There are actual chauvinists, who think women are inferior as a matter of principle, and then there are feminists, who assume the way for women to realize themselves is to emulate the masculinity of men. That leaves no one defending actual femininity. No one, that is, except for romantics such as myself.
Every view of gender is essentially religious, in that it isn’t possible to talk about gender without getting to fundamental beliefs about what it means to be human. Progressives have already made their decision, with their ideology of gender fluidity and social construction. On the other hand, the general conservative perspective seems to be that man and woman are metaphysical realities before they are social constructs, and that man and woman complement each other in a deep and primordial way.
A Metaphysical Sketch
In the beginning, there was Adam; and because it was not good for man to be alone, the Lord created Eve out of Adam’s own rib. But maybe this was just the repetition of a more ancient trick? Before the beginning, there was the Lord. But it was not good for the Lord to be alone, so he made the woman called Nature out of his own rib. This fits the premise that humans are made in the Lord’s image. This is also a foundational and unabashedly religious understanding of the essence of gender.
Following Søren Kierkegaard, I’ll suggest the human being is a fusion of two components: the spirit and the body. The spirit is inherently masculine, and the body is inherently feminine. (In that sense, it could be suggested that all humans are vaguely androgynous, given that both men and women are both body and spirit.) Although perhaps offensive to modern ears, a wide range of mythical thought strongly reinforces this vision. The Sun is a man, and the Moon is a woman; the Sky is a man, and the Earth is a woman; et cetera. Reality seems to be naturally poetic like that.
Man is tilted toward the spirit, while woman is tilted toward the body. Awareness of this is probably what led Albert Camus to write that in contrast to the nurturing ethos of women, “men go whoring after ideas; a man runs away from his mother, forsakes his love and starts rushing upon adventure.” And here’s G. K. Chesterton on the matter: “Women are the only realists; their whole object in life is to pit their realism against the extravagant, excessive, and occasionally drunken idealism of men.” Realism and idealism—body and spirit. Meeting in the middle, generating the living human soul: well, that could be called the project of romance.
As for the Transgender Hysteria
Given that people who identify as transgender make up only a small fraction of 1 percent of the national population, why have they received such an absurdly outsized share of media attention? This is a good tip-off that there’s something else going on. The transgender issue isn’t primarily about transgender persons. Rather, it has become terrain that progressives want to claim, believing the existence of transgender persons vindicates their view of gender as arbitrary and fluid.
Never mind that transgenderism actually does quite the opposite. It is self-evidently obvious, for anyone who cares to think the matter through, that transgender could be nothing other than a form of severe psychosis. It is fundamentally a matter of a very serious misrelation between the mind and the body. I could hold the sincere and deeply felt belief that I am in fact a kangaroo. But no matter what I do, I will never be a kangaroo; it is not within the scope of possibilities of my nature to become one.
For that matter, I would love to have a self-concept that includes me having wings. But alas, the physical world will not cooperate. I must resign myself to the parameters of this human condition.
Transgender is thus not actually a thing—from which it logically follows that progressives cannot use transgender persons as ammo for their own arguments about the nature of gender. I strongly suspect that for progressives actual transgender persons may have never been as important as the use of those persons as symbols.
This would explain why such progressives so blithely think it “compassion” to encourage a crazy person to jump off his own cliff. The conservative understanding would instead suggest that compassion consists of trying to talk him down from it. That’s because conservatives tend to believe that there is an objective thing called sanity, and that the attempt to break all limits inherent to the human condition will ultimately result in madness.
In a way, transgenderism can be understood as an apotheosis of progressive ideology. Progressivism is fundamentally about: one, the rejection of any concept of unchanging human nature; and two, loving ideas more than really existing persons. These twin impulses come to a frightening head when it comes to the progressives’ supposed “advocacy” for such deeply troubled human beings.
The Poisoned Well
It’s odd that such basic insights now meet howling demands for political correctness. This suggests men having forgotten what it means to be men, and that women have likewise forgotten what it means to be women. What else could be expected to happen, once people have accepted the idea that the concepts of man and woman are not founded on solid ground, and can be deconstructed at will? Progressives have reversed the categories: they’ve chosen to identify psychosis as ultimate reality, and to consign to the realm of delusion the most basic facts of being a person.
Feminism has ruined everything. The point here is not, of course, to argue against women’s liberty. In regions of the world governed by sharia law, actual feminism—as in, a movement for the freedom of women to express themselves, pursue their dreams—would be a wonderful thing.
This isn’t a question of whether women should be able to become doctors or pilots. Of course they should. But that’s not the meaning of modern feminism. This is an ideology whose endgame is the abolition of gender altogether—and romance along with it. One symptom of this consists of D.C. McAllister’s well-put observation that modern feminism, according to its own logic, automatically classifies all chivalry as chauvinism.
The effect is that of a poisoned well. There is never a strict one-to-one correlation between ideology and reality. Rather, the dominant ideology becomes the general air that everyone within a culture breathes, permeating and twisting everything through its lens in diffused and myriad ways.
What would many women actually dream of, if feminism hadn’t told them what to want? Likewise, what would men think it means to be chivalrous toward women? The sad truth is that now we can’t know, because people have been drinking this water for just far too long. The only way to go is forward.
A Note on Inherent Liberty
The vision of gender I’ve been describing is not prescriptive, which means it isn’t a matter of telling any individual man or woman what to do with his or her life. This is a religious vision of gender—and the whole meaning of religious liberty is that you can hold what ideas you want, express them without fear of revenge, and engage in free association with other like-minded folk. It would be both absurd and wrong to attempt to coerce or force anyone to adhere to this understanding of gender. The point, rather, consists of persuasion, seduction: create and express a thing of beauty, and hope people will come around to seeing it, out of their own free wills.
Unfortunately, this is not how the progressives tend to see the matter. They want to impose their own religious vision of gender on everyone else. If you don’t agree with them, then you become a bigot by default. They want to punish people who hold heretical views through whatever means are available, including the levers of governmental power. You can’t negotiate with fanatics; for all their pretty talk, they have no real concept of living and letting live.
The idea isn’t to tell living men and women what to do. The idea is freedom, and to oppose a culture that is increasingly hostile toward the old-fashioned beliefs and methods for living in comfort within your own gendered skin. No one “must” accept this vision. But anyone who attempts to foreclose on it, give it no space to exist, surely must be resisted.