When people talk about the gender gap, they usually mean the political differences between men and women. And there are very real differences. If only men voted, George W. Bush would have won in an 11-point landslide. If only women turned out to the polls, Al Gore would have won by an equally wide margin. And, if only people with “Visualize World Peace” bumper stickers voted, Ralph Nader would be sitting in a wind-powered White House.
But there’s another kind of gender gap — although I suppose that’s not the right phrase for it. There’s a gap between those who endorse chick politics and those who do not. Let me explain.
As many longtime readers know, I went to an all-women’s college. In my freshman year there were 30-odd men (and I do mean odd) and just over 1,000 women. The full answer to why I went to Goucher college is lost in the mists of time, but surely no explanation would be complete without recognizing the fact that no other college saw fit to accept me. But that is a story for another time.
Goucher was a deeply feminized campus by the time it decided to accept men. By “feminized” I don’t simply mean feminist. Oh sure, there were people who hung “get-your-rosaries-off-my-ovaries” posters in their dorm rooms. There were even some women who could look at Andrea Dworkin and find beauty in her complete rejection of everything patriarchal and aesthetic. Me, I always thought that she was just trying to look like Captain Lou Albano’s stunt double. And, yeah, I read more Foucault and Catharine MacKinnon in college than the U.S. Constitution or de Toqueville.
But by “feminized,” I also mean that much of the faculty and administration had internalized “feminine” approaches to education. For example, I took enough courses in history to be a double major (I ended up majoring in interpretative dance-movement therapy. Just kidding; I was a poli-sci guy, but you should still see my rendition of a holistic Navaho-Wiccan fertility dance — brilliant!). Regardless, most of the history professors bugged the hell out of me because they employed nurturing techniques and consensus approaches to teaching.
According to this pedagogy, no answers were entirely wrong if a student felt very strongly that they were right. “I feel that the United States bombed Hiroshima because of a masculinist obsession with punishing non-Western societies with crypto-phallic weapons of mass destruction; Hiroshima was simply an extension of the war-is-rape-by-other-means paradigm.” To which a professor would invariably respond, “Now that is very interesting; wow, that is an intriguing and intellectually rich thought.” And then another student would say, “We bombed Hiroshima because Soupy Sales told us to.” Or, “Harry Truman dropped the bomb out of frustration over the fact that the “S” in his name didn’t stand for anything.”
And again, the professor would respond, “very interesting” or, “intriguing and intellectually rich.” Everyone gets a pat on the head.
And always there would be discussion groups. Oh, Lord, the discussion groups! You see, individual answers were oppressive. Consensus answers resulting from intensely insipid chatting were liberating. It was so awful, to this day I consider the best definition of Hell a discussion group with a bunch of sophomore feminists about the role of midwifery in fifteenth-century France or the feminist precursors found in the plight of ante-bellum seamstresses.
But I digress — and I have to leave something for my memoirs. I bring all of this up because, well, it wasn’t just the women professors. This was all an institutional approach to teaching, often embraced by male professors more ardently than female ones, in much the same way, I suppose, that the most ardent Marxists drive BMWs in Cambridge.
So when I say I can’t stand chick politics, I am not necessarily talking about women. I dig strong women, and I don’t mean in a leather-boots and a riding-crop kind of way. In fact, I think my bovine-feces detector was particularly acute in college because good ol’ momma Goldberg never seemed like a victim to me (especially when she beat the tar out of some wino who snatched me off the street when I was a little kid … again, a story for another time). Many of my professors were so frozen in 1960s hippy-dippy amber that they had a hard time not seeing women as rebellious victims, victimhood and rebellion being the analogues of the caterpillar and the butterfly of the feminist consciousness.
Anyway, what I can’t stand are chick politics as practiced by chicks of all genders. By this I mean a desire to not just get along with people who disagree with you but to do your best to agree with them. Chick politics emphasizes the legitimacy of feelings over the efficacy of ideas. Chick politics is driven by a love of discussions, hugs, meetings, apologies, and the free-venting of your “issues.” If at any time, other than facing down a phalanx of jackbooted henchmen of the leviathan state, your ideology requires you to hold someone else’s hand, you are a practitioner of chick politics.
I started thinking about all of this during the China standoff, before I got waylaid by the Asian-American Anti-Defamation brigades. First of all, there was a double-digit gender gap over the question of whether America should apologize to the Chinese, with women much more likely to favor a mea culpa. MSNBC news hostesses spent a lot of time interviewing women who thought it was “no big deal” to “just say you’re sorry.” I appeared on television with Ellen Ratner, who thought it was outrageous that we hadn’t apologized since “getting the boys home” was all that mattered.
But the fact is that a lot of men think this way too. And nobody is a better example of that than Bill Clinton. Indeed, it seems indisputable to me that Bill Clinton is vastly more of a chick politician than his nominal wife, Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton would have apologized before the EP-3 hit the ground. Indeed, for all the talk of Bill Clinton being the first black president, it seems clear to me that he was the first chick president. From the tears, to the hugs, to the constant bingeing on food, phone calls, meetings, and self-expression — it’s a wonder Clinton wasn’t offered a permanent seat on The View when he got out of office. And, shy of that, I’m still awaiting a commercial where he shares a Café Vienna moment with his girlfriends.
That’s what is so welcome to me about George W. Bush. I’m not sure he’s right on everything yet. And I don’t like compassionate conservatism whenever somebody explains it to me — which is rare. But it’s becoming clear that at minimum George W. Bush is a guy politician and that’s a welcome change.
To be fair, there are perfectly rational arguments as to why chick politics are superior to guy politics. Andrew Sullivan has made the point that male combativeness may be a necessary attribute to run for political office but may be a liability in being a good politician. Indeed, some people value consensus over conflict. Some people think that the male compulsion to hog credit and assign blame is bad for politics. That’s a good argument, and one day we can have it out in full. All I would say about that right now is that, in a democracy, public arguments and conflicts are simply more useful and healthy than private agreements and consensus are.
But in the meantime, I don’t want to hold anyone’s hand.
1. First, my apologies for the tardy and rambling quality of this column. I got started early this morning, but then had to spend the rest of the day at the vet. It’s confirmed: Cosmo needs surgery and he’s going under the knife a week from today. His growth plates in his front right leg went hinckey. He seems to be taking it in stride, pardon the pun. 2. The great news is that the inestimable Jay Nordlinger — managing editor of National Review OnDeadTree — begins his weekly column for National Review Online. If you don’t check it out, you and your line will regret it for seven generations.
3. I ran out of announcements.