Talk About a ‘War on Women’

Little Sisters of the Poor (Photo: Becket Fund)

The limited but clear win on May 16 for the Little Sisters of the Poor — in which the Supreme Court effectively told lower courts to help protect those Sisters from compromising their religious principles — wasn’t just a slap on the wrist for the Obama administration. It also raises a deeper question that’s been pressing for some time now: Why was anyone threatening indigent nuns with leg irons and crippling fines in the first place?

Therein hangs an interesting tale.

For at least a couple of generations, the fortunes of the American Left have depended in part on the credibility of the proposition that the port side of the political spectrum is the best place for women, because the Left puts compassion first — especially compassion for women.

Thus Hillary Clinton runs on the claim that doing justice to women is “the great unfinished business of history.” Senator Bernie Sanders, on his website, calls himself “an enthusiastic advocate for women” who has “long fought to protect” them. President Obama has consistently put women front and center in his rhetoric, right down to his commencement speech at Rutgers a few days ago, in which he confessed his “soft spot for grandmas.” And for several long years now, hot talk of a supposed “war” on women has issued from just about every standard-bearer of progressivism, and warm talk of all that the Left has reportedly done for what was once called the fair sex has been similarly ubiquitous.

NR EXPLAINER: The Little Sisters of the Poor at the Supreme Court

The administration’s harassment of the Little Sisters is just the latest in a series of wake-up calls to a far chillier reality. In contests pitting actual women against ever-evolving imperatives about what secularist sexual protocol now requires, today’s progressives choose the protocol over the women every time.

Consider in addition to the Little Sisters another big talk of the town right now: the ideological command to integrate people with XY chromosomes into rooms where people with XX chromosomes undress, shower, and more. To call the May 13 “Dear Colleague” letter on transgender students an example of “executive overreach” is to understate. Across the country, shock and awe have been the result. And not in a good way. “Even in Liberal Communities, Transgender Bathroom Laws Worry Parents,” summarized a headline in Time last week — in a story about the Upper West Side of Manhattan, no less.

How is crowbarring open the locker room good for women and girls?

Leave aside the political and legal dramas now exploding. As a practical matter, the claim that women should love progressivism because progressivism takes care of women makes no sense in this case, either. How is crowbarring open the locker room good for women and girls? Anyone who has ever been a girl, or had a daughter, knows that girls are viscerally uneasy around biologically unrelated strangers. Progressivism’s lock-jawed refusal to honor that reality — and with it, the fact that girls and women might have legitimate concerns of their own about such forced intimacy — is one more case of ideology’s trumping empathy.

RELATED: Hands Off the Ladies’ Rooms

Plainly, and also on account of what non-religious protocol about sex now demands: Today’s ideological descendants of yesterday’s liberals and libbers put women and girls last in other cases, too.

#share#Consider, say, pornography. At least yesteryear’s Left wasn’t monolithic about it. Within living memory, Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon, and other prominent feminists stood shoulder to shoulder with moral traditionalists such as Edwin Meese, united in condemning pornography as inimical to humankind.

Today’s progressivism is instead “anti-anti-pornography.” At best, it views those who object to pornography as the problem. At worst, it defends pornography as one more fast track to liberation. Two terms of the Obama administration have reflected the new nonchalance toward smut. It’s now been five years, for instance, since the Justice Department shuttered its only office dedicated solely to prosecuting obscenity. Even so, many girls and women are not nearly as blithe about pornography as today’s Left demands — this is one more fault line between women and progressivism that may yet break through to the political surface again.

RELATED: America’s Real Porn Problem

Or consider one more project countenanced with a cool eye by today’s Left, despite its claim to put women first: gendercide. Around the world, in a pattern unfolding since the invention of the sonogram, millions more female fetuses are destroyed than males — destroyed because they are female. How compassionate and pro-woman is that? If one were devising an actual “war on women,” it would be hard to improve on a strategy that preemptively keeps millions of them from seeing daylight in the first place.

Yet gendercide, too, is accepted without flinching by activists who still insist that they’re women-firsters. Most take the same view of gendercide that they do of pornography: They are more opposed to the people who resist that phenomenon than they are to the thing itself.

RELATED: Democrats Go Scored-Earth on ’War on Women’

In sum, progressivism’s claim to have cornered the market on women and compassion is less tenable with every scroll through Google News. From nuns on the steps of the Supreme Court to girls in the restroom around the corner from Build-a-Bear, the evidence piling up points to a competing tale. Somewhere along the way, in the course of morphing from yesterday’s liberalism into today’s progressivism, the American Left lost something essential: a human heart. As a result, unfeeling little Robespierres now operate with impunity — dangling subpoenas at nuns, scaring women and girls, ho-humming about things like a culture awash in images degrading to women, and indifferent to the disappearance of millions of unborn girls.

What’s dressed in the clothes of yesterday’s liberalism has become a very different Grandma than the friendly old relative of yore. Today’s version may claim to love Little Red Riding Hood just as much. But plenty of evidence suggests otherwise. And my, what big teeth it has.

Mary Eberstadt is author of several books, including It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies. She is also founder of the Kirkpatrick Society, a literary organization that has mentored hundreds of women writers.

Mary Eberstadt — Ms. Eberstadt has written for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including National Review, Policy Review, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, First Things, and the American Spectator.


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