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What is ‘Gender Ideology’?

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Behind the moral posturing and the strident indignation, it is fairly easy to see what is going on with the new, #MeToo-related sexual accusations – though part of what is going on is a campaign of intimidation against any dissenters who venture to point out the obvious, with threats of ostracism at best and lawsuits and jail at worst.

What we are witnessing is a demonstration of power. The accusers’ rhetoric expresses this very forthrightly, with endless demands for open-ended “empowerment.” Sexual ideologues have acquired enormous political muscle, and – much as they have already cast aside all inhibitions and controls on sex itself – they are now similarly casting aside any inhibitions and seek to remove controls on their exercise of political power.

Does this mean that sexual “improprieties” or “misbehavior” do not exist? Of course not. It means that the sexual radicals encouraged it, and the sexual radicals are now reaping the benefits.

Whether by accident or design, they have achieved this power in two stages (which are not necessarily separate chronologically): The first step was to seek unlimited sexual freedom by discarding traditional restraints and religious norms governing pre-marital and extra-marital sex, the sanctity of marriage itself, parental controls over courtship and education, as well as homosexuality and other forms of unconventional sexuality. Next, they have exploited the resulting chaos by substituting their own, government-approved and government-enforced code of sexual regulation that replaces sin with crime, includes ideological heterodoxy among the offenses, and discards community disapproval in favor of quasi-criminal and criminal penalties, enforced by the state gendarmerie and penal system.

In breaking down traditional sexual inhibitions, the radicals destroyed the language we used to keep sexual activity under control. Terms like “sin,” “fornication,” and “adultery” are now forbidden in educated and polite society and are avoided even by increasingly intimidated religious believers. Instead the radicals have substituted their own jargon to impose order on the predictable conflict that they themselves engendered: “sexism,” “misogyny,” “sexual harassment,” “sexual misconduct,” sexual this and sexual that.

The result is moral and legal confusion, intermingling what seem like clear matters of criminality like rape, that everyone knows must be punished, with ill-defined new offenses that arise from the new sexual freedom but are still part of private relationships and extending to ideological heterodoxy. Most people have no understanding what terms like “sexual harassment” mean, because the whole point of such jargon is to ensure that it is vague enough to mean anything and can be stretched to fit whatever the radicals disapprove of and want to make a matter of legal accusation and punishment. And indeed, the radicals have taken advantage of the confusion to redefine even terms like “rape” and “violence” to meanings very different from what plain English denotes. But when dust settles the net result is clear: the replacement of morality with ideology and the criminalization of private life, especially that of men.

The dynamic of the Sexual Revolution is thus dialectical, and therefore paradoxical and difficult to understand. The effect is to divide opposition to the Revolution, since most opponents do not understand the full dynamic, see only the part that they are looking for and understand how to oppose, and work at cross-purposes with other opponents, to the point where they help their radical enemies to attack others.

Some groups object mostly to the first part of the dialectic: the sexual freedom. These are usually Christians and other religious believers (I will call them “religious social conservatives”), who disapprove of the sexual freedom and its consequences: the sex out of wedlock, abortion, sex education, surrogacy, plus homosexuality and its political manifestations in same-sex marriage and transgenderism.[1]

Somewhat different are secular conservatives, libertarians, moderate liberals, and many men’s rights activists (hereinafter I shall call them “secular moderates”). They often have little objection to the sexual freedom, but they oppose its increasingly authoritarian manifestations: “discriminatory” and repressive measures against divorced fathers, patently trumped-up rape accusations in universities (the most extreme manifestation of the larger ideological intolerance in higher education), similarly false accusations of domestic violence, the treatment of boys in public schools, plus exaggerated feminist grievances over equal pay and the like.[2]

To generalize broadly, one group accepts the sexual freedom and believes it can be permitted and enjoyed without the authoritarian consequences. The other opposes the sexual freedom but is willing to tolerate the sexual authoritarianism, which they sometimes even accept as a solution. Both groups are myopic and fail to perceive the dynamic interaction between the freedom and the authoritarianism. They think they can control the one without controlling the other. Today’s headlines demonstrate that #MeToo and other radicals are proving them wrong.

All this is very ironic, because these two groups have the same opponents; both are engaged in a Sisyphean struggle against the consequences of the newly politicized sexual radicalism, and yet they refuse to work together and, to signal their own virtue, are even willing to demonize the other group.

My argument is that the sexual freedom and the sexual authoritarianism are not only inseparable; they are two sides of the same political dynamic, and they must be understood and confronted together. The same lobbies pushing abortion, same-sex marriage, hooking up, and sexualizing children are also behind the hysterias over “sexual harassment,” “child abuse,” “domestic violence,” “sexual assault,” “deadbeat dads,” and the rest, and now they are pushing for the incarceration of not only men and fathers, but other parents and now increasingly religious believers as well.[3]

Though a few people inhabit the area of overlap between the two groups, and reject the radical sexual agenda in its entirety, they are mostly ignored and marginalized.[4] This is because the two agendas are at cross-purposes and both live in fear, to the point that they are willing to demonstrate their own reasonableness by throwing the other group under the bus.

Both groups are terrified to be associated with the other’s agenda. The religious social conservatives are afraid of being associated with accusations of rape, domestic violence, child abuse, and anything labeled “sex crimes,” to the point where they are often willing to play it safe and presume all such accusations true or at least not to question them. Their agenda can sound as anti-male as that of the feminists, with preposterous and pointless claims that abortion is the result not of the radicals promoting it but of men.  So willing are they to endorse some of their opponents’ agenda that it is not surprising that they consistently lose all their own battles, like abortion and same-sex marriage.

The secular moderates, for their part, are terrified of being labelled as “intolerant,” “homophobes,” “bigots,” and “haters” and of being associated with religious groups they consider primitive.  They often accept legalized abortion and sex education, and they seldom object to homosexual political activism, even at its most extreme. They readily adopt feminist jargon (“discrimination”, “second-class citizenship”) or its mirror image (“misandry”) and even ironically accuse feminists of “sexism.”

For both groups, their fears lead them into obvious contradictions, as they adopt much of the program of their radical opponents, who of course are helped by this division. While Christian groups claim to be “pro-family” and deplore divorce (verbally), they do nothing to change the laws, and think the way to mitigate its horrors is to enforce child support. (In reality, child support is a subsidy on divorce and an incentive to create more of it.) They credulously accept that there is some epidemic of “violence against women” and readily endorse punishments for it. (No such epidemic exists, as numerous scholars have demonstrated, and domestic violence accusations serve almost entirely to facilitate divorce and broken homes – the very problems the “pro-family” groups claim to oppose.)

The secular moderates point all this out: the obvious violations of civil liberties and due process in false accusations of rape, domestic violence, the attack on fathers, the treatment of boys in school. These secular moderates are often politically sophisticated, and they have achieved some successes, but they are politically marginal, and their successes are often reversed by determined sexual radicals, who are well organized and fiercely aggressive.

The radicals understand all this and readily exploit it in a classic strategy of “divide and rule.” They throw out accusations against both groups that they know will terrify the other.  To question patently false accusations is to be an “apologist for rape [domestic violence, sexual assault…].” To question obvious absurdities like a multiplicity of “genders” or transgender public washrooms is to be a “homophobe.” Both groups must then signal their virtue by attacking the other and insisting to the world that they are the ones who are really concerned about women, children, (homosexuals, etc…).

In short, both groups are undermined by their own ideological narcissism: All the others targeted by the sexual Bolsheviks are guilty as charged; only me and my friends are innocent. By all means, lock up all those deadbeat dads, wife-beaters, pedophiles, rapists, and bullies, and no trial is needed. Or alternatively, all those bigoted, homophobic, hate-filled religious fanatics – they get what they deserve. I alone am righteous and pure and falsely accused.

In the process, both groups ironically demonstrate how they themselves have been acculturated into some features of the very sexual ideology of their opponents. Thus, while both groups produce some excellent literature, both consistently lose.

What both groups miss is the coherent and holistic ideology behind it all, and the dynamic of freedom and authoritarianism that lies behind all radical ideologies: fighting to “liberate” themselves from “oppression,” and then seize the state machinery to oppress others. It is this dynamic that explains why the Rights of Man leads to the Reign of Terror. The fanatical Louis Antoine de Saint-Just could have been speaking for the Sexual rather than the French Revolution when he proclaimed, “No freedom for the enemies of freedom.”

For as always with revolutionary Terror, the radicals’ principal weapon is the accusation. First, they accuse men of rape, domestic violence, “harassment,” or simply “abuse” and “misbehavior” (whatever these terms might come to mean). But it does not stop there. Journalists, scholars, critics, political opponents, religious believers – anyone who questions the accusations are also accused, not of the crime but of being “apologists” for the crime. And anyone who dissents from the entire agenda is accused of ideological heterodoxy using agitprop jargon whose meaning is subjective and where guilt is built into the accusation itself: “sexist,” “misogynist,” “bigot,” “homophobe,” “hater.”

This absence of opposition, and the power to divide and neutralize it, is precisely how previously extremist ideologies move from the margins into the mainstream and acquire power. The Nazis and the Communists both presented themselves as the answer to the threat posed by the other, thus dividing their opposition, polarizing their societies, and undermining the center ground that is the main defense against extremism. The consequences were described most famously by Pastor Martin Niemoeller. “First they came for the socialists…”

Stephen Baskerville is Professor of Government at Patrick Henry College and author of The New Politics of Sex: The Sexual Revolution, Civil Liberties, and the Growth of Governmental Power (Angelico, 2017).

[1] The literature from both groups began with amateur and self-published writers, but has become increasingly respectable academically.  especially have rapidly become increasingly sophisticated.  Among the Chrisitian social conservative writers the best is Gabriele Kuby’s, The Global Sexual Revolution (2015), which offers an important international perspective and has been translated into several languages.  Jennifer Roback Morse, The Sexual Revolution and it Victims, is another one that moves beyond the clichés and one of the few who confront the critical divorce issue.

[2] This group includes a higher proportion of professional writers.  Among the best are Cathy Young, Ceasefire! (1999), Christina Hoff Sommers, The War Against Boys (2001), and Helen Smith, Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream – and Why It Matters (2014); Wendy McElroy, Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women (2016), and Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson, The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities (2017), and an important scholarly series by Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young, and an important scholarly series by Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young

[3] E. Michael Jones, in Libido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Political Control (2005), seems to see this and makes it a theme of his book, but he treats it on the level of culture and theory rather than how it is unfolding in the practical politics.

[4] The most notable example is the late Phyllis Schlafly, who is consistently underrated as a writer and who presents both facets of the matter in one book, Who Killed the American Family? (2014).