offspring, and ward off danger. Basic aspects of courtship—males wooing females with gifts of food—turn up throughout the animal world as well.
Today, of course, women no longer need men to acquire resources or protect us. But our brains are still hard-wired to focus on self-preservation— to want a man who shows sustained interest. Courtship also forces women to keep our own feelings in check.
Chivalry doesn’t reinforce “inferiority.” It’s good manners. Both courtship and chivalry train men to act like gentlemen. A man can see a woman as his equal yet still treat her differently—there’s nothing sexist about that. In fact, it shows respect.
Don’t men have any responsibility here? Of course. Just because we no longer live in a patriarchy doesn’t mean that men, as individuals, don’t have a lot of work to do. I’m wary when I read conservatives talk about returning to the ‘50s and the Era of the Gentleman. Sure, many men in the ‘50s had good manners in public, but we are all too aware of what often went on inside the home or inside the office.
We want men to treat women with respect—not just to keep up appearances. We want men to treat women with respect because it’s the right thing to do.
But here’s the thing: we don’t need to dump masculinity to make this happen. Masculinity is not toxic. Uncivilized masculinity is toxic. Civilized masculinity ends wars. Civilized masculinity moves mountains. Civilized masculinity is, well, sexy.
Beauty is not a myth
One of the many inane theories promulgated in the ‘90s was that men’s desire for beauty is “culturally constructed.” Anyone with even a passing knowledge of evolution knows that men are attracted to certain features—clear skin, shiny hair—because they signify youth and health and thus fertility. By promulgating the “beauty myth,” activists like Naomi Wolf did women a tremendous disservice, setting them up for gratuitously painful rejections and not accepting that this is a part of life.
When social media arrived and women began to post iPhone-filtered images of themselves, young women were caught completely off guard, believing these faux, cartoonishly unrealistic images equaled reality. Because Fourth Wave feminists were too busy constructing identities, no one was there to help. Depression, self-harm, and suicide ensued.
Beauty is not a myth; it’s not a cultural construct. Beauty is an evolutionary fact—a harsh reality that only gets harsher with age. And not all women are born with a high level of evolutionary beauty; that too is a fact. Women need to accept these realities—but also understand that what they’re doing today by incessantly posting filtered selfies is making the problem significantly worse.
Because here is the good news: there are three elements that can be more powerful than evolutionary beauty: feeling at one with your sexuality; elegance—the way you carry yourself in the world; and beauty of the soul.
Liberalism rests on the principles of nature, in this case the seasons of life. Leaves become more beautiful before they die. Why? Their appearance becomes a mirror to their resilience and their souls.
The 21st century woman
The goal of feminism was to unshackle women—to allow us to engage in the world as strong, responsible adults. It’s well past time to reteach women that we are fully in control of our bodies and our destinies—that no one, no matter how they mask their misogyny, has the right to re-shackle us.
And so I propose the beginning of a new, Fifth Wave of feminism. We can call it rational feminism or independent feminism or non-conformist feminism. Or we can just call it feminism because it would finally bring feminism back to its original meaning.
The key components are freedom, personal responsibility, and individualism, with a strong emphasis on personal growth—building the inner strength that leads to self-respect, resilience, and dignity.
No one has the right to encourage girls to degrade themselves through Instaporn, hook-up culture, or prostitution. No one has the right to tell women that they can’t prioritize motherhood and family. No one has the right to tell women that they must use the same bathroom or shower as—or compete against—a biological male.
But ultimately it is up to each woman to take responsibility for our choices and our lives. With rights come responsibilities; just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Taking responsibility for our lives ensures our freedom: that is the essence of both classical liberalism and feminism.
The 21st century woman is strong, free, unique, and responsible. She knows she’s imperfect. But that’s OK; so is nature. At her best, she embodies an unshackled dignity and a soul of beauty.
I never like having a conversation about language in which I come up on the wrong side of C.S. Lewis. This is going to be one of those times:
In his book Mere Christianity, Lewis writes
The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone ‘a gentleman’ you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not ‘a gentleman’ you were not insulting him, but giving information.
Of course, I’m not at all disputing how Lewis characterizes the word as a container of information rather than a bestower of value. It is true and important to understand, though, that through popular usage over time, the word gentleman has gone from a statement of fact to a compliment… but then back again to a statement of fact. Interestingly, being called a gentleman is only complimentary now to those who would use the word, and for others, the concept as it is understood today is being driven out of existence.
As Lewis described the improper usage of the word, gentleman was a label for someone who exhibited good behavior in some fashion. If you held the door open for others, you were called a gentleman. If you dressed well in social settings, you were called a gentleman. If you refrained from using coarse language in broader social settings, you were called a gentleman. Basically, the term was applied as a way of noting approval—or disapproval—for the way in which a man conducted himself. Referring to someone as a gentleman, then, was indeed complimentary.
This was much the context in which my parents used the word while raising me. My father especially would speak the phrase “gentlemanly behavior” when praising or admonishing my conduct. Often my use of slang terms elicited the response, “that’s not something a gentleman would say,” and I would rephase whatever it was I originally said in more formal English. Gentlemen were polite and courteous, quick to volunteer their assistance, considerate of another’s needs, and respectful in tone and bearing.
But there was something more to it reflected both by my parents’ usage as well as how the definition was morphing in the vernacular through the 1960s and 1970s. It was no longer that calling a man a gentleman was a response to the behaviors he exhibited, but it was that a gentleman conducted himself in certain specific ways (ultimately, particularly in his interactions with women). Calling someone a gentleman was no longer merely a compliment in response to observing these behaviors (courtesy, helpfulness, consideration, and respect). It had become a fact of character: a man was not identified as a gentleman on the occasion of behaving as such. A gentleman was a man consistently of this character, regardless of time or place. My parents wanted the label of gentleman to convey real information about me. It became a part of my identity, however imperfectly I practiced gentlemanly acts.
Much has been written about what gentlemanly acts actually are. Mark Jessen lists these 100 ways to be a gentleman, which includes the gems, “stay open minded but firm in your belief and morals,” “be willing to help others,” and “never kiss and tell.” Providing 51 ways to be a modern gentleman, Khio Nguyen writes, “speak your mind, but know when to keep quiet,” “know when to take action and do it without being asked,” and “offer your seat to women and the elderly.” One observation I find particularly meaningful is this from General Robert E. Lee:
The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly—the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.
A common theme found in writings on being a gentleman often focuses on what it means to have power and how that power is exercised. When examined in the context of relationships and communications between men and women, the appropriate exercise of male power is identified as chivalry; that is, polite, kind, and unselfish behavior that men would exhibit toward women, children, and the elderly especially. (It is important to understand that the exercise of chivalrous behavior does not imply that women are powerless.)
While power dynamics in relationships can be complicated to dissect, a principle for the modern-day gentleman to keep in mind is that when he has something that would benefit another person, and it is not something the other person already has or might easily acquire, he should generously share freely of it, be it time, treasure, or the power to leverage these resources. We find this wisdom in the New Testament, Luke 12:48 – “ From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Denials from the progressive left notwithstanding, men and women are distinctive and different. Men have been given many kinds of abilities with which to affect the lives of others. A gentleman recognizes this and acts accordingly.
Sarah Mackenzie writes the following about the interplay between chivalry and feminism:
I therefore feel somewhat qualified to say there is, without a doubt, nothing more charming or alluring than a truly kind gentlemanly soul amidst a sea of increasingly horrible male specimen.
It’s not as though I appreciate a door being opened for me because I am far too weak or submissive to do it myself. I also don’t appreciate boys being overly presumptuous merely because I am a prude or don’t want the same things.
But, I value and appreciate true gentlemen because it subtly reveals a more caring, sensitive and genuine side that most males are not willing to broadcast or expose.
It’s charming, chivalrous, and rightfully mirrors the longstanding cultural and societal norms that females are still expected to uphold.
And, to be honest, I don’t have the time, patience or a sufficient enough lack of self-integrity to pursue any guy unable to exercise those rare, gentlemanly qualities.
It would seem, then, that the responsible exercise of gentlemanly power is a subtle thing; it is in placing the “gentle” inside the “man” and letting that temper and permeate his maleness. It is the very opposite of the idea of “toxic masculinity,” its antidote as it were.
What is the relationship between toxic masculinity and gentlemanly character? A very simple analysis would be to divide the two categorizations by the manner in which men choose to exercise the power they have in particular social contexts—whether responsibly or not.
In January of 2019, Gillette (owned by Proctor & Gamble) repurposed their “the best a man can be” slogan as a piece of a marketing campaign to challenge toxic masculinity and join the #metoo movement with the message that, when it comes to the treatment of women in society, men must change before there can be any progress or forward movement. The campaign featured a 108-second “short film” that, to many, seemed to be an indictment of all men (and boys) for having created and perpetuated the environment of toxicity toward women endemic throughout society.
Predictably, the short film and campaign polarized those who watched it into two camps: those who saw it as admirably calling out the culture of toxic masculinity running rampant throughout society, and those who saw it as over-the-top virtue signaling as part of a broader war on men. I found myself in the second camp, but with the idea that Gillette wasn’t participating in a war on men—rather, the company seemed to be opportunistically jumping on board the #metoo bandwagon (which to me is confirmed by a lack of any appreciable follow-through or commitment to being an actual societal change agent).
What those who would identify episodes of toxic masculinity in society, Gillette included, neglect to consider is the role that raising boys to be gentlemen plays in both softening the socialization process and strengthening the societal bonds between girls and boys, women and men. Watch the Gillette short film. The message seems to be that masculinity itself is to blame, and that the vast majority of boys will grow into men who will carry on in their toxic ways, because they have never been given an alternative.
There is an alternative. It has been offered to boys for a couple of centuries; and it only has fallen out of favor during the past few decades in reaction to the progressive left’s interpretation of feminism. One might even argue that it is a form of toxic feminism that has decoupled the upbringing of boys from the behavioral ideals of gentlemen, and that in turn has removed any moderating influence on the baser attributes of masculinity. Whatever the cause, we can be sure that we aren’t on the right track for solutions as long as we complain about the lyrics of songs from decades past such as the suggestive yet ambiguous “Baby It’s Cold Outside” while we aren’t bothered by the audaciously explicit misogyny of this generation’s “Everywhere I Go.” I can imagine the shock, disgust, and finally the disappointment of my father, had I listened to music like the latter.
His words are still very clear in my memory. That’s not something a gentleman would say.
Of all of the pro-abortion talking points, only one seems to be the most honest to their cause, and that is the argument of personhood; is the fetus a human being, does it have value, and is it worth protecting? These are the questions to which pro-abortion advocates tend to resoundingly answer “no.”
This is not a debate about controlling women’s bodies, or being “only pro-birth,” this is a very sober fight for the life of our next generation; and the fight surrounds the question of intrinsic value. Do our children have intrinsic value? That’s the question to which pro-life advocates emphatically answer “yes.”
Pro-abortion advocates tend to use arguments like these:
“If you’re so pro-life, what about kids in foster care? Don’t they deserve to be loved? Would you adopt them, or do you only care about them being born?”
“If you’re so pro-life, what about kids born into poverty? Are you prepared to support the babies you advocate for?”
“If you’re so pro-life, do you support forced vasectomies? Men are involved too!”
“Halacha says that a woman can have an abortion if the baby is threatening the life of the mother. You wouldn’t want the mother to die, would you?”
Let us address these points.
Firstly, Christian pro-life advocates make up the largest majority of adoptions. 5% of practicing Christians in the United States have adopted, which is more than twice the number of all adults who have adopted. Secondly, in regards to donations to charities, “Some studies…have estimated that faith motivates as much as 75 percent of all charity in the United States.” Lastly, forced vasectomies do not kill anyone, unlike abortions. Those facts should be enough to quell petty arguments, right? Wrong. These arguments do not matter in the macro. They do not matter because at the crux of the pro-abortion argument is that a woman should be able to terminate her pregnancy for any reason she wants to, because “it’s her body”. So, any response to the pro-abortion argument regarding the life or viability of the fetus does not matter. If they did, the statistics previously linked would turn everyone pro-life.
No, it doesn’t matter if every single pro-life advocate adopted 25 children each and effectively ended the foster care industry. It doesn’t matter that there are almost zero cases where the mother quite literally has to choose between her life and the baby’s life, and even in those scenarios, the doctors perform an emergency C-section, where the baby still has a chance of surviving.
Former abortionist, Dr. Anthony Levantino states here:
“I was faculty at the hospital for nine years, and I saw hundreds of cases of really severe pregnancy complications — cancers, heart disease, intractable diabetes out of control, toxemia of pregnancy out of control. And I saved — in those nine years — I saved hundreds of women from life-threatening pregnancies. And I did that by delivering them — by ending their pregnancy by delivery, either induction of labor or caesarean section. Delivering the baby. And I always tell people: in all those years, the number of babies that I had to — that I was obligated to deliberately kill in the process — was zero. None.”
(The full context of Dr. Levantino’s quote can be found here.)
Pro-choice activists don’t care that, in those scenarios, doctors still do whatever they can to save both the mother and the baby’s life. The mother choosing her own life doesn’t mean her physician must kill the baby; it means that saving the mother’s life is top priority while attempting to save the baby’s life as well. But again, none of this matters, because the pro-choice/pro-abortion argument would either shift to another red herring, or simply argue that “she can do whatever she wants with her body”. That’s the crux of the argument, and that is where focus of the rebuttal should be.
The root of this debate is simply determining whether or not a fetus is a human being, so let’s talk about that.
The definition of an embryo is an unborn or unhatched offspring in the process of development, in particular a human offspring during the period from approximately the second to the eighth week after fertilization (after which it is usually termed a fetus).
And according to Encyclopedia Britannica, an embryo is “…the early developmental stage of an animal while it is in the egg or within the uterus of the mother. In humans the term is applied to the unborn child.”
The definition of a fetus is “the unborn young of any vertebrate animal, particularly of a mammal, after it has attained the basic form and structure typical of its kind”
In those definitions, the aspects that get focused on the most are the time periods; the pro-abortion argument says what is in the womb is technically only a fetus after about 8 weeks, therefore, before that, it’s nothing but a ‘clump of cells.’ That argument is dangerous, evil, and plain wrong. A two-day old embryo has zero probability of turning into anything else except a human being. There is no chance it could turn into a watermelon, or a rock, or a piece of string, or anything else other than a baby human. The only thing that can happen to it other than developing into a human is not fully developing at all, and that is called a miscarriage, which unfortunately happens to about 10%–15% of expectant mothers. In other words, at what stage the fetus is in when it is killed is irrelevant to the discussion of whether or not they should be terminated. Those fetuses have an 85% chance of coming to full term, and a 100% chance of coming to full term as human beings. Abortion is not simply getting rid of ‘a clump of cells’, it is eradicating a baby by stripping it from its mother’s womb and dismantling it limb from limb. Former abortionist provider, Dr. Anthony Levatino, attested to this very truth before a house judiciary committee in 2019. The entire transcript of his address to the Kansas Senate Health and Human Services Committee can be found here.
By defending more expansive abortion rights even in the face of these facts, Democrats are exposing an uncomfortable reality that they would rather not acknowledge: They embrace abortion as a woman’s right to end the life of her fetus at any stage—not the right to end her pregnancy.
At 24 weeks, and now even as early as 21 weeks, newborn infants have survived outside the womb with the help of neonatal intensive care. In Cuomo’s New York—and possibly someday soon in Northam’s Virginia—healthy, viable fetuses even after 24 weeks could easily be killed in the womb rather than delivered.
This is why the abortion-rights movement has long relied upon euphemisms to obscure the unpleasant truth about the right they advocate. Phrases like women’s rights, the right to choose, and reproductive freedom dominate their advocacy, along with dismissive jargon like clumps of cells.
But in defending bills that expand the right to abort viable fetuses, Democrats are giving away the game. Most people, even those who favor some abortion access, instinctively recoil from what they see. These late-term abortion bills do more than reveal Democratic radicalism. They draw back the veil of euphemism to expose abortion for what it is: At every stage of pregnancy, it is the taking of a human life. For the anti-abortion movement, it is a pivotal moment to insist upon that truth.
Again, the argument has been made that late term abortions are only needed in cases where the baby threatens the life of the mother. And again, the twofold problem with that argument is:
To save the life of the mother, the baby does not have to be killed.
The crux of the pro-abortion position is “my body, my choice.”
If the trajectory of the pro-choice/pro-abortion evolving policy over the past few decades is any indication, we will be right back at the debate stages discussing whether or not a woman has a right to kill her baby at any stage of her pregnancy for any reason. And those on the side of life will continue to lose those debates.
This is what is evil about the pro-abortion stance. It purports to care about the mother and child, but cares about neither. As soon as there is a foothold to be had, they do the bait-and-switch. First the slogan was that abortions were to be “safe legal and rare,” then it became “my body, my choice,” then “late term abortions are only for the rarest of circumstances,” and now we’re back at the “stop controlling a woman’s body” phase.
If protecting a baby’s life is seen as controlling a woman’s body, the “safe, legal and rare” argument is obsolete. If life in the womb is not really life, or at least not life worth protecting, then who is to say abortions can’t be plentiful? Who cares whether or not it’s rare? Who cares if black American women particularly, even though they are 14% of the childbearing population, account for 37% of the nation’s abortions? It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the pro-abortion argument.
The truth however, is that it does matter. Having sex has potential consequences, and sometimes the consequence is getting pregnant. The child conceived is not at fault. Even in cases of rape or incest, which make up a fraction of 1% of pregnancies, though tragic, and traumatic, the baby is still not at fault. As stated in the beginning of this article, there are countless programs to give mothers the support they need in taking care of their baby. Killing the baby should never even be a topic of discussion. The person at fault in those scenarios are the rapists, who should face life in prison at best.
One other argument often made on the pro-abortion side is “don’t you believe the man should be held accountable for the baby as well?” My, and virtually all of the pro-life community, answer is a resounding ‘yes!’ My personal position is that absent and bad fathers are to blame for many societal ills including abortion, but this article isn’t about fathers; this one is. I am very passionate about fathers standing in their rightful place as priests over their homes and the redemptive effect it will have on the world. But I have to stress again: the pro-abortionists do not actually care about preventing abortions, so they do not really care about men being good fathers. One should not waste their time and energy making such involved arguments to those who will not even agree that a baby, the most innocent of the entire human species, is a life worthy of saving. We must start there, and stay there, until all human life is cherished, valued, and protected.
Before Alice Sebold became a bestselling, critically acclaimed novelist (the film The Lovely Bones was an adaptation from her first novel of the same name), she signaled her arrival as a writer with an important voice and compelling tale, as evidenced by her memoir entitled, Lucky.
The book was a searing and, at times, improbably witty retelling of her freshman year at Syracuse University when in 1981, while she was walking late at night, an assailant with a knife dragged her into a tunnel and raped her. The book details her experience with the hospital that treated her injuries along with her own efforts to heal—unsurprisingly, without much success. Much of the book is devoted to her reliance on law enforcement and the criminal justice system to hold her attacker to account.
It made for a gut-wrenching read: A woman who served as an eyewitness to a heinous crime committed against herself.
Sebold ended up identifying the man who assaulted her and testified against him. He was convicted of rape and sentenced to 25 years in prison, serving 16.
At the police station, one of the detectives thought it might be helpful for her to know that the last sexual assault victim on campus was raped and dismembered by her attacker. In this way, he reasoned, Sebold should consider herself “lucky”—hence, the book’s alluring title.
Since its publication in 1999, Lucky has had an enormous influence on rape victims, crime victim advocates, and law enforcement personnel. It is sometimes mentioned as a benchmark in how to gauge the hierarchies, and some of the vagaries, of sexual violence. For instance, are all acts of rape, or accusations of rape, the same? Many victims drew some comfort in thinking, “At least I didn’t experience what happened in Lucky.”
For most women, “no means no,” no matter where it is said—whether in a dark tunnel at knife point, or in a boy’s dorm room after drinking too much at a party. But is there no difference at all between the “luck” that Sebold survived and the misfortune of a tipsy co-ed who wakes up the next morning with cloudy memories that moments later will morph into regret?
Consent is the coin of the realm in the crime of rape. It’s the reason why the sexual histories of women so often became the primary defense strategies in rape trials—that, along with the absence of physical bruises to demonstrate that the woman neither resisted nor fought back. Most women, however, did not resist, which resulted in tragically adverse inferences about whether the accuser was telling the truth.
These are some of the reasons why rape has been so often astoundingly under-prosecuted. Studies show that only 5 out of 1,000 (another source places the figure at 7) committed rapes ever result in a felony conviction. That doesn’t even account for the thousands of acts of sexual violence that never get reported because women do not wish to voluntarily place themselves onto the conveyor belt of the legal system, with its cold machinery, grinding gears, and timeless delays. Who would want to repeatedly relive the experience and expose themselves to intrusive, embarrassing, and re-traumatizing questions that often flip the storyline, making them feel like the accused rather than the other way around?
No wonder the #MeToo Movement received such a critical mass of uncritical support. Many women had simply had enough. A new arena for judging and punishing sexual offenders materialized–one that led to the public downfall of those who otherwise were seemingly beyond reproach. If the law wasn’t going to do its job, then perhaps human resource departments, cancel culture, and the general public’s purchasing power could be deployed to punish men for rape, sexual violence, and sexual harassment. In some cases, like with Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein, chastened legal systems were politically compelled to take a fresh look at cases they had earlier declined to prosecute: to the fullest extent of the law… or at all, for that matter.
So the question must be asked, now that several years has passed since #MeToo so radically changed the social and cultural landscape: Has the movement empowered women, turning them into their own private avengers simply by reciting “Me, too!” which resulted in actions finally taken that had been ignored by legal systems that failed to dispense justice? Or has #MeToo set feminism back, infantilized women, and obliterated the difference between being “lucky” and being a responsible adult?
It surely succeeded in transformative, wholly unexpected ways—especially in the workplace where hundreds of men saw their careers come to an end, relieved of their jobs and, in many cases, replaced by women—Al Franken, Andrew Cuomo, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Mark Halperin, Louis C.K., Paul Haggis, Roger Ailes, Leslie Moonves, and Bryan Singer, among many others.
Over the past several years, men have reported being afraid of women, whether in mentoring them at work, giving them an affectionate embrace, or in trying to interpret nonverbal cues on dates, when the evening either comes to an end or proceeds to the more delicate matters of sexual intimacy. Perhaps all of this abundant caution and restraint is a vast improvement over a system that tended to be skeptical of women who didn’t come forward immediately, or who sent mixed messages with friendly notes, relationships maintained, gratitude extended, or acted in such a way that reinforced patriarchal notions that “Oh, please, she wanted it.”
Consent is, like most things, contextual. Sebold also said “no,” and pleaded for her life, in a very different setting and context than women confronted with abusive spouses and boyfriends, lecherous bosses, or even once promising dates that resulted in awkward, unpleasant sexual encounters. Bari Weiss wrote a column for her former employer, the New York Times, in which, as a feminist, she registered astonishment over an exposé written by a woman who went out on a date with a Hollywood celebrity and referred to it as “the worst night of my life.” What most surprised Weiss was the writer’s lack of personal agency, her apparent female powerlessness in describing a date that perhaps didn’t go as she had hoped but was well short of a crime. Sex that may have, at the time, felt degrading is not the same as criminal, and nor should it become career-ending.
Breaking through the glass ceiling was always seen as a paramount goal of the feminist movement. But lately it seems that pulling the rug out from under men whose actions are more boorish than suave has become a more satisfying accomplishment.
The overall effect of #MeToo on our legal system is not something to be dismissed. It might eventually influence jurors to disregard standards of proof, turning a jury of one’s peers into execution squads.
The rallying cry of “Believe Women!” has been enough to waylay the careers of Woody Allen, Richard Dreyfuss, Oliver Stone, Dustin Hoffman, and others. These men have largely disappeared, sentenced in the court of public opinion to moral banishment. The jurisdiction of that court is limitless and its sentencing guidelines unmerciful. After all, the chant “Believe Women!” nearly derailed the confirmation of Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
That would have been ironic, since in a court of law, the accused, in our justice system, is always afforded the presumption of innocence. It is a signature entitlement of the accused—innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We have always regarded the punishment of an innocent person to be so unconscionable, we are prepared to acquit the guilty—set them free without the payment of any debt to society—in order to spare even one innocent person the moral outrage of an undeserved punishment.
That has now changed. “Believe Survivors!” is perhaps the first time in our nation’s history where the presumption of innocence has been called into question, if not wholly eradicated, in the minds of the general public. The personal, subjective truth of women (persons of color, as well), are now sacrosanct. Guilt beyond any doubt at all in cases of sexual assault may ultimately hinge entirely on a woman’s word.
To reflexively believe a survivor of an alleged sexual assault is also to conclude that the accused’s professed innocence is a lie. Someone isn’t telling the truth in the quixotic plotline of “He said-She said.” But then why bother with a trial at all? The mere accusation of sexual assault, by itself with nothing more, is tantamount to a finding of guilt. The time-honored presumption of innocence is reversed. In cases of sexual violence and harassment, a new evidentiary standard would govern: The accuser’s truth overrides any exonerating facts. Survivors are unquestioningly believed. No other presentation of evidence is necessary. Indeed, to call a woman a liar becomes its own separate crime.
I fail to see the feminism in that, just as I fail to see the justice in how rape victims are presently treated under the law.
Outside of courtrooms, there is an even greater danger in trivializing the experience of Alice Sebold, and so many others, by conflating acts of contemptible violence with altogether different, less threatening encounters between the sexes. It’s essential to maintain our perspective. Thankfully, as flawed as the male gender may be, most men are not Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein. What good comes from lumping all men together into one gross overgeneralization?
We are seeing a parallel illogic in matters relating to white supremacy and the January 6 insurrection. Racism is far too easily charged, denials ignored, reason abandoned. A racial faux pas is as self-condemning as attendance at a Klan rally. Similarly, merely questioning whether absentee election ballots should be accepted without verified signatures instantly places one inside the Capital on January 6.
If everything is sexual violence against women, then nothing is sexual violence against women. And isn’t that the gravest insult to women who have, indeed, experienced the worst forms of sexual violence?
We are moving all too quickly from the lucky to the stupid, where perspective is lost, and moral balance is given no credence at all. Believing women without condition robs men and women of the self-respect that comes from being judged on equal terms. Believing women without thinking means that objective truth is unknowable. Believing women without question suggests that facts cannot speak for themselves, that they must be prejudged, that impartiality is impossible whenever sex is the scene of the crime. Believing women without discernment implies that women have no voice that can be used to distinguish between pleasure and pain.
Choosing to reserve judgment is not a betrayal of women or a validation of men.
One last thing to consider: Anthony J. Broadwater, the man who served 16 years in prison for raping Alice Sebold and who was released shortly before “Lucky” was published, has recently been exonerated and his conviction vacated. Nearly 40 years after the crime, a state court judge, joined by the district attorney’s office, have concluded that the prosecution was flawed, Sebold’s identification was coached, the DNA evidence discredited, and with such unreliable evidence, Broadwater should have never been sent to jail.
The Democratic Party’s special relationship with women is an unquestioned part of our political fabric. The size of the gender gap in voting may fluctuate, but the direction never does. Democrats enjoy a solid and sizable lead with female voters, as they do in party affiliation. The lion’s share of elected female officials are also Democrats. Beyond the explicitly political realm, the left dominates the culture that surrounds women. Open any women’s fashion magazine, turn on a daytime talk show, or enter any classroom with a “women’s studies” theme, and you are guaranteed to be steeped in a dogmatic progressive worldview.
Women may generally favor the Democratic Party, but as that party lurches leftward, it’s increasingly obvious that the Democratic Party isn’t terribly interested in women.
With the advent of intersectionality, women–particularly white and heterosexual women, who still constitute the majority of American women–are viewed by progressives as among the privileged and oppressive class, rather than as a group in need of any particular special attention. Beyond their rote allegiance to abortion rights, progressives have stopped prioritizing protecting biological women against violence. They’ve also stopped promoting women’s success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or on athletic fields, and only half-heartedly bother pushing for economic benefits, like paid leave or government daycare, which used to be central to their agenda.
Instead, they are busy eliminating women as a distinct category to make way for biological men who identify as women. They’ve moved beyond simple tolerance and anti-discrimination protection to attack the logic that there is ever a legitimate reason to separate those born biologically female and those born biologically male. Somehow the party that claims to love science has rendered taboo any discussion of the most basic facts of life, including the fact that female mammals have greater physical vulnerabilities–they are weaker, slower, and smaller–and also have the capacity to give birth and breastfeed, which is a tremendous power but also comes with many complications and increased vulnerabilities.
The public has seen this most clearly in the sports arena, as women’s athletic competitions are now routinely won by biological males. Female athletes who recognize that they are doomed to lose to these innately physically advantaged athletes are told not to complain or they risk losing their spots on the team, in addition to being publicly smeared as bigots. Girls are expected to tolerate–even welcome–biological males into their changing rooms.
It receives far less attention even among supposed human rights champions, but female prisons are also loosening their protections for female inmates and allowing biological males who claim to identify as women into their facilities. Some of these biological males are convicted sex offenders who have not undergone any surgery as a part of the transition, which leaves female prisoners vulnerable to rape and other forms of abuse. Scholars like Abigail Schrier have noted that even accounting for the growth in these incidents will be difficult, if not impossible, since prisons will record forcible rapes as “female-on-female violence.”
This may seem like a sudden turn with the Left abandoning women in order to elevate the interests of other identity groups now seen as more sympathetic, particularly non-gender conforming communities. Yet the Left always had an awkward relationship with women in that, while it claimed to champion women’s interests, it has always rejected the actual feminine.
Making Women Act Like Men
Betty Friedan’s seminal book, The Problem With No Name, published in 1963, described a deep dissatisfaction with the limitations women felt in society, particularly in being a housewife. Her words connected with millions of women and contributed to the social revolution that loosened expectations for women’s roles and encouraged a significant uptick in women’s workforce participation.
Clearly millions of women wanted the chance to participate more fully in all aspects of society beyond childrearing and the domestic sphere. Yet much of the Left mistook this desire for more opportunities with a rejection of motherhood and traditional family life. Feminists promoted the idea that marriage and children were traps and that careers and other public pursuits would give women the fulfillment that they lacked. Much of society joined the chorus.
They also advanced a policy platform designed to free women from the burdens of childrearing. In addition to abortion rights, which were meant to ensure that no woman ever had to become a mother who didn’t want to, feminists championed universal paid childcare so that mothers could immediately free themselves from needing to care for their children and could get back to paid work. They fought for companies and other institutions to ensure, through official quotas and public pressure, that women are represented in positions of power. Feminist groups championed paid family leave benefits and other regulations meant to make workplaces more accessible for working mothers, and to discourage workplaces from rewarding behaviors—such as working longer hours and taking less time off—which are harder for working parents, and particularly mothers, to do.
Putting aside the merits of these policies, they are designed to make women follow a life course that traditionally has historically been followed by men so that the sexes would be more interchangeable and more equal in terms of life outcomes. This is most vividly on display with the feminist obsession with the wage gap. Women–not just in the United States, but everywhere–consistently earn less, on average, than men earn. Feminists and politicians frequently cite the wage gap as evidence of workplace discrimination, misleadingly implying that it means that when there are two coworkers, working the same hours, with the same responsibilities, the woman is consistently short-changed. That’s not what these statistics show.
Rather the wage gap statistic reflects the reality that women, even those working full time, tend to make very different decisions about work than men do. Women working full time still log significantly fewer hours than men. Women also choose jobs in industries that pay less but that are safer and more personally rewarding. While stereotypes and social pressure may contribute to some of these decisions, women also clearly make thoughtful choices based on their own preferences, needs, and values.
It frustrates feminists, but women consistently say they are willing to trade higher pay for more personally fulfilling work and want flexible work opportunities so that they can be hands-on mothers. In fact, women still cite children and family as their greatest source of happiness. Some men are embracing these values too–men are increasingly taking on more parenting responsibilities–but there remain significant differences in behaviors between the two sexes.
In a different context, we would celebrate women’s wisdom in prioritizing values like community and caregiving rather than chasing material goods and public recognition. Yet feminists and the Left see women as letting down the cause of achieving true equality. Since they haven’t been able to cajole women into acting more like men, today they seek to render these distinctions meaningless, even if that means sacrificing women’s interests.
Women in the Woke New World
Women need to recognize how they, and their daughters, are affected by the shifting realities in our increasingly woke world. Women who had embraced the earlier notion of government using its power to ensure that women are fully represented in all halls of power will see that simply being a woman isn’t good enough. Now to show a commitment to equity and inclusivity, each company board needs to check a multitude of boxes—multiracial, gender non-conforming, disabled, and multiple ethnicities. Women, in particular heterosexual and white women, will find that rather than benefiting from this approach they will be losers. Women are an increasingly educated and powerful force in the work and political world; the discounting of merit toward ensuring representation of identity groups will impede their rise into powerful positions.
Women have benefited from the great American jobs machine and economy, which created a multitude of life-enhancing products and services and plentiful job opportunities that allowed women to find positions that work for their unique situations. As the Left prioritizes equitable distribution of goods, rather than continued economic growth and more standardized job benefits and relationships, women will find their options dwindling. Most centrally, our increasingly sexless world, combined with Woke policies such as defunding the police, will be a much more dangerous world for women.
Most bizarrely, today it’s the woke Left that seems to be increasingly embracing a retro, cliched view of what being a woman means. Serious, Second Wave feminists lamented women’s interest in beauty and fashion. But now that has become almost the main hallmark of womanhood. Women who aren’t interested in these pursuits are increasingly encouraged to contemplate that they may be mis-sexed and might better transition into men. Men who wish to identify as women pile on the eyeshadow and lipstick (and stilettos). Makeup has literally become the core of womanhood in this view. Not motherhood. Not the impulse to nurture. Not some notion of a virtuous matriarchal society… But lipstick. Surely this impoverished worldview will not prevail. Surely women who are serious about the lives of real women will take back the Democratic Party.
Failing that, it is time for women not yet captured by the Woke to put all of their political power behind the reality principle, and to truly stand up for women.
This is the first of what will be a series of brief, weekly White Rose pieces centered around the betrayal of liberalism as a foundational political concept, by those who claim to be liberal. The “progressive left” is not liberal, and the Democratic Party is in the process of shredding its sense of liberalism.
“Saqib Ali introduces CAIR attorney Carolyn Homar, right, to his mother Samina Ali, following a press conference, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Catonsville, Md., announcing a legal challenge to Maryland’s anti-BDS Executive Order. Maryland’s ban on contracting with businesses that boycott Israel tramples on the First Amendment rights of the software engineer who advocates for Palestinians, a Muslim civil rights group claims in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.”
(Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Democratic candidate for the Maryland legislature, Saqib Ali, is a politician once hailed by the Washington Post as a “bright newcomer.” He is a handsome fellow, born in Chicago, a graduate of the University of Maryland with a Master’s in Computer Science and a significant background in Maryland politics. Ali is on the ballot this July for the state legislature.
He also is, sadly, an anti-Semitic anti-Zionist.
In many ways – leaving the anti-Semitic anti-Zionism aside – Saqib Ali is not so different from me. We are both Americans of Middle Eastern heritage. We both grew up more or less middle-class toward the end of the twentieth century. We both came from families who immigrated to the U.S. in relatively recent years. We both saw the American left as natural friends and allies and were long-time Democrats.
He is a dedicated Muslim, a Democrat of Pakistani and Asian-Indian descent, and a former coordinator for the Howard Dean presidential campaign in the early 2000s. He is also a co-founder of Freedom2Boycott in Maryland, an organization dedicated to BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions: the movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against the state of Israel). I am a former Democrat, a PhD in American History, and a proud Independent from New York of Judean descent, who worked the phones for the Obama presidential campaign in San Francisco during 2007.
Ali is a progressive-left Democrat who favors AOC’s Green New Deal. I was briefly a member of the Green Party USA as a graduate student in American History at Penn State University. The problem is that Ali, whatever his commitment to “social justice,” is calling for genocide. Ali insists that the sole Jewish state is “apartheid.” This is important for friends of Israel and the Jewish people in Maryland to know before they hit the ballot box in the July local elections.
I became curious about Ali upon crossing his trail on Facebook where he, as a Democratic Party politician, referred to Israel in terms designed to create hatred toward Jews. I asked him in an email message whether he stood by his “apartheid” claim but, not surprisingly, he has not responded. I asked him if “apartheid Israel” should be dismantled as the national home of the Jewish people, just as apartheid South Africa was dismantled, but he has not responded to that question either.
His lack of response might very well be because he knows that Montgomery County has a significant Jewish population, and if they knew he despised Israel it might hurt his electoral chances and chances for power within that state. Or maybe not. It could be that Ali knows his district well enough to know that they do not care.
Ali led a campaign, with financial and legal assistance from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), in support of BDS:
“The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ federal lawsuit seeks to block the state from enforcing an executive order that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed in October 2017.
The order requires contractors to certify in writing that they don’t boycott Israel…
CAIR sued Hogan and state Attorney General Brian Frosh on behalf of software engineer Syed Saqib Ali, a former state legislator. Ali’s lawsuit says the order bars him from bidding for government software program contracts because he supports boycotts of businesses and organizations that ‘contribute to the oppression of Palestinians.’”
The BDS movement was co-founded by Omar Barghouti who opposes the existence of Israel because it is the home of the Jewish people. This is something akin to opposing the existence Japan because it is the national homeland of the Japanese people. It is something akin to opposing France because it is the nation-state of the French. Along with American progressive politicians like Saqib Ali (D-MD), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), BDS seeks to undermine Jewish autonomy on the very land that has been indigenous to the Jewish people for over 3,000 years.
“A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically…. Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
Saqib Ali is a minnow in American politics. If he wins office he will, at least for the moment, make do with influencing Maryland state government rather than national policy. However, he needs to understand that liberalism is a trend derived from the English Political Enlightenment that has spread power more evenly throughout Western political culture throughout the course of centuries. Part of that trend includes respect for indigenous peoples, both in the Americas and the Middle East, in their efforts toward self-determination.
Saqib Ali castigates Israel as apartheid, which conjures images of apartheid South Africa with the implication that it must either be destroyed or reformed in his ideological image. Ali’s imagining of Israel is neither liberal nor accurate because, in fact, Israel is demonstrably the least apartheid and most justice-oriented country throughout theMiddle East. Further, its social system has nothing in common with apartheid South Africa, which Ali uses as a political club with which to attack Israel.
In apartheid South Africa, the indigenous population had no access to the ballot. In Israel, the children of Arab conquerors reside in the Knesset.
In apartheid South Africa, black and white people were not served in the same restaurants or hotels or even hospitals. In Israel, Muslims and Jews sit cheek-by-jowl in the same restaurants and hotels and hospitals. In fact, Israel is the only country in the history of the world to sponsor the immigration of Africans, not for the purposes of slavery or exploitation, but to save them from theocratically inspired hatred.
So, when Saqib Ali promotes BDS, or when he by implication slanders the Jewish people as supporting an apartheid country, he is spitting poison at a population still overcoming the most brutal genocide in world history.
And there is nothing the least bit liberal about it.
… the phenomenological way: take a thing for what it is and let it talk.
James Hillman, Inter Views
I’m writing, not from a certain identity position some readers might demand, but from nothing other my own essentially random position, stand or fall. And I’m nobody—not trans, no kind of academic or expert, not even a journalist. Just someone with a particular mix of traits and experiences, observing things and thinking about them. The contingency of my starting point is important: who has the right to address this issue? I’d say, anyone. Any old nobody.
First, because the drive is inbuilt: we all wonder, we all read the signs for orientation wherever we happen to find ourselves. (We can suppress the questioning, but denial has its price. And we might choose to read only familiar signs, but it risks getting us even more lost.) Second, because we’re all in the midst of upheavals that go to the heart of human being: matters of sex and gender implicate us all because the body itself—anybody’s, everybody’s—is the ground of contention.
The prefix trans- points us toward a topic where our corporeal fears and techno-dreams run riot, where primeval past and potential futures battle over the very real present. Few terms seem more emblematic of our situation: “Where are we?” In transition …
Decisions take us in one direction or another, this way or that. Each closes off certain possibilities and enables others. If the word “nonbinary” has assumed a sudden cultural importance, whether as a mere trend or a significant indication of future developments, it has the undeniable function of creating a new binary. Whether we like it or not, we can’t step out of our time and situation to avoid the decision the word itself demands of us (ironically enough). We will inevitably find ourselves on this side or that of every cultural challenge.
We may find ourselves opposed along obvious lines (“traditionalists vs. radicals”), we may remain trapped in completely understandable confusion, or we may make new alliances across political, social, and spiritual lines we’d once thought were clear-cut. If we are indeed facing a “brave new world,” old identities (not just “gender identities,” though they’re all the rage) might be worth reconsidering, while “old” values may yet be renewed, reimagined.
But if our familiar determinations don’t always guarantee truly meaningful resemblances, how will we find our allies; how will we recognize those who share our convictions?
“… let it talk”
A reaction isn’t only my reaction; it belongs to a situation. If it’s deep enough… it isn’t just subjective personal opinion. It’s giving voice to something. (James Hillman, “A Psychologist Talks About…”)
The notion of “my truth” does have its place: as a corrective. When someone references it, what they’re talking about is the reality of their life: “It is true that I experienced this.” And they are asking that their experience be recognized as part of the general understanding of some situation. They are speaking for something denied or discounted by such collective recognition.
Any one person’s experience is, however, wholly inadequate for grasping the larger truths of which our own represent but partial aspects. Similarly, “my position”—my opinion, my political or moral stance—can’t do justice to the complexity of a real-world phenomenon. One may advocate for pro-trans activism, trans-critical feminism, or traditional male/female roles; one may dream of free choice in every area or warn about commodified faux-freedom. These are various possibilities the phenomenon holds out, and we gravitate toward whichever is most accessible or appealing to us for whatever reasons (upbringing, community, personal factors). Underneath the diversity of responses, though, there has been a shift in our shared reality itself, a change in our collective coordinates.
Our situation has created a new “we” out of all of us. Everything that constitutes the trans phenomenon (people, organizations, ideas, dreams, technologies) moves around a center of gravity, a “black hole” of a question that addresses us collectively and personally: what is “human”? Whether or not biological sex and social gender roles can or should be transcended, whether or not, as the most ambitious trans visionaries would have it, we are indeed moving into the “trans-human,” our self-understanding is in transition. We are all implicated.
It appears …
The word “phenomenon” comes from the Greek “to appear” and the root “to shine.” Today, the trans phenomenon “shines,” demanding our attention whether we want to look or not. No matter our distinct viewpoints, it might also help us determine where we all are, if we can look together at the face of what faces us. But it encompasses a mind-boggling array of dimensions, each shot through with its own contradictions in addition to the contradictions between them.
To some, the creative side is most immediately obvious: the contributions of trans and gender-bending artists, the new vistas opening up for creative exploration; the joys of self-discovery and self-expression; the advances in medical technology associated with some research; greater social acceptance of gender nonconformity and other forms of diversity.
This was where my own background and experience has led me, initially. The issue of gender never troubled me personally, but blurred gender never felt terribly threatening. I grew up with the variations of androgyny from Bowie to Radical Faeries at Pride gatherings, with science fiction novels that predicted sex-change at a whim, with knowledge of pioneers like Wendy (née Walter) Carlos and Jan (née James) Morris, with underground cultural icons like Wayne/Jayne County and Genesis P-Orridge. Many people in my circle, from collaborators and co-workers to dear friends, bent gender into the most astonishing shapes—including the person I call “the third great unrequited love of my life” (there’d been one each in elementary and junior high) who in high school revealed to me that he’d always felt he had—or was—“a woman inside.” He was expressing something very difficult, then; today, she is much happier. There are countless examples of people unequivocal about the value of having “transitioned,” whatever its trials.
Meanwhile, the other side to this positive reality has been in the news: natal (biological) males competing in women’s sports, with predictable results; vicious battles over the meaning of words, justified by complex academic theorizing; the growing power of trans lobbyists to effect policy without public input; the rise in diagnoses of “gender dysphoria,” especially among young women, and the inevitable accompanying regret among some who choose to “de-transition”; the dangerous presence of trans-identified males in women’s spaces and in sex-segregated facilities like prisons and shelters; the vilification and violence directed toward critics of trans ideology.
The trans rise to prominence has occurred with astonishing speed in every sector—social, political, medical, legal, academic, athletic, commercial. This alone demands explanation. And it turns out that there are “grassroots” movements being funded by the most powerful biotech and pharmaceutical companies, censorship and social control advanced under the banner of the most “progressive” ideals, tolerance for hateful bullying legitimized by “human rights” organizations.
Although each position has its flaws and limitations, there are not only serious arguments being made for most of them, but many caring, intelligent people making them. So, by what criteria can we judge? Is compromise possible? Is it even desirable?
The “trans phenomenon” is about the human body. The body unites us as a species, but it has always embroiled us in dramas of opposition, too, often to the death. It has pitted us against one another in contest for physical resources (war), in the trials of intimacy and mating (“the war of the sexes”), and in all manner of exploitation, control, and domination (the “race war”).
It also divides us against ourselves, psychologically. The body is, after all, where “the soul” landed, and this human subject—ego, consciousness, every avatar of “me”—is at once at home and a stranger in the material domain. The body is the primordial contested territory because it’s where every “I” comes to be—the site of our self-definition, where we make our selves.
The distinction between nature (from natus “born”) and technology (from the root, teks- “to fabricate,” “fashion,” “make”) plays out here: that which comes into being of itself versus what we produce through our own agency. “Nature or nurture?” is thus a question concerning technology: how much do we in fact shape what we normally takeasgiven? How much is ultimately in our hands, and therefore our responsibility?
The postmodern threat to cultural norms has been unavoidable because, as far it goes (but only that far), the theory of social constructivism is right: even before our birth, our “nature” and ideas of “natural” are being fashioned for us. As we go on to form what (and who) comes after.
But “constructed” clearly needn’t mean “false.” After all, humans “made” language and continually refashion it—for better or worse is the question. Words are completely “artificial.” But they open up shareable worlds—and build exclusionary ones. They create realities—and destroy them. They allow human cultural life to blossom—and they limit it.
I said that our time is “in transition.” But really, we have always been in transition, only the periods of relative stability used to be much longer. We lived in oral, ritual cultures for seventy-thousand years or so—how easy all that “pre-history” is to forget, when we look back at our official “history” of a few measly millennia!
So, yes, “we” is now anybody and everybody—each individual living at this time, in this rocking world. Yet change has been accelerating steadily since the dawn of modernity, revolution following furiously upon revolution—scientific, industrial, political, artistic, sexual, digital. And our positions inevitably vie for dominance, face off in mortal combat. Our binary choices about that uncanny phenomenon that faces us all—even the decision whether or not to speak of anyone as “nonbinary”—will divide us.
Because, unfortunately for utopian fantasies, truth divides. It divides despite referring to “collective recognition,” despite its definition as “the objectively shared” in contrast to “the subjectively private.” Unanimity only belongs in Utopia, that is, nowhere—in a Heaven where truth is always already known, no communication necessary. But real truth, real-world truth, asks us to decide, in the words of the classic union song by Florence Reece, “Which side are you on?”
I myself can’t be “against” the trans movement. But neither can I support those aggressive and influential trans forces that are making life miserable for anyone who doesn’t bow to their demands. I can rejoice in human creativity, but also expose its risks and its exploitation. This, finally, brings me to the fragile point around which we might still come together.
In Berlin, there’s a German Resistance Memorial Center. The rooms are dedicated respectively to various demographics that made up the anti-Nazi resistance: workers, business leaders, artists, intellectuals, students, soldiers, Christians, Jews, Roma, and so on. Despite the differences between them, some indeed irreconcilable, they allied to fight a common danger. I’m not equating the trans movement with Nazism, as I hope the preceding makes very clear. I also hope, however, that I’ve suggested some of the real dangers the movement poses, a sense of its totalitarian potential that makes even such a perilous, extreme comparison resonant.
We—male, female, trans; religious, secular; conservative, liberal; academic, artist, trucker—can unite precisely against those forces that would divide by mere demographic categories. And our resistance must divide us from whoever—male, female, trans; religious, secular; conservative, liberal; academic, artist, trucker—would dominate us all, whoever would rob us of our individuality and diminish our uniqueness. We can argue, draw our own lines, make our own determinations, stick with “our people”—as long as we find ourselves, in the end, resisting the totalitarians together.
There are real struggles to be waged over real-world actions impacting real human lives. The idea of “facing” the phenomenon isn’t to provide answers, but only to help us identify where we are. If it removes us from the field of battle, it also allows us to return better informed, with a stronger sense of the forces in play and of the humanity of the players. How to respond remains in our hands, determining the quality of our social “constructions”; it remains in our feet, determining which direction we let them take us. So these thoughts can’t be anything but transitional—but that’s all thoughts have ever been. And if that doesn’t sound too impressive—well, it shouldn’t.
“As a Black woman, you have to be careful because you’re at the bottom of the totem pole in society. You must make sure that you are respected in your professional and personal relationships.”
I was left speechless as I heard these words. I felt vexed as to why I was being singled out as a Black woman. I had never thought of myself as being at the bottom of a societal totem pole. I had been working with children since high school. I am intelligent. I am cultured. I am attractive and stylish. Also, I am Christian. Not just in theory. I mean that I am a parochial school, mission trip, “my virginity is awesome until/if I get married,” Christian.
However, the woman was not speaking of how I lived but how I would be perceived in society. Her comment hurt my pride. My image was important to me because I “practiced what I preached”. I didn’t sleep around. I always valued sex as love that is shared between husband and wife.
“Why was she telling me this?” I pondered and meditated on her statement for weeks. Months.
To be honest, it haunted me for years.
I had a comfortable middle-class upbringing. My father was a former decorated Combat Marine and career diesel mechanic. My mother was an early childhood specialist and business owner. We were given many opportunities. My three siblings and I enjoyed a childhood full of church services, sports, Girl and Boy Scouts, choir, ballet, family gatherings, and Nintendo battles. My father taught me how important it was to respect my body and my sexuality. His early affirmations and his affection towards me helped to establish my self-worth. I was smart. I was worthy. I knew I was talented and cherished before I even reached kindergarten. Forty years later you’d suffer in trying to find me living or thinking otherwise. Today, I love myself.
So, I’m black. I’m a virgin. And I’m happy.
Black women have been sexualized and fetishized since the days of slavery in this society. During slavery, our power was stripped away from us. Now, however, the power to shape our own identities lies in our hands.
“Sexual power is not reclaimed with promiscuous behavior,” I was taught. The power is actually in restraint, as you take back your power by selectivity, judiciousness, and abstinence. Until you are married, your body belongs to you and God. I’m of the belief that every endeavor has a spiritual implication. We don’t have the luxury of living sexually promiscuous lifestyles without incurring powerful ramifications including prurient scrutiny and disrespect. It is neither healthy nor righteous for anyone to live in a sexually promiscuous manner or to be used this way. However, black women are deeply scrutinized and dismissed for this type of behavior while others are not. To me, it appears that women of other groups are not criticized as intensely for sexual promiscuity.
And then I see the “W.A.P.” (Wet Ass Pussy) performance at the Grammys. My compassion tells me that these are two young women expressing and asserting themselves artistically, as Madonna did in the early 90s. However, my intuition tells me that it’s actually an agenda.
Ms. Lauryn Hill was all but blackballed in this same music industry over twenty years ago. Hill spoke truth to power, the type of comprehensive feminism that loved men and couldn’t live without them but also told us girls that “respect was just the minimum”. Why was a message that was pro-men and pro-women shut down, but tunes like “W.A.P.” while the Black artists willing to sing them have been pushed ever since? Could it be a mass scale act of grooming? I believe so. I’ve always thought that teaching faith-based abstinence in the Black community would eradicate many, if not all, of our persisting issues. Black men and women deserve to be taught abstinence and celibacy early. Black men and women deserve to be taught to respect their bodies as the precious temples that they are.
There is power in restraint.
There is love in restraint.
How Feminists in the West Lost the Plot on Freedom
“Freedom to me means having the option to choose your own path” – said Madina Hamidi, an Afghan-Belgian model, refugee, and human rights activist, speaking on a panel about women’s rights in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s return. Hamidi’s father had been killed by the Taliban, and the family fled to Europe. The hope was that in the West, the children would have the possibility of choosing their own paths. Today, Hamidi speaks out on the plight of women, minorities, and anyone else who is at risk of the Taliban’s anti-pluralistic backlash. She is not alone.
Joining her on the panel were Manel Msalmi, the Tunisia-born Middle East policy adviser for EU parliament, as well as a political and human rights activist, and Lailuma Sadid, a Brussels-based Afghan journalist and an activist on refugee issues. Before the Taliban’s fall, Sadid dedicated her efforts to educating girls who had been shut out of going to school due to the Taliban’s draconian policies. However, after being caught and whipped twice by the regime enforcers, she was threatened with death if she were to continue engaging in her educational efforts.
After moving abroad, Lailuma continued covering events in Afghanistan and redoubled her efforts with the return of Taliban to power in August 2021. “I can’t believe it – twenty years later and the situation is exactly the same” – she said. Manel Msalmi organized an event in Brussels to highlight the plight of Afghan women. But the reaction of the international community to the plight of women under the Taliban has remained muted and relegated largely to verbal expressions of concern. There have been a few State Department pronouncements. But, there has been no observable outrage in the feminist community about the worst sort of suppression of female freedom.
Each new imposed restriction on women–from the imposition of separate educational systems to the return to guardianship system to escalation in unjust detentions to cynical restrictions on driving rights–has been met with silence. No major lobbies have come forward to demand pressure on the Taliban, no protests have been mobilized on campuses around the US, Europe, and other Western states, and most of the media coverage and activism on issue has come from Afghan expatriates and diasporas. That’s not to say feminism is completely absent from the international scene.
Ironically, the voices that should be supporting the most vulnerable women in the most critical situations rather tend to focus on small groups of activists in Muslim majority states that are already undergoing reforms with regards to women’s rights. Usually there is no vetting or deep engagement involved; assistance goes to propaganda campaigns and unconstructive attacks in response to perceived grievances. By contrast, very little feminist fervor is devoted to more mundane issues that affect larger segments of population, such as humanitarian concerns which overwhelmingly impact women and children in conflict zones, or in areas where women’s work and educational options are limited.
Feminism rose as a movement to ensure women’s equal rights under the law. It once rested on a pillar of freedom undergirding women’s role in society. Today’s feminism has lost the plot. It has ceased being relevant on the essential issue of freedom, demand the ability of female human beings to choose their own destiny. That positive outcomes of feminism can transform a society for the better, in ways that benefit men as well as women, seems lost. Women’s rights are no longer understood to be human rights — leading to strange backlashes in places. The image of “feminism” is tarnished to the point the concept is no longer taken seriously and corrupted by activists who know little history and less of the underlying laws and ethics.
Several factors explain why Western feminism is barely recognizable, and why it has turned to having an arguably destructive effect at home and abroad. One issue is the detrimental effect of intersectionality. In practice, rather than enhancing the ability of feminists to focus on the plight of groups most vulnerable to multiple forms of discrimination, as the academic theory holds, it created a domestic victimhood Olympics and took away the focus from minority women in patriarchal societies, who are most likely to suffer from combined forms of oppression. Academic pressures to focus on ever growing grievances diluted focus on wider and more urgent problems out in the broader world.
“Woke” politics in the 21st century essentially erased a feminist sense of identity, replacing a problem-solving approach in tackling problems facing women with emotionalism, virtue signaling, and an advance of increasingly misogynist approaches such as the denial of biological sex and gender identities and displacement of women’s rights with transgender rights. The more feminists were drawn in into increasingly granular domestic battles, the less room remained for the focus on the meat-and-potato issues such as combating domestic violence or promoting skill building in underserved communities.
These changes reflect cultural shifts thanks to the pressures of theoretical academic exports in extreme settings, by the dynamics of an increasingly digitized world, in which active positive role modeling and cooperation in a community setting has been displaced by politicized and increasingly ideological echo chambers manipulated by the algorithms of digital spaces. Algorithms are a poor substitute for the ideological checks normally forced by real life and the humanizing effect of personal interactions. The isolation of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns which forced single individuals and people in general into increasingly confined personal spaces and into online world only accelerated that effect.
Solipsistic culture distorts priorities. And, as encouragement of personal grievances are elevated over compassion and a culture of service, so too, active accomplishments have been devalued by the overinflation of self-promotion and the dependence on public recognition for funding and validation. These developments have changed the dynamics of activism from private, result-oriented, campaigning (even in public contexts) to a trend-oriented “influencer” strategy. Receiving public adulation and attacking and destroying perceived enemies to elevate oneself in the hierarchy of zealotry displaced the focus on assisting others. For that reason, real but far away targets for assistance are of little interest and stories and issues that are more likely to result in public acclaim – such as “smashing” whatever passes for “patriarchy” – is more likely to resonate with contemporary feminists than tasks of consistent activism and commitment on behalf of less glamorous, less publicized concerns.
For that reason, “politically incorrect” second-wave feminists like the psychologist Phyllis Chesler who had lived in Afghanistan and whose experiences with conservative & Islamist cultures are now taboo in “polite society” are largely exiled if not outright persecuted in contemporary Western feminist circles. The feminist movement has lost its soul as academia and society in general, swept by postmodernist fads increasingly fall in line with denying objective reality. This crisis of identity for women’s rights defenders in liberal democratic countries is ruthlessly exploited by domestic ideologues, foreign propagandists and psy-ops experts. It is to the advantage of those who wish to control “the masses” to shape the messaging and to guide the direction of a movement. It is certainly to the advantage of the adversaries of Western values, Enlightenment reasoning, and Constitutional or other protections for individual rights that strengthen Western states against imposition of tyranny, to erase these tenets which bolster their accomplishments.
By polarizing and increasing infighting among various groups, these propagandists – operating these days as much through social media campaigns as through other forms of infiltration and manipulation – get to take down their enemies from within. The feminist movement, by embracing a mission creep, became vulnerable to manipulation by those with assorted agendas, but also increasingly attracted participants more focused on identity politics and methods of convenience than to measurable results beneficial to all of society. As Madina Hamidi expressed in the panel discussion, the victims of gender role politics by the Taliban in Afghanistan are men just as much as women. They too are forced into restricted roles, such as having to wear beards to the Islamist specifications, being separated from women colleagues, and being beaten or killed for failing to adhere to stringent social codes. By allowing women to be increasingly excluded from communal roles and erased from public participation, the Taliban was also forcing the other half of the population to bear the costs.
The lessons of entrenched social codes from the experience of the Afghanistan should be a warning for the feminists in the West. Authoritarian conformity can make a movement spread faster , but it also imprisons even those who are part of enforcing it. In a way, the woke movement has had a similar effect, particularly in the United States, but from a different angle. Where the Talban imposed religious mandates and brutally punishes the perceived violators, mostly on an arbitrary basis and with no due process, the woke movement, by imposing identity politics, that allegedly were supposed to free the society from religious, ethnic, racial, and gender/sex prejudices, in fact, brought back the obsession with all these ssues, leadng to incriminations and witch hunts, including by the very people who were supposed to guard against such manifestations. Indeed these witchhunts too, frequently result in social and professional penaltiies for the violators, allegedly for the greater good but in practice, with no rhyme or reason. As in any authoritarian society, the zealouts find increasingly minute reasons for accusations, and as a result, no one is innocent, no one is spared from the thought crimes and eventual ostracisms. But academic cross cultural studies have been bogged down in political correctness and the jargon of nearly incomprehensible social science theories, whereas the feminist activists have been kept far and away from seeing the results of particular real life actions by virtue of the bubble effect of the human rights sphere.
When asked how many feminists have interacted with refugees from Islamist or socially conservative countries on a regular basis, few would admit to that, aside from “preapproved and preselected” activists participating in social events in structured and organized settings. Most do not have the exposure, the cultural knowledge, or even the interest to understand the issue facing Afghan women whether in the United States or abroad. Only 20% of Americans have passports, and a smaller number travel beyond Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. So the number of self-identifying feminists having direct experiences of immersion in other cultures is negligible; contemporary feminist paradigms are largely constructed on the basis of US-centric experience.
These are just some of the factors behind the confusion, disaffection, and preoccupation with increasingly trivial navel-gazing issues among feminists. When a movement changes focus from empowering and strengthening participants and communities to achieve both individually beneficial results and to improve society as a whole to embracing a victimhood narrative which rests on destroying others and generating attention on the basis of past grievances and injustices, the result is a loss in agency that makes it difficult to empathize and assist others in times of need.
Narcissism evolves from a sense of perpetual victimhood and the need to generate attention to one’s own plight. For that reason, narcissists present themselves as self-absorbed people lacking in compassion and constantly needing to insert themselves in any scenario where another might get attention or empathy. We see the same with the feminists today; they are not able to identify with victims or survivors of injustice elsewhere or to assess and evaluate greater problems because of innate insecurity at the core of the movement today. – Refocusing on providing assistance to those in greater need would mean having to recognize or admit that one’s own situations or needs are not as dire.
The result of this psychological dissonance between the mission to preserve and defend rights and a quest for personal self-aggrandizement is the schism between the emotional psychosocial chase for validation and the investment into a sense of something greater than oneself, like, say, the defense of freedom. Returning to Madina Hamidi’s words, in a world where there is nothing greater than oneself, where only the ephemeral instantaneous gratification of the ego is the standard by which all success is measured, the idea of pursuit of different options and opportunities and defining one’s own destiny becomes inconceivable and incomprehensible.
Contemporary feminism – or what remains of it – has not only become divorced from the concept of freedom, from liberating an individual and society from the shackles of preconceptions but has come to be in direct opposition to it. Albert Camus once wrote: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” Women fighting for education under slave-like conditions in Afghanistan are doing exactly that. Lailuma Sadid’s daring to challenge the educational bans imposed by a militant group of Islamists on the entire society at high cost to herself was illustrative of how real feminism would empower individuals to fight for something greater than themselves, elevating them through freedom, above their oppressive conditions, and encouraging even small gestures that would be seen as quest for freedom itself.
But in a topsy-turvy society when freedom of choices and of conscience is no longer the ideal but something to be feared, when self-preservation of one’s ego is preferable to risk-taking for a cause, where fear and judgment, not love, courage, and empathy define one’s actions, and where forgiveness and reform are not impossible, where an act of contrition is taken only as an admission of guilt and subject to a perpetual punishment, the Lailuma Sadids and the Madina Hamidis are not the heroines of the story but the villains. The goal of the original feminist movement was not to degrade those who were standing in the way of freedom, not to punish, destroy, or to demean them, but to convert them to the cause, liberate them from the cultural limitations, show them a better way, and to turn them into allies. Feminism even at the peak of trying to “smash the patriarchy” was about destroying oppressive social constructs, not the human beings victimized by the self-imposed limitations, errors in judgment, and misunderstandings. It was liberating, not punitive, and as such, carried a possibility of grace, evolution, and growth.
The Afghan women journalists and activists on the panel were not bitter, hateful, or vengeful. They continue to fight for a better society in whatever capacity they can. They know they have a long hard road ahead with no certainty or clarity for the time being. But the essence of their activity is constructive, growth and reform oriented, and focused on freedom — not on being stuck on grievances or drowning in pain and resentment – despite having many perfectly understandable reasons for being both resentful and disillusioned. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said. Unless contemporary Western feminism regains its handle on the value of human life, on the inherent human need for freedom, cooperation, companionship, the reality principle, and the ability to make choices with grace, dignity, and forgiveness for past mistakes, it will destroy itself.
The post-1991 era of Western, democratic hegemony has come to an end. It was a long time coming, from every political party in the U.S. and every major Western Power in the world.
It’s finished. The “new world order” President Bush Sr. declared in 1991, with the Gulf War and collapse of the Soviet Union, is now over. It all started with Russian tanks and troops crossing into Ukraine from territories it has occupied—jointly with proxies—since 2014. They also crossed into from Belarus, a close Russia ally. At the same time, at the United Nations headquarters, one of those unforgettable historical moments played out, underscoring the collapse of post-Cold War norms. Ukraine’s Representative to the U.N., Sergiy Kyslytsya, questioned how Russia was able to be a member of the United Nations and any of its various councils. In a humiliating blow for the international body, he repeated many requirements for membership, and reiterated that none of these are followed by the regime of Vladimir Putin. Furthermore, during the session that called for more endless rounds of talks and diplomacy, news broke that Russia had invaded Ukraine. Kyslytsa pointedly remarked that it was “too late” to be discussing de-escalation.
Many have long known that the U.N. has been impotent—indeed, it is often referred to as “Useless Nations” or other such nicknames. The organization has stood by and allowed genocide to occur in Darfur, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and the Near East (against Kurds and Yezidis). It has done nothing to stop the wars, terrorism, and human rights violations it claims to stand against. Indeed, many of the perpetrators of such atrocities lead or take active part in its councils for “standing up for human rights.”
What is remarkable about Kyslytsa’s remarks is that it mirrors the downfall of the Wilsonian World Order nearly 90 years ago. Imperial Japan, unhappy with being condemned by China at the League of Nations, simply walked away and withdrew in March 1933. The Japanese knew that the League of Nations did little more than talk and that Tokyo would suffer no consequences for its actions. This opinion was confirmed when the Italian Empire invaded and occupied Ethiopia just a short while later. A devastating World War took place shortly after, and the League of Nations never recovered. The United Nations took its place after the war and seemed to work for a few short years. Now we are witnessing the aftershock, several decades later.
To be fair, it isn’t just the U.N. that is incapable of maintaining the “liberal international order,” as analysts like Thomas Friedman call it. It is the entire democratic Western camp of countries. The European Union has been too divided amongst itself and weak for many years to do anything of consequence. Brussels has simultaneously angered China, Russia, and the United States, along with smaller powers like Israel, Iran, Turkey, and the Arab World, while also bizarrely trying to appease everyone. It never truly respected the voices of poorer countries in the southeast of the continent, and abandoned them for years to financial ruin and migration crises. The E.U.’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was very poor, to say the least, as was its response to the global economic crisis before that. Its predominant military (and for a while, economic) power, Great Britain, read the tea leaves and left the body. The E.U. put all of its cards in the hands of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who empowered extremist far-right elements all across the continent by bringing in millions of foreigners (including many jihadists) without the consent of her own people, or Europeans in general. Merkel also divided the West—she pleaded for sanctions and a tough line against Russia in light of 2014 events in Ukraine, but still committed to buying Russian gas and expanding trade with Moscow.
This left the U.S. and many European countries looking foolish and isolated—as, of course, did Berlin. At the same time, the E.U. condemned the U.S. invasion of Iraq, by and large. However, in 2011 it goaded former U.S. President Barack Obama into toppling the Libyan dictatorship of Muammar Qaddafi. The result was a failed state, with hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into the E.U.’s poorest countries. Furthermore, Russia has gained influence over the civil war in Libya, where terrorism and a slave trade have taken root. The E.U.’s attempt to end conflicts in Syria, Ukraine, and the Palestinian Territories have resulted in failure or being sidelined even more. Even more embarrassingly, the E.U. has tried to become “independent” of the U.S., only for it to be displayed for the whole world that this just isn’t possible. The Europeans are far too dependent on the American dollar and American military protection, at least for the foreseeable future.
The United States isn’t exempt from blame either. In fact, the U.S. may be the epicenter of the decline of the very liberal international order that it founded. The two major political parties in the country—Democratic and Republican—have become hollow shells of themselves. They both campaign on being as different as possible from the other, without saying much about what their respective values are. Otherwise, they reminisce about bygone eras, such as those of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Their proposed solutions to many problems are often as vague and silly as school prayer or taxing billionaires. Congress doesn’t function—indeed, how many times has the government shut down over the past twelve years? The nation’s economy never fully recovered from the Great Recession of 2008, and the coronavirus pandemic and inflation have recently hit it harder.
Political leaders domestically have engaged in endless conspiracy theories and racial tropes, as well as endless self-deprecation. They worry more about non-binary bathrooms and renaming schools than they do about U.S. credibility abroad and repairing the water system in Flint, Michigan. QAnon conspiracy theories and “woke” political correctness campaigns have completely destroyed both the Democrats and the “Grand Old Party.” Enormous amounts of American voters now identify as Independents, and even more are not participating in our political process. And why should they, when they see so little progress and so much endless vitriol and hypocrisy?
The GOP went after Bill Clinton for his sexual affairs, and badly mishandled Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War, leading us into a devastating economic crisis. Meanwhile, Barack Obama’s “leadership from behind” destroyed Libya and did nothing in Syria. He empowered autocrats diplomatically (Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority) and financially (the Iranian regime), while abandoning US allies to their fate (Egypt), condemning them (Israel), and letting them be slaughtered (Iran’s Green Protest). His successor, Donald Trump befriended Putin and the North Korean regime, while caving to dictatorships like Turkey when they slaughtered the Kurds of Syria. While Trump did stand up for Israel and its Arab partners in the region—and often rightfully castigated the weak fecklessness of the European Union—his handling of Iranian and Chinese aggression was clumsy. The current president, Joe Biden, has done little more to rectify this situation. He clumsily abandoned Afghanistan to Taliban rule and has no answer to rising inflation in America. His handling of the pandemic inspired little confidence, to say the least. Deploying his vice president, Kamala Harris, to the border has only highlighted the rifts and inexperience in his administration. While Biden has tried to focus on domestic issues that concern voters, he faces a divided Democratic Party: traditional moderates and woke socialists with a penchant for double-standards and befriending dictators.
The world has witnessed this incoherence from the U.S. and Europe and only acted accordingly. Iran has continued to violate sanctions, fire rockets at the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, and launch terror attacks against Gulf states with relative impunity. President Biden and the Europeans quickly ditched their desire for a “longer and stronger” Iran nuclear accord for a “shorter and weaker” one. Biden removed a terror designation on the Iran-backed Houthis of Yemen, who responded with more terrorism. North Korea has conducted endless ballistic missile tests as Iran advances its nuclear program. China continues to violate the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors, crack down on Hong Kong and the Uighurs, and lie about the coronavirus. And now, Russia has invaded Ukraine.
When people ask how we got here, they may want to consider the hard facts that this can’t just be blamed on Trump and Republicans; on Biden and Democrats; on only the E.U. and U.N., or only on the U.S. All of the Western institutions, supranational bodies, political parties and great powers share the blame. All of them have become morally bankrupt and hypocritical, weak and spineless, and unable to stand up for “values” that their capitals can’t even clearly define. The endless rounds of talks and negotiations, condemnations and calls for de-escalation will continue as usual. But, as has long been the case, that is as far as it’ll go.
I suppose That most people Have nothing to do With the death of their family members They die of natural causes Or things beyond the grasp or control Of human beings
I am not most people
I have to live Every day with the fact That most of my family was murdered Because I failed to save them Because I couldn’t convince them To flee Poland Before the Nazi armies came
I have to live With the fact That my argument wasn’t strong enough For them So I learned to be strong enough For myself
In the end I did leave Alone And that is why I am here That is why I am alive I am the lucky one
I left Lodz The only home I had known All my life I left my nine siblings My brothers and sisters I left my father And the family business I left my mother The one who gave me life
I tried to escape to Palestine To avoid the growing Disasters in Europe But it was not my time To go there yet I was arrested by Germans And somehow got away But I was once again captured This time by Russians And was accused of being a British spy So they sent me to a gulag
Most people have heard About the German death camps Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Ravensbruck But there were different kinds of camps Slave camps that slowed death By work and malnutrition And Siberian cold
After Germany attacked Russia I was freed And joined the Free Polish Army Headed to fight in North Africa Days before our ship was set to sail the Caspian Sea I fell from a crane and was injured And missed the boat
Once again I was a free man By the age of 22 I had already learned The numerous, complicated Meanings of the word
I made my way to Uzbekistan And a stranger, a Muslim took me in Until I had recovered from The Typhoid that had caused me To collapse on the side of the road
When I grew passably healthy once again I found a job as a guard at a bakery And met Oscar, one of the bakers I also met Lucy, the baker’s daughter The love of my life
From that day my life changed I saw the beauty of the world again In Lucy’s smile Or her freshly baked bread I fell in love With her sweetness and her strength And for me, The earth bloomed with flowers again
I married her there With nothing more to promise Than my heart And hope for a future
But amid all the bliss and happiness I never forgot the family I left behind Of which only two members survived My sister, Gertrude and nephew, Joseph
But life goes on I tucked the memories away In a sacred, secret little corner of my heart To be remembered
And in those memories, I would sometimes reach in And pull out a thought Or an image, or an emotion Like the steady, low voice of my father Leaning over a book or scroll As I absorbed his knowledge Like a sponge absorbs water Or the laughter of my siblings Ten of us, giggling Or my mother’s smile Lovely and generous
But most often My memories are of bread Of Challah on Friday nights My mother’s hands sweetening the dough More than flour or yeast ever could Or of Lucy Leaning over a creaking wooden table In a government-run bakery in Uzbekistan Kneading dough with her thin, bony fingers And that is when I look over to the kitchen And see her there Mixing, tasting, baking And I thank God For these simple, extraordinary blessings
Yoseph Simcha Goldwasser (z”l) was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1920. He survived a Soviet gulag, and found shelter during WWII in Uzbekistan. He died in Florida in 2007. He is Nili Ivan’s great grandfather.
Faced with a declining and aging population, enormous economic punishment, a failed military, and a host of internal challenges, Putin has only hastened the Russian “Century of Humiliation.”
When I think of Vladimir Putin, I think of a particular exchange of words in the popular HBO series, Game of Thrones. Tywin Lannister—the most powerful man in the fictional continent of Westeros—is accused by his daughter, Cersei, of not trusting her more due to sexism. Tywin has a good reply: “I don’t distrust you because you’re a woman; I distrust you because you’re not as smart as you think you are.” This aptly applies to Vladimir Putin, who—much like Cersei—has his council full of sycophants and “yes men.” Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was in part encouraged by the “Horseshoe Theory” crew in the West—in addition to “liberal democratic” politicians. But he is also a poor historian, which has doomed his country to what will probably amount to at least two centuries of ruin and failure.
One of the biggest mistakes modern analysts make is believing that Putin wants to “resurrect the Soviet Empire.” He does not. Putin loathes communism and has regularly blamed communist leaders for the humiliation and ruin of Russia. He and his closest allies have gotten rich off of crony capitalism. Indeed, Putin blamed Lenin and other Soviet leaders for Ukraine gaining autonomy. Putin sees himself as the heir to the Russian Monarchy. He longs for the days of the Russian Empire, roughly 110 years ago. As usual, the officials in the White House, Foggy Bottom, Brussels, and elsewhere have ignored pre-World War II history—and thus failed to read Putin’s motives.
The Kremlin has insisted that Ukrainians and Russians are one people, and therefore Ukraine doesn’t have the right to be an independent state. His statements that Ukraine is led by drug-addicted neo-Nazis—when Kyiv is governed by a Jewish president and a Jewish prime minister—are ludicrous. And so far, thousands of Russian protestors and troops have also believed this, setting down their arms and surrendering or being arrested for protesting this foolish war.
So why did Putin invade? How was this “genius” who was described by Western media (and not just by former President Trump) as a “master strategist” able to miscalculate so much in this war? It is simple. For one, he is an amateur historian. Secondly, he has surrounded himself by “yes men” and sycophants who are too terrified to give him the real facts. Just look at how Putin humiliated his own spy chief when he dared to question him. And finally, Putin has forgotten that while Russia’s governments have been able to suppress dissent, the Russian people have a history of bloodily “dealing with” leaders who do not provide for them, or who outlive their usefulness for the good of the nation.
Putin’s economy and demographics were already suffering heavily. Due to human rights abuses and its occupation of Crimea and Donbass, Russia was already dealing with a variety of sanctions that added to its existing economic regime of corruption, cronyism, and incompetence. The coronavirus pandemic has further decimated the Russian economy, as has a shrinking workforce. Russia has one of the world’s lowest birthrates and highest abortion rates. Its population faces rapid aging and a declining lifespan. Both the war and the pandemic have killed more than a million Russians, further endangering its political, economic, and military might. And the country has failed—to put it lightly—to attract new immigrants to offset this, given the emergence of extreme far-right nationalist movements that are unwelcoming to foreigners. By sending many of his youngest military members to a futile Ukrainian war, Putin is sacrificing yet even more of his shrinking workforce, military, and the Russian future as a whole. Not only is Putin sending waves of young Russians to die for nothing—he is singlehandedly destroying his country’s economy, international image, and military industrial complex.
The Russo-Ukrainian War of 2022 has led to enormous and unprecedented Western support for Kyiv on a scale perhaps previously unimaginable. Indeed, the West has long been seen as impotent and Chamberlainian in its appeasement of tyranny since the 2000s. Yet Germany boosting its defense spending as well as key Western allies sending huge shipments of military aid to Ukraine speaks volumes to the fact that the West, perhaps finally, has woken up. The advanced Western weaponry has so far destroyed columns of the newest Russian tanks and armored vehicles. What’s more, these defenses have laid waste to Russian aircraft and knocked Russian missiles and rockets out of the air. Russia has taken enormous casualties in part because its long-respected military modernization campaign has been exposed as impotent. While the Western media and “analysts” have long trembled before Russia’s militarization campaign of the last two decades, they shouldn’t have. Russia’s 2008 Georgian invasion might have resulted in victory in the end, but it also displayed that Russia had severe logistical and technological setbacks. This is why Moscow has used proxies and mercenaries in its wars in Libya and Syria ever since, let alone in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea, Donbass, and Transnistria.
Russian arms have proven incompetent in Syria in defending against Israeli drones and jets, and Russian-made military equipment in Armenia was easily wiped out by Israeli and Turkish military equipment. Making these points isn’t to brag—it is to point out that Russia’s military won’t be able to make the same sales to other countries that it once would. Moscow has lost an important source of revenue in a time of devastating sanctions because its military equipment has proven impotent. Even worse for Putin is that many of its former clients will likely purchase weapons from NATO and Israeli sources—Putin’s rivals—instead, due to their better quality on the battlefield. Russia has spent money it simply doesn’t have on a failing war, all the while racking up sanctions.
All of this has led to a restive and rebellious Russian population internally, which could lead to Putin holding back some forces from the invasion to quash protests and riots. Putin may also be forced to call back forces from Armenia, Libya, and Syria and bring them home or to Ukraine. This would effectively surrender to Egyptian-Gulf-French-Israeli-Greek interests in Libya, and to Israeli-Turkish-Western designs on Syria. By being bogged down in Ukraine, Russia could also see its allies in Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia being invaded and defeated by Moldovan and Georgian military forces, which would undoubtedly receive Western support. Putin would be further diplomatically isolated and humiliated.
The Chinese government has also not come to Putin’s aid as expected. They have called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, called for an “end to Cold War mentality,” and asked for Ukraine’s sovereignty to be respected. No doubt Beijing—already seeing an aging population and low birth rate—doesn’t want to suffer the economic penalties that being affiliated with Russia entails. Furthermore, Beijing is already diplomatically isolated due to the Xinjiang issue, Hong Kong crackdowns, and violations of Taiwanese airspace. The coronavirus pandemic and human rights violations in general have already cast China in a poor light and led to businesses fleeing back home, or to rival countries such as India and Vietnam. Having seen the West’s furious and quick response to the Ukraine invasion, China is no doubt second-guessing military action in Taiwan. Furthermore, the Chinese may have blamed NATO for Ukraine, but they have an interest in a weakened Russia. China has a history of border clashes with imperialist Russia and sees a revamped Russia as a threat to its desired future as a superpower. A distracted, impoverished, and militarily destitute Russia focused on its western border serves its interests. China won’t come to Russia’s rescue, either. Its own economy is slowing, and it will be better placed to bargain down the price of Russian gas and oil. At best, this will help Russia cover the costs of the war itself, but not offset the prices of Western sanctions. Speculation that China and Russia can overcome SWIFT are hypothetical and not totally proven, similar to Europe’s mechanism to bypass U.S. sanctions on Tehran, which quickly failed. Even if it could succeed, it would take many years to create, by which time the damage would already be done.
In short, Putin has done more than NATO, terrorism, the EU, or the U.S. to destroy his country’s future as a great power—the very thing he wished to restore. His population is restive and largely disagrees with the war—they will not stand for a nuclear war, for destructive sanctions, injured family members coming home from Kyiv, or for their sons returning in body bags. The oligarchs will not be content to see their wealth waste away just for one little man’s misguided political career. His country has already seen enough economic and human loss through the pandemic and proxy wars. Now he is wasting away what little is left of his economy through an expensive war and sanctions. Putin also is sending the few generations of young Russians to die in Ukraine. His country is being delegitimized and isolated from international cultural competitions and events, which Russian youth and oligarchs enjoy. Vladimir Putin has indeed brought about a Soviet-era system to his country—one of poverty, instability, isolation, and bread lines. He has also—like the Japanese Empire 80 years ago—awakened a Sleeping Giant.
On the morning of Saturday, January 15, 2022, 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram stuck a gun in the face of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker in Colleyville, Texas. Akram entered Reform synagogue Congregation Beth Israel, took four hostages, and demanded the release of, as he said, “my sister,” Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani Jihadist held in federal prison in Fort Worth.
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One of the self-contradictory agendas of the non-liberal progressive-left is in insisting upon women’s rights while simultaneously throwing the very notion of “women” and “men” entirely to the winds. How does a person stand for women’s rights if that person (a Supreme Court nominee, no less) is not sure what a woman is?
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Conspiracy theories in American politics are nothing new. However, the manner in which the QAnon far-right and Tlaib-ist far-left make excuses for Vladimir Putin and fall for his conspiracy theories is truly disturbing.
Conspiracy theories are not unique to the American political psyche. Whether people claim the moon landing was faked, that 9/11 was done by the Bush Administration, or whether the War on Terror was executed in the name of natural resources, there has always been a segment of American skeptics who cling to conspiracy theories to explain what is often seen as the utter incompetence or dishonesty of the U.S. Government.
It seems that Putin and his reprehensible invasion has put on display the Horseshoe Theory for all to see. The Horseshoe Theory posits that the two political extremes (far-right and far-left) are much closer in ideology to each other than they are to their mainstream moderate political wings (center-right and center-left). The centrist moderates create The Bend (as Dr. Brandy Shufutinsky loves to call it) in the horseshoe, the largest piece and most physically distant from the two poles, which are barely far apart. We have long seen the similarities in views of each side. The far-left and far-right are both responsible for horrific anti-Semitic incitement, often featuring a religious element (Islamism or Christian extremism) or an admiration for anti-Semitic dictators (Stalin and Hitler). Both sides, for example, blame Israel for 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror, and accuse Israel of “stealing” American taxpayer dollars. While Rand Paul advocates a cut on military aid to Israel (and, to be fair, most other countries too), the far-left promotes Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) for the Jewish state. This, however, is not where the similarities end. In the 2016 campaign, for example, both the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns made a big deal over Hillary Clinton’s “warmongering ways,” claimed she was an “establishment moderate,” and held her responsible for the failures of the Obama Administration she once was a part of. Bernie was often quoted by Trump in the general election when it came to attacks and attack ads on the Clinton Campaign. Meanwhile, some of the Bernie Bros (such as HA Goodman of The Huffington Post) even backed up many of Trump’s anti-Hillary tirades, despite not caring for him either. Pointing this out isn’t to endorse any of these candidates—it is to display how often they cooperate for the sake of achieving a common goal.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both the extremist, alt-right wing and the far-left of Squad fandom have blamed the United States and NATO for “aggression” and the war, while being very soft on the Russian dictatorship. The Democratic Socialists of America—seemingly a rising star within the Democratic Party’s base—has stated that it is American and Western imperialism that led Russia to war. Similarly, Tucker Carlson of the right-wing Fox News sounds just like the leftists he claims to despise. Like The Squad, Carlson ignores Putin’s neo-imperialist ambitions (which have extended to Moldova, Georgia, Libya, and Syria) and blames everything on the United States. Lara Logan, a conservative news commentator, claims that Charles Dawin’s Theory of Evolution is a Jewish-funded hoax. The QAnon Movement—bizarre and disturbing in its own right—has now bought into the Kremlin’s propaganda regarding American bio-weapon labs in Ukraine. (QAnon is the conspiracy-theory-turned-cult that alleges Trump has been targeted by a Satanic, global cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles.) They blame the Jews and hint that these labs could be where the coronavirus originated. Jewish Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is now being called a “globalist” threat to Ukraine, who should “surrender to Russia for the sake of his own people.” This extremist right-wing sentiment sounds awfully similar to leftist arguments that if the West doesn’t arm Ukraine, Putin will be appeased and violence will stop. Furthermore, Putin and his alt-right fans in the West insist that Ukraine must be “denazified,” despite the president’s Jewish background and the Jewish background of many in his government. This echoes the leftist, pro-BDS trope that Israel is a “successor state to the Nazis” and is “White Supremacist.” The minimalizing of the Holocaust and how white supremacy—whether KKK or Nazis—always target Jews fails to register with both the far-left and the far-right. Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that these two conspiracies converge: these leftists are merely relying on old Soviet anti-Zionist rhetoric, which Putin has weaponized for modern purposes of his own. The origins of both racist theories come from the same source.
Another disturbing trend employed by the far-left and far-right is the pushing of Western-centric labels (or problems specific to American society) on foreign conflicts. For example, extreme leftists claim that Israel is a European settler-colony engaging in apartheid. They say that Israel is engaged in “global white supremacy.” This totally ignores, of course, that Jews are native to Israel, that most of Israel’s Jewish population immigrated from non-European countries, and that Jews are the foremost victims of white supremacy. But furthermore, it ignores the fact that terms like “white” or “people of color” are not used widely in Israel, or the Near East more generally. Identities here are much older than the American (or Western) concept of race and are much more affiliated with tribes or religion.
On the other side of the spectrum, the alt-right views Putin’s Russia as a “Great White Savior” of Christendom. This is despite the fact that Western European powers historically saw Slavic peoples as inferior and almost non-white; the fact that most Russians are still overwhelmingly secular as a result of Soviet communism; and that the country’s birth rate is incredibly low while its abortion rate is astronomical. Putin has also aligned himself with Muslim strongmen, such as Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and the Iranian mullahs. The strange idea of Russia being almost “Nordic” in modern White Supremacist, evangelical mythology simply doesn’t apply, as Russia is outside of the Western racial-religious psyche.
With QAnon rising in prominence among the GOP as well as the “woke” ideology of the far-left (which invokes several conspiracies) spreading to the education system, now is the time to cut off and isolate the two ends of the horseshoe. Traditional liberal mores and modern Western values cannot survive if our political systems are allowed to be so easily infiltrated and hijacked by foreign and false ideologies. The Russo-Ukrainian War is providing just such an opportunity to end the madness—and for people to see it for what it is. Some elements of the far-right and far-left have been isolated and shamed into silence for parroting Putin—or at the very least, making excuses for his undemocratic and illegal behavior. The moderate center seems to have woken up (at least in this case) to the fact that appeasement will not work, and that freedom must be defended. The Democratic Party must speak out louder against the woke Squad and the DSA as long as they continue to parrot falsehoods and the Kremlin’s tropes. Similarly, the Republican Party must marginalize Marjorie Taylor Greene and the QAnon “movement” if it wishes to return to the bygone era of great GOP leaders, such as Teddy Roosevelt or Dwight D. Eisenhower. American trust in the government might be restored if its moderate majority has leadership it can believe in again—not weak leadership that cedes ground to thoroughly un-American ideology and behavior. We must seize the moment in reminding ourselves as a society what we believe in and stand for, while defunding and delegitimizing organizations that work to divide us on behalf of paranoid tyrants.
When I was in high school and studying ancient history, I often wondered how great ancient civilizations fell. Not only did they fall, but what followed was often hundreds of years of dark ages. How did their accumulated knowledge get lost? The Egyptians had their vast wealth, accumulated over centuries. The Greeks had their beautiful art. The Romans had their powerful military.
I knew that many civilizations were destroyed by barbarians with inferior weapons but greater numbers and greater ferocity. But how was all that knowledge lost? Beautiful buildings were destroyed but also the mathematical and architectural knowledge needed to rebuild them. Ancient civilizations knew how to build arches and columns, but Medieval Europeans needed flying buttresses, jury-rigged scaffolding, to keep their buildings from collapsing. The Greeks knew about human skeletons and musculature to sculpt emotionally powerful statues. They understood perspective to paint complex landscapes. Yet Medieval sculptures were flat, often out of proportion, and without detail. Medieval paintings were two dimensional, simplistic.
Could this ever happen to modern civilization? I grew up in North Philly with a middle class but fairly intellectual group of kids. We played the normal games: wrestling, tag, hide-and-seek, and the now politically incorrect cops-and-robbers and cowboys-and-Indians. But after we were worn out, we would gather on the concrete steps of the front porches of our identical row houses, each identifiable only by the address numbers and an occasional awning or tree. We would discuss politics, history, religion, and other topics that our parents generally avoided. Where would we be in the year 2000? Would the ozone layer be depleted, requiring us to wear hazmat suits? Would we finally have flying cars? Spaceships to other planets? And the overarching question was, would civilization survive? If it ended, it would most certainly be from nuclear war—we could imagine no other reason. Certainly our American values were strong and universally held by all American citizens. And our world-class education system and our advanced technology would prevent us from losing our knowledge of math, science, and art.
As a young man up until the 1980s, I feared nuclear war from outside enemies. Now I fear destruction from within. Contrary to what my childhood friends had always assumed about the future, our advanced technology is now used by Big Tech oligarchs to censor information and suppress debate rather than spread information and encourage debate. Our education system teaches anti-science and anti-math where right answers matter less than who is performing the calculation. Our society has created a caste system based on skin color, ethnic background, and sexual activity. Being in a particular group gives you a preferences over others. Gives you opportunities over more qualified employees.
Even the study of history has been distorted and corrupted to support today’s woke agenda. They teach that America was not founded on freedom, justice, and opportunity but rather as a means for enforcing the opposite values of slavery, injustice, and repression. As during the Dark Ages, our younger generations are losing the information they need to improve on society, to build upon it, to make it better. This is exactly how knowledge gets lost for generations—teachers indoctrinate the young with misinformation, oligarchs suppress debate, idealogues ostracize nonbelievers, governments punish nonconformists. The words of the ancient Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero in the novel A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, come to mind: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.”
I no longer wonder how great civilizations collapse and how important knowledge is lost for centuries. I’m afraid I’m seeing it happen right before my eyes.