Natural sex differences versus liberal individualism

Annika Sorenstam’s dramatic but unsuccessful participation in a men’s professional golf tournament has happily confirmed the conservative view of society, says National Review editor Richard Lowry in the New York Post. Her failure to make the cut for the final two rounds, he writes, demonstrates that women really are different from men; and her gracious concession in defeat helps our feminism-addled society accept that fact.

While this is all well and good, it does not remove the grounds of my initial criticism of Lowry, who in his earlier article on Sorenstam wrote: “If she can play with the big boys, why not?” Now perhaps this was just a casual remark that Lowry didn’t really mean. But if he did mean it, he was suggesting that if a woman golfer came along who was more talented than Sorenstam and could play competitively with the men, or if an exceptionally qualified woman came along who was capable of functioning in some other naturally all-male organization like the Navy Seals or the Army Special Forces or the Catholic priesthood or whatever, then Lowry would have no principled objection to that woman’s being admitted into that formerly all-male profession. Furthermore, given the dynamics of liberal society, we know that the admission of one woman, even if no one had intended it at the start, would inevitably bring further, radical consequences in its wake—the altering of standards, attacks on the “male culture,” angry demands for the inclusion of more women, and so on.

Thus Lowry’s attitude on this issue, like that of most conservatives in liberal society, is strangely bifurcated. Insofar as he acknowledges and rejoices in the reality of natural sex differences and the resulting differentiated sex roles, he is a traditionalist. But insofar as he makes the principle of individualism his bottom line, he is a liberal. As a traditionalist, he assumes, and prefers, that natural sex differences will do their dependable job of separating men from women in the areas of life where such separation is needed and appropriate. But, as a liberal, when faced with a strong individual exception to the general rule of sex difference, he has no principle that can stand against the inclusion of a woman in a previously—and naturally—all-male instititution; which inclusion must of necessity lead to the transformation of that institution and the breakdown of the very sex distinctions that Lowry values.

The underlying problem with liberal individualism is that human beings are substantively always more than their individual selves, being formed by their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, and so on. Therefore the reconstruction of society according to the principle of liberal individualism can never stop at a “neutral” equality of theoretically “equal” individuals, but must erase their substantive differences as well, and so alter the substance of society. For example, it was the principle of “individual worth,” elevated above common-sense considerations of ethnicity and culture, that opened America’s borders to the world in 1965. Cultural and national differences didn’t matter, the immigration reformers in Congress kept repeating; only “individual worth” mattered. But the tens of millions of presumptively worthy individuals who have been admitted into the United States since 1965 have, inevitably, brought their cultures with them, and have utterly transformed our country in the process.

To criticize liberal individualism is not to criticize the principal of individuality that is central to Western and Christian culture. But unlike liberalism, traditional Western culture is based on a balancing between the individual and the larger wholes (such as sex, ethnicity, and culture) to which the individual belongs; while liberalism, even conservative liberalism, ultimately denies the validity of any larger wholes, making the individual and his desires supreme.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 06, 2003 12:52 PM | Send


As a participant in the previous thread on this subject, I congratulate Mr. Auster on a clear and succinct explanation of the issue involved. I supported Annika’s playing in the Colonial tournament only on the basis of it being a one-time thing, and the results demonstrated why it will likely remain a rarity for women to enter the domain of men’s athletics. Furthermore, golf is a sport in which a woman has a better chance at being competitive than others. Tennis’s unquestioned number one, Serena Williams, was emphatic in expressing her desire NOT to compete against the men, and in track & field one need only look at numbers, i.e., Flo-Jo’s phenomenal and seemingly invincible 10.49 100 meters, which would not win most state high school meets. I think it is in the issue of military combat, where there are certainly some women who could outperform some men, that the problem is best exemplified (as a sports fan with a longtime interest in women’s sports, I’ve seen some!). Though the percentage would be very small, surely in the name of individualism these women should be given their chance, no? In accord with Mr. Auster’s comments, I think not—not only for the other practical difficulties which would ensue (i.e., sharing close quarters and the temptations undermining the mindset needed for combat preparedness), but mainly for the fact that at some point a society must take a stand on whether it wants the breeders of its future population to risk their lives and those of future generations in doing a job that is, unquestionably, in a general sense, done better by men. What nation with any respect for its existence could endorse a role model for women which would undermine the very basis of societal reproduction. Where would Rich Lowry stand on this?

Posted by: Dan on June 6, 2003 6:04 PM

It seems the confusion men and women are trying to deal with is probably caused by many reasons. One reason could be that humans succumb to thinking distortions. Some or maybe most people think people have worth in the way money has worth. In other words, some people think some people have greater worth than others. A common idea is Bill Clinton is worth more than Dan Quayle because Bill Clinton is brainy relative to Mr. Quayle. The problem is worth has no meaning when comparing humans, who are not commodities that can be traded.

More than a few men and women, being ever prideful humans, believe the fantasy that a human is somehow worth more if the human is physically stronger and faster, braver, more decisive, etc., than other humans. This idea of worth seems deeply implanted by modern mind bending hypnotics such as television, advertising (lying), and film. Consider the images of the movie The Matrix, with women being as strong as, as fast as, and as brave as men. Recall the bloated James Cameron movie The Titanic, with the lovely maiden kicking down a door to save her NO MORE courageous lover. Recall the fascinating movie Alien, wherein the sole survivor of a war was female.

This distortion has resulted in women defining themselves relative to men. In the business world, women have taken to wearing pants and women’s “suits,” skirted versions of male suits. Women wrestlers, women boxers, and women body builders are other ways of defining women relative to men. Moderns fail to idealize the relaxing, satisfying, and practical activities of sewing, music, song, and theatre. It might be fun to watch two housewives compete over the make-over of a room. One writer has observed that women buy 75% of fantasy novels. This might explain why anyone familiar with the modern version of the fantasy genre notices that, almost invariably, most (and always at least one) of the women are deadlier, braver, and smarter than all the men, who exist to indulge the fantasies of the women readers, that is, to be manipulated by women and to satisfy the contradictory romantic fantasies of the women characters. These fantasies might be as harmless as cartoons, but the relentless comparison of the relative worth of men and women seems dangerous.

Perhaps God was trying to teach us with St. Joan (of Arc fame). The idea might be that St. Joan is a woman, who has equal worth ( and at any future date, can have equal worth) to any man in God’s eyes but whose behavior will inevitably result in death and should be avoided by women.

Posted by: P Murgos on June 7, 2003 12:28 AM
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