I have been reading the reader responses to my essay, “Real Conservatives aren’t sexist,” as well as the ongoing rebuttals over at Vox Populi. I understand that I have still not convinced Vox and the Dread Ilk to embrace and accept female suffrage.
I have not been ignoring you, gentlemen. Rather, I have been distracted in recent days by the comparatively soft targets of John Scalzi and his sycophants over at the Whatever. Debating with Vox and his inner circle is somewhat akin to bear-hunting. Why put yourself through that when there are all those delightfully slow-moving dodo birds? But like a real-life turkey shoot, there comes a time when you simply have to stop.
Your arguments, gentlemen, all boil down to one essential realization: When you open up the gates of universal suffrage, the results become more unpredictable and difficult to manage. This much is true: The GOP is struggling at present not because Obama is “cool”—but because the current Republican brand lacks the universal appeal it had in the 1980s. Citing the example of Reagan, I noted that conservatism need not be shrill, mean-spirited, or imbued with religious extremism. What the GOP needs today is more of the Gipper, less of Rick Santorum and Rick Perry. But I digress.
On the subject of women, in particular: We agree that men and women differ in certain emotional and psychological aspects. Where I differ with Vox is that I do not believe these differences make women incapable of responsible participation in civic affairs. My position is based partly on my previously cited evidence, partly on the principle of fairness, and partly on a lifetime’s worth of observation and interaction with real women. Like all men, I have found individual members of the fair sex to be inscrutable at times; but I have also met many whom I have found to be reasonable, intelligent, and wise. Women are exactly like men in one crucial aspect: You have to judge them one at a time.
But let’s suppose—for the sake of argument—that all my positions are wrong. Let us suppose that Vox is right about the capabilities of women in civic life. Here is my question to you: What are your next steps?
I have no doubt that if you were to designate Vox as your Lycurgus, and fashion an idealized masculine republic based on his principles, you would be able to achieve the outcomes you desire. If I were to make myself universal dictator, I would be able to achieve even more predictable ends.
But here is a point I believe you overlook: We live in the twenty-first century. Women are taxpayers, voters, and fully integrated into our educational, corporate, and political institutions. A significant number of men (myself included) believe that they have the right to equal opportunities in our society. Even if it is possible to prove that women are marginally less (or more, a la Tom Peters) capable than men, an inexorable fact remains: Female participation in our society is firmly established; and barring some cataclysmic counterrevolution, it is here to stay.
While arguments of innate ability and predilection are interesting in the context of Internet forums and late-night discussions over beer, my primary concern is a practical one: How can we return America to the center-right consensus that is its natural state? I believe the answer is to take a hard look at the direction so-called “conservatism” has taken in recent years: The GOP since G.W. Bush has become too religious, too shrill, and too anti-intellectual. Rectify these deficiencies, and you will restore conservatism’s broad appeal.
On a semi-related note, Vox and I are both old enough to remember the publication of The Bell Curve, and all the controversies that book generated, regarding race and the problem of innate ability. Frankly, I have never found such polemics to be especially interesting, for two reasons:
One, even if it is possible to demonstrate that a particular group (men, women, whites, blacks, Asians, etc.) is marginally more intelligent/aggressive/etc. as compared to its counterpart(s), such differences are statistically marginal, at best. Within my personal circle of acquaintances, there are plenty of Asians who are poor at math, and at least a dozen African-American engineers. The marginal characteristics of a particular group (if they are provable and demonstrable at all) do not enable you to make accurate predictions about an individual member of that group.
Secondly, we live in a pluralistic society. Fairness demands that we accept the equal rights of all individuals (as opposed to the group rights advocated by the extreme right and the politically correct left); and practicality demands that we (I am speaking for conservatives here) construct a message of small government and individual liberty that is free of religious, ethnic, and gender biases.
In practice, arguments about race and/or and sex-based innate abilities do little more than offend people. Whether it is Susan Sontag stating that “the white race is the cancer of human history,” Tom Peters declaring that “women rule” (or should rule) in the workplace, or white supremacists arguing against the equality of blacks, the outcome is the same: Such arguments take us further away from our rational selves, and closer to the jungle.
Again, the key is the individual—not the identity group(s) to which an individual might belong.