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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Toxic Femininity

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Karen Lehrman Bloch
Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic; author of The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World (Doubleday) and The Inspired Home: Interiors of Deep Beauty (Harper Design); Editor of International Political Affairs at The Weekly Blitz; and curator of the book and exhibition Passage to Israel (Skyhorse).

We belong to the light; we belong to the thunder.

My son, Alexander, and I recently discovered the “Pitch Perfect” trilogy. The films, which follow an a cappella group called the Bellas through college, are essentially an ode to female empowerment. Using music as their fuel, the Bellas find themselves and their strengths, both as individuals and as a group.

Aside from loving the signature non-conformity, the films reminded me of the importance of strong female role models. The fact is, women, just like blacks, Jews, Muslims and every other group, need to see strong, proud and effective representations of themselves — it is a key component of empowerment.

With this in mind, I continue to shake my head at the progressive embrace of women like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I should say at the outset that the fact that she fully owns her style and sexuality is not the problem. In fact, it’s a vast improvement over the idea that women had to be neutered to be taken seriously. Feminism never intended for women to give up our femininity.

No, the problem is that we went from pantsuit nation to the glorification of ditziness.

The irony is that progressives, in order to continue to embrace AOC, are now fully reveling in sexism. A few weeks ago, I re-posted a video of AOC rambling. It was, as Alexander would put it, cringey.

But my progressive male friends took offense at my daring to call this out. Their comments could be summed up in this one: “She’s hot; leave her alone.”

“We all know that AOC would not be sitting in Congress right now if some men hadn’t found her attractive.”

Of course, they don’t love her just because they find her attractive. They love her because she tries to spout politics they agree with. But we all know that AOC would not be sitting in Congress right now if some men hadn’t found her attractive. 

The fact that AOC has rebooted a looks-based judgment of women is sadly the least of the problems. Far more dangerous is her glorification of emotional reasoning. Coined in the 1970s by Aaron Beck, the founder of cognitive therapy, emotional reasoning is the process of concluding that your emotional reaction proves something is true.

Emotional reasoning is actually a huge problem for many women, leading to serious issues, most notably depression. And yet Ocasio-Cortez gleefully employs it. “Congress is too old,” she felt compelled to tell Elite Daily. “They don’t have a stake in the game.”

One could argue that the entire “social justice” movement today is built on emotional reasoning: Facts are irrelevant, feelings = reality, words = violence. And the profound ignorance that has resulted from this — from unconscionable articles in The New Yorker that uncategorically defend Rep. Ilhan Omar to the recent UC Berkeley student government meeting, where lies about Jews and Israel showed a breathtaking normalization — seem to bother no one on the left, from editors to administrators. 

The most lasting damage of all of this, though, may be on women. Forget the strong, empowered women of “Pitch Perfect.” Today, young girls see that the women getting all the attention are weak and irresponsible (many in the #MeToo movement), cognitively challenged, prone to emotional outbursts, and totally cool about being reduced to their attractiveness.

It’s toxic femininity, potentially far more dangerous than toxic masculinity.

A recent parody of AOC by an 8-year-old was pitch perfect: “I also want to talk about socialism because socialism is so amazing. Like, socialism is actually short for social media. I do social media, so I’m a socialist.”  

There are many positive aspects of femininity that women can bring to public life. Nurturing, for example. I think one of the reasons Nikki Haley is appealing to people across the political spectrum is that she not only refuses to disown her femininity, but she often uses softness to make tough points. But one never feels as though she allows her emotions to run the show.

Quite the contrary. One gets the impression that all of her decisions stem from deep thought. It is my profound hope that she finds running for president a well-reasoned choice for herself. Because, of the many positives I believe she can offer, possibly the most positive is her ability to show the intent of real feminism: producing a well-educated, thoughtful, kind and respectful woman to lead this country.


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

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