Peggy Noonan offers a fresh perspective on the concept of the war on women in today’s Wall Street Journal. She’s not talking about the bogus idea that believing in a Constitutional, limited government is somehow an assault on women (as the President and his big government allies are trying to suggest), but about how we treat women in the public square.
Noonan thoughtfully describes our growing toleration for debasing women in public life in the most crude terms—terms that would have been out-of-bounds just a few decades ago. The Left has more license to engage in these insults, since they have the feminist seal of approval to back them up, and certainly the internet has helped create this new normal.
Noonan’s piece captures all of this, and hints at what I think is the most interesting aspect of this discussion: how conflicted women feel in talking about it.
I know I’m conflicted. On one hand, I loathe women playing the victim card and acting as though any insult stems from sexism. Yet there is clearly something wrong with the growing use of sexual insults against women in public life.
Complicating this is that so often, when discussions turn on how to address this problem, they begin to take a turn toward government intervention and totalitarianism. That so-called feminist leaders would start calling for the federal government to kick Rush Limbaugh off the air epitomizes this problem. Yes, there’s the hypocrisy and un-level application of their outrage (they’d never both trying to silence those on the left for equally offensive statements about women), but more fundamentally this just conflicts the idea of freedom of speech.
There’s the fear that these events will be used to create politically-enforced speech codes (such as what now exists on many college campuses) which are destructive to needed debates and discussion. That’s why this whole conversation seems difficult to navigate—one can object to the speech someone uses, but doesn’t want to support those who see the solution as silencing them or empowering government to decide who is so offensive that they need to be shut up with government force.
We shouldn’t need government to intervene to prevent the slurring of women. This is supposed to be where civil society comes in. It shouldn’t occur to someone to make these kinds of characterizations, because they should have gotten a nasty look from the first person who heard them tip-toe into that kind of talk.
The problem, of course, is that rebuilding a society that is more respectful will take time, and it seems that it may be impossible to walk back from where we are today. Yet that’s the only real option we have. The good news is it’s a solution that we have some control over—we can make a concerted effort to walk-the-walk in our own lives. It’s a start at least.