Last week’s election revealed an ever-deepening divide between the voting preferences of single women and everyone else. Single women broke +37 for Democrats, whereas single men, married men, and married women all favored Republicans. Perhaps “toxic feminism” or “AWFL discourse” is the problem. But whatever the explanation, given the slim margins of the recent election, this is a real issue for Republicans.
Such voting trends are problematic yet understandable. Single women who lack the protection and security that a husband or father provides are likely to look elsewhere, such as to government, for the securing of their interests. Increasingly atomized and isolated from family and community, it is understandable that many single women vote for politicians who will help shape society to be more amenable to their natural instincts. Women naturally pursue harmony and avoid conflict. A public square defined primarily by such qualities will be very different than one characterized by rational argument and directness.
Moreover, when women observe male behavior that is genuinely degrading to women, as can be sometimes seen in circles in the online right, it is understandable that they flee politically to groups they perceive as more welcoming.
Yet the political right ought to be the landing place for women. Those on the right tend to value tradition, order, and the family. Such qualities are good and right in themselves, but also good for women. A single mother without family or community is in a precarious spot, but a wife with children might look to her husband, her parents, or her church community for security.
So how ought men of the right to respond, recognizing that the flight of single women into the party of Drag Queen Story Hour and abortion is a massive problem? Before answering that question, let me make one caveat and then consider a few wrong responses.
First, the caveat. It must be acknowledged that not everyone is persuadable. Those who have swallowed the lies of postmodernism and feminism will not move voluntarily to the political right until they abandon such worldviews. Tradition, order, and gender complementarity are built into the fabric of the political right and are incompatible with postmodernism and feminism. Thus, single women who cling to those twin pillars of the political left will not change their voting preferences.
Those who are persuadable fall into two categories: first, those who are making rational political calculations based on self-interest and are open to being persuaded that their interests are better secured by the political right than the political left. This group must be convinced that the political right is the better defender of the good of women than the left.
The second category of persuadable single women is those who make political decisions less based upon argument and more upon their pre-rational instincts that in an ideal society direct them to their own good. As a man, what I want to convey here are exhortations to men that will help move this second category of persuadable women to the right. This is not to imply that there is nothing conservative women can do to help on this front, that is just not my focus here.
Do Away with Effeminacy and Misogyny
First, men must avoid two ditches. Men ought not to simply adopt the manners and approach of women in order to make women feel more comfortable in the public square. Feminine discourse is characterized, more often than not, by indirectness, conflict avoidance, and affirmation. When two children start arguing or fighting, a mom tries to calm them down and helps them come to a peaceful resolution. When a child is feeling down after being bullied at school, a mother comforts him to make him feel better. Women are rightly concerned for the personal and thus seek to protect the feelings of those around them.
It is problematic, however, when men act like women. Men ought to speak directly, especially to other men, and especially when the stakes are high. Feelings ought to be of secondary concern to right outcomes in the political arena. Men should seek to confront evil and wrongdoing and name it as such instead of avoiding it because it is uncomfortable. In other words, men ought to act like men.
In his new book, “No Apologies: Why Civilization Depends On the Strength of Men,” Anthony Esolen argues that “[p]olitics is a blood sport. It must be. Too many questions of great moment are involved, even questions of the life and death of persons, the thriving or the dying of a culture or nation.” Because of these high stakes, we need men to treat politics as the conflict-laden zone that it is, and thus we need men with a “dispassionate passion, a willingness to wrestle, to beat the opponent bloody or to be beaten bloody ourselves, and then to move on, rather than retire to a closet, weeping.” Men in politics ought to prefer confrontation and the pursuit of truth over indirectness and affirmation because “[e]tiquette [in politics] is deadening and dangerous, because it may prevent necessary conversations and arguments from occurring at all.”
In other words, men in the public square must prefer directness in political speech to the niceties of polite company.
Men on the political right also ought not to swerve to avoid the ditch of effeminacy by driving into the opposite ditch of real misogyny. Men are correct to chafe at the accusations that their natural masculinity is somehow “toxic,” but they must not make the opposite error of degrading women as mere tools for men to use or enjoy and then discard. The highly online men’s rights advocates too often fall into this camp, promoting men’s rights as an alternative to the feminist movement. Although feminism must be rejected root and branch, it goes too far to suggest that men must simply stick up for men while brushing aside women as dispensable. True manliness affirms femininity as good and natural and right.
Men must avoid both the ditch of effeminacy and the ditch of real misogyny. But what might a proper response be that respects women and fights for truth?
Men Must Fight for Women’s Flourishing
First, men must realize that men and women are not on opposing teams. As Esolen argues, “the interests of men and women are inextricably entwined with one another — but toward the common good.” Men and women come together in marriage to form families and have children: They need each other to accomplish this fundamental task. Not only in marriage but in all of life men and women have complementary qualities that function together to make society safe and good and pleasant.
Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in the 1830s, describes what happens when we deny the good and unique differences between and women: “both are degraded; and … from this crude mixture of the works of nature only weak men and dishonest women can ever emerge.” Society depends on men and women, and each needs the other. Thus, men must use their particular and unique capabilities for the sake of all: men, women, and children.
Men’s naturally greater strength and propensity for leadership must not be used for selfish gain but for accomplishing great things: including the creation of communities and societies in which there is authority, tradition, and order, which will provide real security and flourishing for women and children. Esolen explains that “men labor and fight and strive so that there may be decent homes and villages and cities, so that there may be feasts and religious celebrations, so that children will grow up healthy and sane and the next generation will be able to provide for the well-being of the people in the future.” If more men recognize this as part of their public vocation, we can regain communities where single women need not look primarily to government for the protection of their interests.
Men Must Honor and Praise Femininity
Second, men ought to praise women for their femininity. Like most human beings, women respond to the law of fashion. That is, women will respond to society’s praise or blame. As Rebekah Curtis argues, “[t]he majority of girls behave in ways rectilinear to praise from their preferred authorities.” The “Good Girl,” Curtis explains, will act in ways that she receives praise for from those she cares about. Thus, men of the political right ought to praise women when they act in ways that align with true conservative values, when they marry and have children or when they “prioritize changing [themselves] through discipline rather than changing others through activism and political force.” When that happens, women will rightly begin to adapt themselves to receive more of such praise.
Right now, the political left praises single women when they act as careerists or feminists. Men of the right can counter this by honoring women who embody true femininity. True femininity, of course, is only compatible politically with a party that affirms that “man” and “woman” have objective meaning.
This return to an older way of conceiving of men and women and politics might seem impossible in today’s day and age where relativism and egalitarianism are the air we breathe. Yet it is precisely because of the fluidity of our world that such a return is possible. Everywhere people are looking for something sure to hold on to. Trust in traditional authorities has broken down, and the culture tells women and men to find self-fulfillment not in traditional ways of inhabiting the world but by fashioning their identities to be whatever makes them “happy.”
In such a world devoid of fixed principles, traditionalists who take strong, counter-cultural stands for ideas that formerly were commonplace will attract those who feel adrift in the sea of late modernity. This older way of life will be attractive because it runs so counter to the defining qualities of our culture.
The election of 2024 is a long way off. But if the right hopes for any sort of voting realignment, then or thereafter, then conservatives must reemphasize the natural order of a society of masculine men and feminine women.