Time’s Up for Faux Liberals

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“Farrakhan has pulled the cover off the eyes of the Satanic Jew and I’m here to say your time is up, your world is through,” Louis Farrakhan, referring to himself in the third person, told a cheering Nation of Islam crowd of thousands in Chicago a couple of weeks ago.

How nice that Farrakhan, 84, has been able to stay rhetorically on trend. Actually, his genocidal bigotry is so on trend that Tamika Mallory, one of the leaders of the Women’s March, was shocked — shocked! — that anyone would care that she attended this largely anti-Semitic rally, that she would get a shoutout from the good minister, and even pose for a photo with him on Instagram afterward.

Truth be told, Mallory had every reason to be shocked. When co-leader Linda Sarsour said that anti-Semitism is “not systemic,” that you can’t be a feminist and a Zionist — when she publicly embraced terrorist Rasmea Odeh — there was barely a peep from those left of center.

In fact, the unpleasant reality that Sarsour and co-leader Carmen Perez also have close ties to Farrakhan — the man the Anti-Defamation League calls “the leading anti-Semite in America”—didn’t stir any pot either.

So, why would Mallory think that the normalization of hate against Jews — a key part of the “intersectionality” that the Women’s March quartet touts — would cause such a ruckus?

What Mallory wasn’t counting on was the fact that Farrakhan’s blatant focus on Jews — not Zionists and Israel — would actually motivate the normally silent to open their mouths. Jews on the far left are often called self-haters for kowtowing to the likes of Sarsour. But clearly it’s not self-hatred — it’s more like they’re happy to hide behind an anti-Zionist cover when needed: regressive chic at its finest.

Not standing up for your own people for the sake of status is just as faux liberal as condoning hatred. So it’s good to know that when push comes to genocide, left-of-center Jews will not be silent. We can now call this the Farrakhan Line: Jews on the left will put their foot down when Israel is not mentioned.

Words, as Jews know in their veins, have consequences.

Indeed, a month before Farrakhan’s speech, the ADL published a report showing that 2017 saw a 67 percent rise in anti-Jewish hate speech, harassment, vandalism and violence.

This seems like a good opportunity to distinguish real liberals from faux liberals, whether they call themselves progressives or leftists or socialists.

Remarkably, the Wikipedia definition of liberalism has remained intact: “Liberalism is a political philosophy founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views … but generally support [the principles of] freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, and gender equality.”

Not standing up for your own people for the sake of status is just as faux liberal as condoning hatred.

This is the key line: Liberals espouse a wide array of views. Meaning, you and I can disagree on how to enforce, for instance, freedom of speech. But if you don’t stand for the principle of freedom of speech, you can’t call yourself a liberal. (Social justice warriors on campus, please take note.)

And speaking of words, I’ve been increasingly seeing the word “gaslighting” in relation to President Donald Trump. Gaslighting is “a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt … in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.”

Personally, I don’t see this as a conscious or unconscious Trump tactic. But I very much see this as a progressive/leftist tactic. From baseless attacks on Israel to Holocaust denial/minimization, to outright Jew hatred, progressives/leftists are, consciously or not, trying to gaslight Jews.

And so, I ask my fellow liberals: Why are you so desperate to be included in these “progressive” groups? Why not work to restrengthen the liberal center? Liberalism, by definition, includes both feminism and Zionism.

And I say to the leaders of the Women’s March: Time’s up for faux liberals and faux feminists.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

Can We Please Start Over?

Screenshot from Twitter.

We are born unique, complex, imperfect.
Into the universe of nature, often moral, often unjust.
Into society, where we must sign a social contract to survive.
We are individuals, continuously striving to retain our individuality.

The first social unit we encounter is our family.
We desire acceptance but also crave respect.
The second is our religion, race, ethnicity.
Often, these add to our unique identities; sometimes, we are subsumed by them.

Next: School. From an early age, we try desperately to fit in, to be liked; it is here that we
first face the harsh realities of social acceptance.
We are cruelly pushed out of some groups and just as arbitrarily pushed into others;
parental pressures only add to the pain.
Our ability to navigate these early social rites informs how we deal with group acceptance
for the rest of our lives.

Finally, our political party.
Up until recently, aligning oneself with a political party did not create an impervious line
in the sand. Republicans and Democrats argued, to be sure, but they also could
socialize, see humor in their differences, compromise.
No more. The two groups hardly interact, and within each party, one must maintain
rigid conformity to a strict party line — The Orthodoxy — or you risk being publicly

I may agree with you on some issues, disagree with you on others. But unless you try to bully me into submission, I respect your right to your opinions, even if I find them odious.

Individuality, on both the left and the right, is dying; tribalism rules; obedience reigns.

Tribalism begets extremism; extremism begets hysterics. Social media lit the final match.

Can we please start over?

I am unique, complex, imperfect.

I may agree with you on some issues, disagree with you on others. But unless you try to
bully me into submission, I respect your right to your opinions, even if I find them

I don’t care which party you belong to; I don’t care which religion, race or ethnicity you
identify with. Unless you try to force me to follow your way of thinking or living.

I may try to get you to see an issue the way I do, but I would never bully you. We have lost
the distinction between arguing and bullying.

Issues are often complex; embrace the complexity. Totalitarianism offers instant
security; resist it.

Question dogma; rebel against irrationality.
Be brave but civil; break boundaries but remain decent.
Relearn to tolerate difference; to take comfort in diversity; to listen.
We each have the ability to create bonds of compassion, to sow seeds of accord, to bring
light back into the darkness.

But first, we need to reclaim our individuality.
I am unique, complex, imperfect.
I try to honor my quirks, idiosyncrasies, opinions, to let them inspire my dreams.
Heterodoxy: I think for myself; I don’t need the validation of others.

I am not a political party; I am not a group identity; I am me.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

Help Boys Be Better Boys

Photo from Max Pixel.

Amid the soul-searching that has followed the Florida shooting, there has been an implicit acknowledgement that there are in fact differences between the sexes. My friends on the left posted and reposted this stat: 98 percent of mass shootings are committed by men.

After decades of hearing that there are zero differences between the sexes, this acknowledgment is quite welcome. Unfortunately, the fact that it is being used to prop up a “masculinity is toxic” argument undermines its usefulness. Imagine what could be gained if we put theory aside and began to look at reality again.

First, let’s be clear: Masculinity did not cause the deaths of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. A legally bought AR-15 did. An AR-15, combined with systemic failure on the part of the FBI, the police and school officials.

Second, this interest in sexual differences is based on a false premise: that these differences are “constructed” by society, that evil parents condition boys to be boys by continuously telling them to “stop with the emotion,” encouraging aggression, and prohibiting their desire to play with dolls.

When my son was 3, he ran to join the dozen other boys watching a construction site next to the playground. Not one girl stopped to watch, and I remember thinking: Maybe now the “no-difference” parents will begin to understand biological differences.

Once we return to accepting sexual differences, there’s much we can do to help boys — and girls — become their best selves.

Shortly afterward, a mother of one of his friends said to me: “I finally relented on the subject when I gave my son a Barbie and he used it to hammer down some Legos.”

I must interject here: There are, of course, some girls who enjoy watching construction sites and some boys who like to play with dolls. When we talk about sexual differences, we’re talking about how the majority of males and females act.

Boys are generally more physically aggressive than girls, and it’s not because of parental encouragement. In fact, good parents work hard at channeling their sons’ aggression into healthy, constructive pursuits. My son and I used to watch “The Ten Commandments” a lot, and every time we came to the scene where brawny Joshua helps to save Moses’ mother from being crushed, I made a point of saying, “See, this is how we use our strength.”

Unfortunately, some boys become bullies; their aggression turns violent, their energy is used to destroy, not create. This we surely can call toxic masculinity, and it is clear the Florida shooter fell into this category.

Would various Broward County institutions have been better equipped to treat him if there was a deeper understanding of how masculinity can turn toxic? No doubt. All schools — society in general — would gain radically from even an acknowledgement of sexual differences and the problems that can emerge.

Right now, most schools operate under the neutralization theory promulgated by academia for the past three decades: attempt to neutralize all differences. At my son’s elementary school, this has amounted to boys in kindergarten being sent to the principal’s office if they can’t sit completely still for hours on end. Oh, and gym class has been cut to once a week, and there’s only 20 minutes of recess. If it rains or snows, the kids are forced to sit for more than six hours with zero physical activity.

Would frequent diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other behavioral issues be significantly reduced if kids, especially boys, were allowed more time to run around? I looked at the schedule of the top all-boys school in New York as an answer: vigorous activity, academic work, vigorous activity, academic work.

The point is, once we return to accepting sexual differences, there’s much we can do to help boys — and girls — become their best selves. Belittling boys and men, the current trend, is not going to get us to that point.

My hope is that the horrific Florida shooting leads to much change, from gun laws to FBI responsiveness. It would not be insignificant if it also leads to a better understanding of differences between the sexes, and what can be done to foster self-respect and dignity for all kids.

It’s well past time to tear down the false gods, whether promulgated by the National Rifle Association or gender studies departments.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

News Flash: Guns Kill

A protester weeps while chanting at a rally calling for more gun control three days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

In the days following the Florida school shooting, all of the usual “guns are as American as apple pie” defenses came out as though they had been saved from the last mass shooting and the one before that. Key to the apple pie defense: “If we all had guns, there would be no gun violence.”

It’s interesting that this theory gets so much play given that it goes against everything we know about human nature. But it’s also based on a false assumption. Guns have never been as American as apple pie. Whether or not you believe the Second Amendment was purposefully misinterpreted (and I believe it was), huge swaths of the country have always found guns odious.

Even now, when the prevalence of guns in the U.S. is beyond belief — 300 million, nearly one for every citizen — more than half are concentrated in the hands of just 3 percent of Americans, who own an average of 17 guns each. About 70 percent of Americans do not own a gun. The percentage of gun owners has actually been declining relative to population growth and is at an almost 40-year low. Least surprising of all, the less education you have, the more likely you are to own a gun.

The latter was clear when I started posting about guns on Facebook after the Florida shooting. I think I finally found the issue that decisively separates classical liberals/conservatives from what I can only call the totalitarian right.

The totalitarian right’s response to mass shootings is the mirror image of the totalitarian left’s response to terrorism: Find every excuse to do nothing. Feel morally superior about doing nothing. Pretend that it’s completely normal for a 19-year-old with a troubled past and emotional issues to legally buy an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

The one idea that the NRA and the far right have come up with is arming teachers. When I posted about the Colorado school district that is now allowing teachers to carry guns, there was much cheering from the “more guns” crowd. Until a teacher friend wrote: “You all forget that teachers are people, too, with a variety of temperaments. I work in a school and I for one would not feel safer if some of my colleagues had guns at work.” She then messaged me about teachers at her school who have been suspended for being violent with the students.

Arming teachers is a bad idea. Having an armed guard at every school is a much better one. Again, human nature needs to be considered.

For the sake of our kids, let’s tone down the anger and find sensible, bipartisan solutions.

Many on the totalitarian right can’t even engage in a civil discussion about the issue. Why should we trust them to own guns? In my 20s, I dated an anti-gun activist who the NRA loathed because he ran circles around them both morally and intellectually. One of the phrases he used has always stuck in my head: “The ready availability of guns.” The accidents, domestic violence and suicides that wouldn’t happen if guns weren’t so readily available.

Of course, I’m not talking about taking away guns. (I would love it, but it could never happen.) But, as Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times, there is clearly much that can be done to prevent all levels of gun tragedies, from mental health checks and safe storage measures, to banning semi-automatics and sales to those under 21, to standardizing gun laws across states.

A key obstacle, Kristof writes, is our mindset. Why shouldn’t guns be given the same rational assessment as cars? Treated as a public health issue?

People on the totalitarian right act as though guns are the most intimate part of their body. When your political philosophy shows more care for a fetus (which I, too, believe is a life) than a child at school, you might want to revisit it.

Meanwhile, the left’s descent into identity politics has not helped. In New York City, so-called progressive groups are succeeding at removing metal detectors from high schools. Why? Because they consider them “racist.” That’s right. Racist metal detectors.

Raw emotions from both sides are distracting us from moving forward on this complex societal conundrum. For the sake of our kids, let’s tone down the anger and find sensible, bipartisan solutions that a majority of the country will get behind.

If not now, when?

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

Seduced by the Light of Los Angeles

Photo from Pexels

In a magnificent, glassed corner office I visited on my trip to L.A. last week, I watched the setting sun create layers of golden, coral and magenta light. The delicate, ethereal light felt close and intimate, as if I was surrounded by thousands of radiant Shabbat candles.

In New York City, my home, one is lucky to catch a glimpse of sunlight in winter. Indeed, long stretches of Manhattan streets often are devoid of light and cellphone service. The quiet beauty of the elegant townhouses can compensate for the lack of natural light during the winter months — but only for so long.

It traditionally has been believed that greatness comes from struggle, that pushing against challenges and restraints helps an artist or thinker to master their craft. The Torah defines a righteous person not as someone who has succeeded but as someone who has persevered. “A righteous man falls down seven times and gets up,” wrote King Solomon in Proverbs. L’fum tzara agra — according to the effort is the reward, says Rabbi Ben Hei Hei in “Ethics of the Fathers.”

The same has been said about the weather — that parts of the world where sun and warmth reign year-round tend to be less creative than those that wind through the seasons.

There is logic to this theory. Both truth and beauty wrestle with darkness and light — one needs to be able to feel the darkness to create the light.

But my trip to Los Angeles made me less sure whether that perspective should be interpreted so literally.

The light of L.A. is layered and imperfect, just as we are. Let it seduce you and inspire you.

Each morning the brilliant sunshine nearly burst into my hotel room, intent on energizing whatever it touched with its rays. No doubt the seduction of sunlight induces some people to create nothing more than cozy settings on the beach, or to run and rollerblade in pursuit of physical perfection.

But L.A.’s light isn’t vacuous. It’s steeped with all the essential attributes of the universe. Or at least that’s how it felt to me.

I left New York City on a snowy, dark morning and returned on a rainy, dark night. Yes, living through winters here is a rather immersive, dark experience — one that has spawned thousands of richly drawn poems and paintings.

But if one doesn’t have the luxury of hibernating in a candlelit room for five months, the cold, the wind, the harshness all become stressors, deflators. Sure, one can use the opportunity to rummage through one’s soul, to peel away layers of inauthenticity and find the melancholy of a world that often appears insane.

But that is not the whole truth. Darkness needs to be entwined with light, with hope.

The distinctive, dreamy haze of Los Angeles’ light gave life to the movie industry and continues to define the city in art and literature. And yes, ironically, the air pollution lends the light a particular shimmer.

And so I say to you lucky residents of Los Angeles: Engage with this multifaceted, often mysterious light in ways that resonate emotionally and spiritually. Let it take you to a place where you can see and feel the complexity of the world, the controlled chaos, the particular dance of darkness and light that leads to curiosity and self-reflection.

The light of L.A. is layered and imperfect, just as we are. Let it seduce you, inspire you, infuse your world with poetry and passion, but also with the dignity of restraint. Let it lead you to the shadow of darkness, but come away with the light of wisdom.

When I returned to New York City, I brought with me a gift from the Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai — a blue crystal butterfly. It now sits enchantingly on my desk, attempting to impart L.A.’s scintillating light into the complicated, animated, yet ultimately gloomy NYC winter.

Every time I look at it, I think of the lyrics of my son’s favorite song: “I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. …”

It is the light in our hearts, I will teach him, that will retain that spirit through many winters to come. Or, we can just move to L.A.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday).

Women, Sex and Power

This address was delivered by Karen Lehrman Bloch at the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Guild Symposium 2018: “21st Century Woman.”

So who is the “21st Century woman”? I think she’s strong, independent and spirited; unafraid of both her femininity and her sexuality; fiercely brave, confident and, of course, feminist.

But wait, how can she be both feminine and brave? Sexual and remain a feminist?

The truth is, those words were never meant to be contradictory. They became contradictory because of an essential misunderstanding of the original meaning of feminism.

What I’d like to do today is briefly touch on this misunderstanding and offer a vision for a deeper, more authentic feminism — a feminism that honors the original meaning.

I also think women will be a lot happier when we begin to understand that we don’t have to give up parts of ourselves for feminism. That, in fact, those parts are what make us stronger.

So let’s start over. Let’s talk about what feminism really is and how it was supposed to empower women. And let’s deal in the realms of facts and reality.

Feminism is not about following a set of rules or politics imposed by other women.

Feminism is not about voting for a woman just because she’s a woman.

Feminism is not about legislating equal numbers of judges or CEOs.

Feminism is not about exploiting your sexuality when it’s useful.

Feminism is not about destroying a man’s career because of a compliment.

Feminism is not about empowering women through victimhood — or shutting down voices of disagreement.

What is feminism?

I. Feminism can be summed up in three words: freedom, responsibility and individuality.

Freedom for women to vote, be educated, have careers — or stay home with our children. Freedom for women to wear miniskirts if we want, freedom to flirt, both in the office and out, to get involved with a co-worker — or to abstain from all sexual relations until marriage.

Freedom for women to become the unique individuals that we are.

Third Wave feminism, which began in the ’80s, was, in my opinion, a huge setback for women. Third Wave feminists actually restricted women’s freedom by adding onto feminism a set of politics, a list of behaviors, even fashion choices. Third Wave feminist leaders attempted to tell women what to think, how to behave, who to vote for.

None of this was part of the original meaning of feminism.

Now we have a Fourth Wave of feminism. Intersectional feminists are adding onto feminism another layer of do’s and don’ts.

Women, say intersectional feminists, must hate masculinity, privilege victimhood and, most important for many, continuously attack Israel. How interesting that a movement that started out 100 years ago as a way to free women from societal restrictions became a movement that urges women to hate Israel, one of the most feminist countries in the world.

II. Feminism also means personal responsibility — taking control of your life.

For feminist leaders in the past three decades, “personal responsibility” were dirty words. Why? Because focusing on a woman’s responsibility, they said, would take the focus off “the patriarchy.”

But just like with true liberalism, you can’t have freedom without responsibility. Why? Well, who else should take responsibility for our lives? The government? Our husbands? Our dates?

I think we’ve had some rather bizarre #MeToo moments precisely because of the lack of emphasis on women’s responsibility. Like “Grace,” the young woman who publicly humiliated Aziz Ansari because … why? She didn’t like the way the date was going but made no effort to tell him that? Or to simply go home?

In fact, the underlying premise of many of the non-assault #MeToo cases is actually quite unfeminist: It is based on the false notion that all women become helpless in difficult situations.

Sadly, many women do. But that’s not the fault of “the patriarchy.” It is largely the fault of the feminist establishment for, essentially, ignoring women’s personal growth.

Real assault cases are, of course, horrific, and right now we’re watching one of the worst: Dr. Larry Nassar, the doctor to the young gymnasts. This is a case of complete institutional failure and, as a result, at least 265 victims were subjected to pure evil.

But denying that sexual tension, even in the workplace, is not complex, that women don’t have responsibilities — that life isn’t perfect — doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.

Right now, any woman can destroy a man within seconds by merely describing an awkward pass. Is this empowerment  or is it the same passive-aggressiveness we’ve spent a half-century trying to overcome?

III. We don’t live in a patriarchy.

Anyone who seriously thinks we still live in a patriarchy — where men control and oppress us — needs to visit countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, this is another great irony of today’s feminist leaders: They have virtually ignored the women in Iran who have been protesting the wearing of compulsory hijab.

So far, 30 Iranian women have been arrested and tortured for this. This should be at the top of Western feminists’ priority list. Instead, it hardly gets mentioned.

But we do have oppressors here — what I have come to call the Gender Industrial Complex. The Gender Industrial Complex tells women who to vote for, which careers are preferable, who to like, who to hate, which ideas to regurgitate, what color to wear, which pronouns to use, which films to see, which films not to see — and most important of all: how to shut down anyone who disagrees with you.

The Gender Industrial Complex is our new oppressor. And if you call yourself a feminist, you need to fight back against it, just as our grandmothers fought against the patriarchy.

Real feminists don’t follow orders — even from other women.

IV. Women are different from men.

Contrary to “gender theory,” this stems mostly from biology, not culture. More important, it’s actually a positive, producing things like babies and making life much more fun and interesting.

Women and men are not the same, and we also don’t exist along a gender spectrum. Social scientists use bell curves to show our biologically based differences. Take aggression. The bell curves for males and females look very different. But there will always be a small group of women who are naturally more aggressive than a small group of men.

What else does this mean? It should be assumed that women think about sex differently from men. This doesn’t mean that women don’t think about sex. This doesn’t mean that women don’t love sex as much as men do. What it means is that women are evolutionarily built to connect our emotions to sex.

Probably the worst thing that feminist academics did in the past three decades was to make women feel ashamed of our femininity and sexuality.

So, while many women have no problem with today’s hook-up culture — where sex is typically expected — many other women, as hard as they try, can’t do it without feeling lousy afterward. Instead of seeing this as a special aspect of being a woman, feminists today blame this lousy feeling on men — either on a particular man or again on “the patriarchy.”

Many of today’s non-assault #MeToo cases could have been avoided, in fact, if feminists had explained all of this to women. If they had taught women that we each need to know what works for us and act accordingly.

V. Femininity and sexuality.

Probably the worst thing that feminist academics did in the past three decades was to make women feel ashamed of our femininity and sexuality — to neuter women. Leaving aside the fact that feminism had no interest in neutering women, a neutered woman is by definition a less empowered woman.

Being at one with our femininity and sexuality is an integral aspect of our strength and self-esteem. Just look at Gal Gadot.

Gal is so unabashedly feminine and sexy that when “Wonder Woman” first came out, some feminists went ballistic. They had been taught that showing our femininity or sexuality was a sign of weakness.

A hundred years ago, that was true. But we went through this thing called the sexual revolution in the ’60s, and one of the positives was that women took ownership of their sexuality.

And by taking ownership — by feeling it and knowing that it doesn’t undermine our ability to run a company or fly a plane — women were made whole in a way that we hadn’t been since hunter-gatherer times.

But it’s a responsible sexuality: It’s not about sleeping our way to the top; going to a man’s hotel room and then claiming victimhood; wearing scanty clothes at inappropriate times.

Sexuality, true sexuality, comes from within.

VI. Beauty.

Being at one with our femininity and sexuality also helps with the other issue Third Wave feminists got wrong: beauty. Beauty is not a myth; it’s not a cultural construct. It’s a harsh reality that only gets harsher with age. But as French and Israeli women know better than anyone: When you’re feeling at one with your sexuality, when you truly own it, it doesn’t matter how old you are.

VII. What about men?

Don’t men have any responsibility here?

Of course. Just because we don’t live in a patriarchy doesn’t mean that men, as individuals, don’t have a lot of work to do. I’m always amused when I read conservatives talk about returning to the ’50s and the Era of the Gentleman.

Sure, many men in the ’50s had good manners in public, and I would love to see those manners return. But we are all too aware of what often went on inside the home or inside the office.

We want men to treat women with respect — not just to keep up appearances. We want men to treat women with respect because it’s the right thing to do.

But here’s the thing: We don’t need to dump masculinity to make this happen. Masculinity is not toxic. Uncivilized masculinity is toxic. Civilized masculinity ends wars. Civilized masculinity moves mountains. Civilized masculinity is, well, sexy.

Another great irony of today’s feminism: the effort to defeminize women and feminize men. So that we’re all gender-neutral robots. No thanks, and again, this was never the intent of the original feminists.

But how do we make sure masculinity is civilized? Parents, especially fathers, need to teach their sons to be proud of their strengths and abilities — but to always have manners and respect. It’s not easy (I have a high-testosterone 8-year-old son; I am well aware). But it’s doable. All of us know men who are both gentlemen and quite masculine.

But also, women — as friends, girlfriends and wives — have a role here. We have the not particularly fun job of helping to civilize men. Actually, I take that back. Imagine how Gal had civilized her early boyfriends. I have no doubt she had a great deal of fun and success — or they were out the door very quickly.

VIII. So what’s the bottom line?

The goal of feminism was to unshackle women, to be able to engage in the world as strong, fully formed adults who know what works for us and what doesn’t.

It’s time to teach women again that we are fully in control of our bodies and our destinies — to reach deep inside of ourselves to find our unique identities.

And so I propose the beginning of a new, Fifth Wave of feminism. We can call it rational feminism or independent feminism or noncomformist feminism. Or, we can just call it feminism, because it would be bringing feminism back to its original meaning.

The key components again would be freedom, personal responsibility and individuality. Taking back our lives from those who wish to control us, both women and men.

That, and only that, is the true meaning of feminism and empowerment. That is the 21st century woman.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

The Meaning of Cool

Photo from Pixabay

“That’s cool,” I said somewhat offhandedly to my son after he showed me something, well, cool.

It’s not a word I use very often. In fact, I probably hadn’t used it for at least a decade. But he had said it a couple of times, so I thought that maybe it’s made a comeback among the ninja turtle set.

“What does that mean?” he responded.

I paused. I frowned. I think I even looked around to see who else was listening.

“Well,” I began promisingly. “Cool means …”

How to begin? How to sum it up? Why was it so much easier to define coolness 10 or 20 years ago, before everything changed? Before I began to feel completely out of sync with the group of people and ideas that I had associated with coolness?

My introduction to coolness didn’t come till high school. Like most teens in suburban America, I was fairly rebellious. At 14, I believed that meant: Do what other teens who seem rebellious are doing. I let my hair grow long and wild, wore the most bohemian clothes my mother would allow, and spouted the “benefits” of socialism.

At 16, my first real boyfriend introduced me to the works of Ayn Rand, and my entire world was turned upside down. After devouring every word the Jewish-Russian author wrote, I stopped copying what everyone else was doing and began to look within, to look for me.

It was liberating and inspiring. I stopped caring whether the other girls thought I was pretty enough to be part of their clique: I didn’t want to be part of anyone’s clique. I began to seek out the most interesting, thoughtful friends, and we had endless discussions about literature, philosophy and art.

This nonconformist rebellion continued throughout college, shaping and cementing my classical — now called universal — liberal views.

This has not always led to happiness. One of the flaws of capitalism is that it often rewards people who know how to “work a room” over developing innovative ideas. But it has led to a sense of inner peace. If I wasn’t always as successful as I would have liked, at least I knew that I had never sold my soul to the highest bidder.

The illiberal leftism that high school and college students are devouring today makes my initial conformity look almost cool. Students are taught not how to think, but what to think — about politics, film, art, even fashion. Nothing is left to individual choice. In fact, nonconformity is frowned upon. The closer one adheres to the leftist agenda, the higher one’s status.

What would I tell teens who have been brainwashed by their Marxist professors into thinking that following leftist orders is the definition of cool?

We are the artists of our lives. Resist fashions, both political and aesthetic. Listen to Maajid Nawaz, the Muslim reformer fighting against radical Islam; to  Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the ex-Muslim feminist activist fighting against genital mutilation and other forms of female oppression. Listen to Ben Shapiro even if you disagree with him.

The rebels today are rebuilding liberalism, after a quarter century of identity politics, intersectionality and victimhood. As Bob Marley put it: “None but ourselves can free our minds.”

It’s a little harder to talk about this with my son, now 8. He’s already dealing with peer pressure to wear a certain type of clothes and talk in a certain manner. He has learned that being bad equals cool. In fact, he’s already moved on from cool to sick, monster, beast. But he still wants to know what it means.

Students are taught not how to think, but what to think. … The closer one adheres to the leftist agenda, the higher one’s status.

“There’s a difference between questioning things and being bad,” I’ve told him. “You should question things all the time. But being bad is actually uncool. It means you’re trying to get the approval of your friends, instead of following your heart.”

He looked at me as if he was going to cry; he didn’t understand.

I tried again. “Do you know what’s really cool? Creating something incredible. Becoming an awesome artist or athlete or scientist.”

The cry face went away. I continued. “But do you know what’s the coolest thing of all?”

I whispered in his ear: “Just being yourself.”

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author living in New York.

Why I Didn’t March

On the morning of Jan. 20, some guy friends at my gym in New York City ask me why I’m not at the Women’s March.

“Well… the march doesn’t speak for me,” I begin.

“What do you mean — aren’t you for women’s rights?”

“Yes, of course, but it depends what you mean by rights.”

Blank stares. This is clearly not a gym conversation.

“I am a woman, yes,” I continue. “But I don’t agree with the leaders of the march on many issues.”

More blank stares.

“Let’s just say, before I’m a woman, I’m an individual. I don’t need to be told what to think or who to vote for. The leaders of this march believe they have the right to tell me what to think. That is the opposite of feminism.”

Oh, cool, they nod. In their heads, I have moved into the category of “interesting woman at the gym who says things we don’t understand.”

Sadly, so many women who marched last weekend don’t understand this critical point, either. They don’t understand that you can’t call something a Women’s March and then attach to it a particular set of politics. Would men attending a Men’s March be expected to think exactly the same thoughts on every issue?

This was a Progressive Women’s March, as was last year’s. So why don’t they call it that? Because, like it or not, the leaders of these marches don’t think women are very smart. Maybe “smart” isn’t the right word. Obedient — the leaders of these marches believe women should be obedient. You just tell women what to do and think, and they will follow suit. Just as Michelle Obama thought she could tell women that they had to vote for Hillary, these leaders believe they just need to tell women what to chant, who to hate, etc., and they will willingly fall in line.

And for Progressive women, they are quite right. In fact, a defining feature of today’s Progressivism/leftism is its fundamentalist approach to life. In diametric opposition to true liberalism, Progressives question nothing. They follow orders, and they’re very good at it.

But even if I were a woman who shared a Progressive view of life, I wouldn’t march. Why? Well, why would I want to be even remotely involved with something led by Linda Sarsour? Leaving aside everything else, Sarsour has never denied her desire to see Israel disappear. In fact, it is a core tenet of her belief system. And she is brilliant at convincing Progressives that they should hate Israel too.

I understand the goal of the Zioness Movement, for instance, is to force Progressives to give Zionist women a seat at their table. But I think there’s a flaw in this: Progressivism is now, by definition, proudly anti-Zionist. It’s part of the “intersectionality” they toss around. Why would you want to be part of a group of people whose core belief is hatred of you?

Wouldn’t a better tactic be to strengthen real liberalism? Zionism is by definition a subset of liberalism — you literally cannot be liberal and anti-Zionist.

During last year’s march, I had to shield my son’s eyes from the signs and attire of many participants. I remember trying to explain to him one particular sign held by a male: “Kill the patriarchy.”

This year, now 8 years old, he was conveniently in synagogue all morning. Later in the day, we were on a crowded train, going to a tennis tournament. Two white women with pink knit hats were occupying a third seat with a sign that said: “Trust Women.” Meanwhile, a bunch of minority women were standing with me, rolling their eyes. Not once did the pink hats even notice us standing there, let alone remove the sign.

My son was looking at them as well. What message is his generation learning from all of this? Progressive men want to kill themselves because they are so riddled with patriarchic guilt? Progressive women are so self-involved they can’t be bothered to give up their sign’s seat for another human?

The next day, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, we watched men and women in wheelchairs play tennis. My son was mesmerized. “One day, I’d like to help them,” said the boy whose empathy comes in fits and starts.

“You will,” I said, knowing that this moment was more important for humanity than hundreds of women around the country wearing pussy hats. That’s why I didn’t march.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author living in New York.

We Are All Sh*tholers

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

I spend most of my time on Facebook criticizing the left. Pointing out all of the ways it has become illiberal. For this, I have been called all sorts of names and blocked by friends of 20 years.

During the 2016 election, I switched to the more urgent task of arguing why Donald Trump shouldn’t be president. After the election, I went back to criticizing the left.

I rarely mention Trump, although I have praised him when deserved: his appointment of Nikki Haley; his recognition of Jerusalem; his support for the Iranian protesters.

So, I was quite surprised by the response I received when I wrote that the president of the United States should not have said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” referring to Africa. “Why do we need more Haitians? Why don’t we take more immigrants from places like Norway?”

That evening, I actually thought that all of Trump’s hardcore supporters would disappear from Facebook for a bit. I was quite wrong. They wrote endless defenses of his use of the word.  Defenses — complete with vile imagery — that left little doubt of the commentator’s prejudices.

What was most astonishing is that these were not his alt-right supporters. I’m not friends with alt-righters. These were otherwise rational conservatives who had befriended me because of a shared desire to defend Israel.

Aside from vile jokes about the countries, the word that kept coming up was “refreshing.” How refreshing it was to finally have a president that spoke “the truth.”

After unfriending the worst commentators, I asked a simple question: “Would you find it refreshing if he called Israel a shithole?” But Israel is not a shithole, they replied, missing my point.

I tried another tactic: “Well, my family comes from that sh*thole country Russia. I look forward to hearing Trump talk about it that way.” No response from the president’s defenders.

That night, I wrote: “Here’s the sad irony of Trump supporters who are unable to even say, ‘he shouldn’t have said that.’ For years, we all begged Obama peeps to admit when he made a mistake. To just say it, and move on. But they couldn’t do it, no matter how bad it was. And now many of those same peeps are doing the very same thing.”

But the fact that Trump supporters had become a mirror image of President Barack Obama supporters, who they loathe, also had no effect.

Instead, for the crime of saying Trump shouldn’t have used that word, I was called: a leftist; a virtue signaler; a traitor; a snowflake; and, perhaps most interestingly, a “so-called columnist at the Jewish Journal.”

There were some Trump supporters who had no problem criticizing his language. And I was happy to see that Commentary quickly posted a beautiful “Letter from a Shitholer,” by Iranian American Sohrab Ahmari: “The toxic discharge flows daily from your office and Twitter account into the stream of national affairs — and the homes of Americans struggling to raise children amid an already-vulgar culture. … It is a new moral low point for the American presidency.”

It doesn’t matter that the leftist media get hysterical over everything he says and does. It doesn’t matter that President Barack Obama ended up doing far worse things to African countries, most notably by helping to create a slave trade in Libya.

What matters is that we now have a president who doesn’t understand the essential promise of America.

It matters even less that we have a president who uses language not fit for a bar in Queens.

What matters is that we now have a president who doesn’t understand the essential promise of America: that people come from all sorts of countries to live in freedom and dignity. That the idea of taking white Europeans over nonwhites from poor countries is the same sort of bigotry that was used a hundred years ago against Eastern European Jews.

Jews were thought to be “undesirable,” “of low physical and mental standards,” “filthy” and “un-American.” And now we have Jewish Americans saying the same things about Africans and Haitians.

The left has many problems. But this problem on the right is truly ugly. Perhaps it’s time for some Jews to look in the mirror.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author living in New York.

The Soul of Beauty

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Walking around the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue, one cannot help but notice the purity of art that doesn’t feel obligated to have a “message” in order to be relevant. It is a freedom we have largely lost today.

The Neue Galerie, which is actually more of a museum than a gallery, houses businessman, philanthropist and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder’s stunning collection of early 20th-century German and Austrian art. The landmark building, completed in 1914, was once the home of society doyenne Grace Vanderbilt.

The current exhibition, “The Luxury of Beauty,” presents a major retrospective of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops): a collection of artists and craftsmen that produced artisanal furniture and homewares in Vienna from 1903 until 1932. The Werkstätte’s historical significance cannot be overstated: It essentially transformed the realm of design.

Founded by painter Koloman Moser, architect and designer Josef Hoffmann and Fritz Waerndorfer, a Jewish textile magnate who provided the funding and management, the Werkstätte had a single, fairly ambitious intent: the beautification of everyday life. Their goal was to elevate everyday objects to the stature of art, and for that art to reach the broadest possible audience. The Werkstätte was the first to create and implement a democracy of beauty.

Author Hermann Broch called fin de siècle Vienna “a joyful apocalypse,” in which an old order was crumbling and a new, uncertain one was emerging. As a result of the Vienna Secession, an avant-garde movement that began in 1897, part of that new order was a desire to unify art and design, to eliminate the distinction between fine and applied arts — to counter the impersonal character and low quality of goods made by industrial means. An elevation of design, the Secessionists believed, would elevate lives.

With more than 400 objects in four rooms, the Neue Galerie’s exhibition surveys the entirety of the Werkstätte’s extensive output in a variety of media — ceramics, drawings, fashion, furniture, glass, graphic design, jewelry, metalwork, textiles and wallpaper. Guided by the genius of Hoffmann and Moser, many of the pieces hit what I consider the sweet spot of design; they feel simultaneously innovative and timeless, modern and classic. They touch the soul of beauty.

Consider, for instance, Hoffmann’s exquisite glassware. The simple lines belie a sensuality that remind me of a quote from Goethe: “The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.” Fortunately, many of Hoffmann’s glass pieces are still being produced by J. & L. Lobmeyr, and can be ordered through the Neue Galerie’s website.

Just as fresh are the graphics of Moser. If you peel back five layers of what we have come to call Art Nouveau, you will find Moser’s crisp yet ethereal reinterpretations of the patterns of nature. In Moser’s work, you can also vividly feel the Secessionist motto: “To every age its art, every art its freedom.”

A desire to again create beauty for beauty’s sake.

With its emphasis on craftsmanship, the Werkstätte struggled financially from the beginning. It was supported by a small group of artists and wealthy Austrian Jews. The appeal for both was the emphasis on individual artistic statements. “The Austrian style,” writes curator Christian Witt-Dörring in the opulent accompanying catalog, “offered the assimilated Jewish population the potential of a feeling of belonging that was not defined in terms of nation.”

Financial issues finally forced the Werkstätte to close in 1932, but its legacy of everyday beauty lives on in our gorgeously designed spatulas, toaster ovens and linens. The genius of the artists also can be seen in how hard it is today to find that sweet spot — the soul of beauty. We travel back and forth from soulless modernism to overdesigned postmodernism, neither of which can elevate the spirit as exquisitely as soulful beauty.

Perhaps this magnificent retrospective, on view until Jan. 29, will inspire artists and designers to reach for that timeless ideal. Perhaps it also will inspire a new freedom for 21st-century artists: a desire to again create beauty for beauty’s sake. After all, as Phil Ochs put it, in such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author. Her writings have  appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

‘For We Are Glorious’

Screenshot from Twitter.

An iconic photo has emerged from the protests in Iran. A young woman — fearless, determined, resolute — holds a long stick. At the end of the long stick is a white hijab. The image is so powerful it was morphed into digital art, which then became a social media meme. But it is a meme with no words, no hashtag.

Because a cry from the heart needs no hashtag.

Sadly, as I write this five days into the protests, most people probably haven’t seen the image. It hasn’t been splashed on all the front pages of the world. Indeed, at least in the beginning, much of the media ignored or downplayed the largest protests in Iran since 2009. There has been a deafening silence from leftist groups that purport to be about human rights and feminism.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. The god of leftism, President Barack Obama, set the stage when he took the side of the tyrannical dictatorship during the 2009 protests, and then, as part of the Iran deal, gave the terror-happy regime billions of dollars in cash.

The Iranians have no interest in victimhood and are throwing off the hijab with abandon.

Eight years later, faced with the agonizing cries of a people desperate for freedom and human dignity, the left is failing again. Many are trying to protect Obama’s legacy; most will do anything not to be on the same side as President Trump, who has thrown his support squarely behind the protesters.

Perhaps the larger issue is this: Iran puts in high relief the difference between real liberalism, in which principles transcend politics; and leftists, who live in fear of helping their ideological enemies and offending the victims du jour.

Linda Sarsour and her fellow travelers have sanctified this antiliberalism through endless manipulation and propaganda. In one surreal moment, she was able to convince women on the left that wearing the hijab was a symbol of “empowerment.”

But here’s the funny thing about this Persian Spring: the Iranians have no interest in victimhood and are throwing off the hijab with abandon. Day after day, the brave Persians are showing the world what real liberalism looks like.

Mesmerized by the protests, I keep thinking of a song from the new movie “The Greatest Showman.” The movie itself is an homage to non-conformity and non-victimization, but one song in particular, “This is Me,” describes the sentiment that first inspired feminism and liberalism:

We are bursting through the barricades/And reaching for the sun (we are warriors)/Yeah, that’s what we’ve become/Won’t let them break me down to dust/I know that there’s a place for us/For we are glorious.

In the film, set in the late 19th century, the song is an anthem to human dignity, respect, tolerance and a classless society where anyone can achieve greatness.

In 2018, it can be seen as an anthem to freedom, justice, individualism and the classical liberalism now reborn with the Iranian protesters.

While Sarsour has convinced the left to make victims the new dictators — she recently announced that Palestinians have a right to become terrorists — the Iranian people are done with dictatorship, terrorism (notably, the protesters shouted: “Death to Hezbollah”) and fundamentalism.

Sure, some women may choose to wear a hijab, just like women in other religions choose to dress modestly. But since 1979 Iranian women were not given this choice. They were forced to wear the hijab, as well as to accommodate the craziness of the mullahs in every aspect of their lives, or they were lashed and imprisoned. Meanwhile, Islamic clerics regularly hang gay men, even teens.

The world has watched a vibrant country be destroyed by Islamic fundamentalism, and now, the world watches a people rising up to say,  “Enough.”

Were the protesters inspired by the U.S. standing up to Islamic dictators over Jerusalem? Perhaps indirectly. Freedom has a way of sending out waves of positive energy, as we saw with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We can mark the start of 2018 optimistic that a ray of courage has emerged from an ancient people who have, overall, a positive relationship with another ancient people — the Jews. And we can hope and pray that the evil mullahs will be gone before Purim.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

On Goddesses, Doormats and Linda Sarsour

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“For me,” said Pablo Picasso, “there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.”

Picasso was somewhat of an expert on women: He knew how to destroy them. Of the seven most important women in his life, two killed themselves and two went mad.

I thought of this quote when reading about how Linda Sarsour allegedly dealt with sexual assault accusations at the Arab American Association of New York, where she was executive director. According to The Daily Caller, in 2009 Asmi Fathelbab told Sarsour that she was being repeatedly sexually assaulted by volunteer Majid Seif.

“Sarsour is no champion of women,” said Fathelbab, 37. “She is an abuser of them.” Sarsour, she said, told her that “something like this didn’t happen to women who looked like me. … She told me I’d never work in New York City again for as long as she lived.”

Others have come forth to corroborate Fathelbab’s allegations. A New York political operative said that Sarsour was “militant against other women. … The only women [Sarsour] is for is herself.” Sarsour denies the allegations, portraying herself, as always, as the real victim.

None of this is shocking to anyone who has followed Sarsour’s hate-filled rhetoric, and while the allegations remain allegations, much of the mainstream media — notably The New York Times — are  curiously silent about this #MeToo case after creating hysteria about every other one.

Nevertheless, I imagine the story also doesn’t come as a shock to most women, who have no doubt been treated like doormats by ambitious women like Sarsour at one time or another. It’s the abuse no one likes to talk about.

Of course, anyone who has ever been around young girls knows how cruel they can be to one another.

But everyone expects that most girls will, well, grow up.

That’s not always the case. Consider, for instance, women in the office who take out their unhappiness on other women. An editor at a book publisher that I used to work for would scream at me each morning from Paris, calling me the nastiest names. I used to joke that it was like the old “Saturday Night Live” routine: “Jane, you ignorant slut.” It didn’t really bother me because I knew I was doing good work, and I knew that she was in a difficult marriage. Neither of which, of course, made it OK.

I’ve had other instances of female abuse in the workplace, most of which have come when I knew the woman personally. This has led me to two conclusions about female abuse: One, many women do it because they can — because they see other women as soft targets. Two, many women do it because they feel threatened by other women’s success.

There is a popular meme on Facebook: You can tell who the strong women are—they are the ones who support the success of other women.

You can tell who the strong women are — they are the ones who support the success of other women.

I don’t expect other women to treat me a like a goddess (men, on the other hand, absolutely). But I do expect a level of respect that some women seem incapable of providing. The “sisterhood” model, as appealing as it sounds, breaks down when it assumes that all women think alike, which, of course we don’t.

But respect is most needed when we don’t think alike. I respect you even if we have different political views. I support your career, and if anyone — male or female — is bullying you, I will be the first to call it out.

As for the allegations against Sarsour, they are especially egregious because they involve both sexual assault and serious damage to a woman’s career. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Women who support Sarsour’s politics are being put in a challenging position: Which do they care about most, the fact that Fathelbab allegedly was sexually harassed, and then bullied by Sarsour, or the fact that they can’t call out a “sister”?

Here’s hoping that Sarsour’s supporters don’t turn into female Picassos for all of the wrong reasons.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

Regressive Chic

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In 1970, Tom Wolfe coined the term “radical chic” to describe how socialites and celebrities were adopting radical political causes to advance their social standing. If you wanted to be considered fashionable, you had to ostentatiously embrace violent groups like the Black Panthers.

Today, the desire to use radical politics to advance your status has been adopted by not just celebrities but by professors and writers as well. And it’s not only about supporting illiberal, often violent groups and trends; it’s also about silence in the face of the most outrageous acts. Maajid Nawaz calls this regressive leftism because it’s tearing down every tenet of the Enlightenment and liberalism. I call it regressive chic because it’s so tied up in social insecurities.

Take the panel on anti-Semitism at The New School in New York City. The fact that the panel was led by Linda Sarsour and Jewish Voice for Peace—toxic anti-Israel activists who honor terrorists who kill Jews—is of course the height of regressive chic. So was the fact that the five panelists spent most of their time bashing Israel and doing everything possible not to mention the elephant in the room: Islamic anti-Semitism.

But just as egregious: only one professor in the entire country publicly condemned it.

I know of professors who are outraged by Sarsour’s skillful manipulation of the left. But when it came time to writing an op-ed that demanded the panel be cancelled in the name of truth and sanity, they were silent. Why? “Trash-talking Jewish Israelis is not only permitted in progressive circles, it’s rewarded,” wrote New School Professor Susan Shapiro in the New York Daily News.

Across the river at Rutgers University, three professors who have expressed blatantly anti-Semitic views, both in the classroom and out, have been inexplicably defended by Rutgers’ president, Robert Barchi. Again, no professor in the entire country has publicly had a problem with this.

Interestingly, one of the Rutgers’ professors, Michael Chikindas, is not just anti-Semitic; he’s also homophobic and misogynistic. Have we heard anything about this from LGBTQ or feminist groups? Nope. Because in the land of regressive chic, if you show your anti-Semitic hall pass, you are then free to say or do anything, however depraved.

This helps explain the left’s silence when Iran throws gays off of rooftops or when Sharia Law-driven Muslims beat and stone to death their mothers, wives, and daughters.

If you’re wondering how all of this happened, listen to Sarsour or Students for Justice in Palestine. They have so brilliantly conflated the Palestinian cause with African-Americans you would think the South owned Palestinian slaves before the Civil War. The fact that it is Muslim countries, most especially Libya, that to this day own black slaves is Sarsour’s best-kept secret.

If anti-Semitism is key to regressive chic, so is support for protests that promote radical victimhood, including anything “trans.”

This last one may seem innocuous—the granting of rights to transgender people—but it’s not. Forcing biological female teens to shower with biological male teens, for instance, undermines a key tenet of liberalism: your rights end where mine begin. But don’t even try telling this to leftists; they will simply call you a fascist, comically/tragically misunderstanding that regressive leftism is the closest we’ve had to fascism in seventy years.

What makes regressive chic so appealing to even professors who know how illiberal it is? Status. If you can’t be a regressive victim (which of course is the highest form of status), then you can support/appease/apologize for said victims. This gives you an immediate identity and an instant social group: others who eagerly conform to regressive chic by-laws on speech and behavior.

I recently befriended a young Egyptian who wants to write about why the Arab world needs to change its stance on Israel. Since he lives in Egypt, I asked him whether he thought it was better to use a pen name. He thought about it for a few minutes, and then wrote back: “No. We are right so I’m not afraid.”

I was struck by the bravery, by the almost Biblical morality of his sentence.

If only liberal writers and professors—living safely here in the United States—had even an iota of his desire to put the promotion of justice over anything else. Call it liberal chic; call it real liberalism. Whatever you call it, we need to bring it back.

The Light We Create

Photo from Pixnio.

I recently stopped in at one of my favorite shops in Manhattan, a small boutique on upper Madison Avenue. I try to avoid the place because I love the clothes too much. This time, though, I was happy to see Galit, an Israeli designer who works there when he’s not designing.

After we hugged and exchanged pleasantries, I asked him how he was doing. “Oh, you know, whatever.” What do you mean? I asked. What’s the matter? “Nothing. Nothing’s the matter. We get up, we go to work, we come home. Repeat.”

I know enough about depression to recognize it, especially at this time of year when it gets dark at an unseemly hour. But I also know enough about creative people to know that they need to create, that it is essential to their emotional health.

What have you been designing recently? I asked casually. “Nothing. I mean, why design? People like ugly trends,” he said, pulling out from the rack an ugly trend that can be spotted all over the city.

I urged him to continue designing anyway, but what I really wanted to say was this: The deeper meaning of creativity can be even more gratifying.

It is something I have fully understood only in recent years. Creating beauty — through words, paint, cloth — is a great honor, and often, as Michelangelo put it, a great burden. But creating light for those around us, through acts of goodness and kindness, is an even deeper beauty, and it creates an even deeper happiness.

For some, this comes quite easily. My mother, for instance, had what I can describe only as an eternal flame burning within her. Brimming with optimism and sweetness, she seemed to float through life, always being the bigger person no matter what situation she found herself in.

As a child, she was my entire world; as a rebellious teen, I found her perennial sunshine annoying. It was only in my 20s that I began to realize that her happiness came from giving, from creating light for others — it was a circle of positivity, of beauty.

She inherited this trait from her father, my much-adored grandfather, who brought light into people’s lives through humor. No matter where we went with him, cashiers, waitresses, shopboys always made a point of telling us how much they loved Aba. In his later years, we would park him on a bench so we could take a morning walk along the beach. Every time, we would come back to find the bench filled with people laughing.

It was only after I had my son, spending every precious (exhausting) minute with him as a baby and young child, that I fully understood the larger canvas of creativity.

It was only after I had my son, spending every precious (exhausting) minute with him as a baby and young child, that I fully understood the larger canvas of creativity. And it wasn’t just about him. Freed from the hectic pace of office life, I began to look for ways to help — other children, the elderly, people struggling with groceries. Perhaps the most gratifying moment of all was watching my son create light for others — watching his face fill with the deep joy that this special moment brings.

Of course, we don’t often have the luxury of slowing down time. And because of this, we need to make sure that we nourish our souls so that we can then nourish the souls of others. As I write this, “Ma’oz Tzur” plays softly in the background; it is for me one of the most spiritually cleansing songs of Judaism. Whether it’s music, art, majestic architecture, loving friends and family — we each need to recognize what we need to help us create circles of beauty, moments of light.

And so every year, as I teach my son the story of Hanukkah — the bravery of the Maccabees, the miracle of the oil — I increasingly emphasize a more personal meaning: Just as lighting Hanukkah candles creates a beautiful moment, we can do the same in our everyday lives — through just a smile, a kind word, a sweet gesture. Often it takes just a drop of beauty to light up someone’s world.

Chag sameach.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

‘Wonder’: A Call to Our Better Angels

“Who is it that I aspire to be?” asks Mr. Browne in the new film “Wonder.” “That is the question we should be asking ourselves all the time.”

Mr. Browne is August “Auggie” Pullman’s fifth-grade teacher. Auggie was born with severe facial deformities. By age 10, he has had 27 surgeries, enabling him to breathe, see and hear without an aid.

Still, he continues to look different, or, as Auggie puts it, “not ordinary.” Nevertheless, his mother, having home-schooled him until now, feels he’s ready to enter a mainstream school.

The genius of the story is that it starts out being about Auggie’s resilience in facing the real world without his astronaut helmet to shield him, but evolves into a test of another kind — the other kids’ ability to accept difference.

Not surprisingly, most of the kids don’t do well when first coming into contact with Auggie. They stare, mock him and bully him. They are afraid to touch him, thinking he has “the plague.”

Fortunately, they are surrounded by adults who guide them and teach them that each of us can choose on an hourly basis to reach for our best selves. “When given the choice between being right or kind,” says Mr. Browne, “choose kind.”

A couple of the kids begin to look beneath the surface, to see Auggie’s character — his heart and soul. They discover that he’s not just smart, funny and fun, but he’s a really good friend. Interracial friendships and relationships also blossom.

While Auggie continues to grow stronger, the adults stay on message: Every moment is a choice. No one is born ugly on the inside. We are continually making the choice to live lives of kindness and compassion.

The kids backtrack. Auggie loses confidence. “You are not ugly, Auggie,” reassures his mom, played beautifully by Julia Roberts. “You have to say that because you’re my mom,” Auggie cries.

“Because I’m your mom it counts the most, because I know you the most,” she responds.

True beauty can be found only well beneath the surface.

“Wonder” even teaches compassion for bullies. After hearing about one of the bullies, Auggie’s mom says: “He probably feels badly about himself. When someone acts small, you just have to be the bigger person.”

One can see the movie, based on R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, as one big smack in the face at President Donald Trump and his politics of hate. And, sadly, it is. Watching the movie, one can’t help thinking about Trump mocking a disabled reporter, his bullying of anyone who criticizes him, his repeated attacks on women as “fat” and “ugly.”

But the movie is just as much a rebuke of the fashionable politics of victimhood and conformity. Auggie has no interest in either one. “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out,” says his sister.

The immaturity and cynicism of both political extremes has led to divisiveness worse than in any schoolyard, a space where we now look for the worst in each other. “Wonder” shows the ugliness of people, but more important it shows the beauty — our profound capacity for empathy.

Unfortunately, in our country today the responsible adults seem to have left the room. Who is guiding us to reach for the better angels of our nature, as President Lincoln put it in his first inaugural address? Can a children’s movie become the moral leader the country so desperately needs right now?

One can see the movie … as one big smack in the face at President Donald Trump and his politics of hate.

“Auggie can’t change the way he looks,” says Principal Tushman to the parents of the lead bully, who had Photoshopped Auggie out of the class photo so they wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of their friends. “Maybe we can change the way we see.”

We needed “Wonder Woman” to show us how a strong female leader acts. Perhaps we need “Wonder” to teach us that we — each of us — can be the superheroes of our lives.

Or, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it: “There is a difference between righteousness and self-righteousness. The righteous are humble, the self-righteous are proud. The righteous understand doubt, the self-righteous only certainty. The righteous see the good in people, the self-righteous only the bad. The righteous leave you feeling enlarged, the self-righteous make you feel small.”

The true wonder is that this movie came out just when our country needed it most.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic living in New York City.


"Women of the Wall" also is part of the international exhibition "Passage to Israel" (passagetoIsrael.org).

“Women at the Wall,” Iris Cohenian

“Women at the Wall” is part of the book “Passage to Israel,” a journey through time, place, religion and culture. Curated by Karen Lehrman Bloch, the book shows how the land of Israel became a unique bridge between Africa, Asia and Europe, a profusion of cultures, customs and traditions — a captivating composition of the natural and man-made.

“Women of the Wall” also is part of the international exhibition “Passage to Israel” (passagetoIsrael.org).