Saturday, November 12, 2016

A validation gap?

A number of Clinton supporters have directed their anger at white women for supporting Trump. One of these Clintonistas is an American writer and feminist by the name of Lindy West. I found her thoughts on the issue particularly interesting, as she spelled out the underlying, psychological reasons for her passionate support for Hillary. In claiming that white women had "pawned their humanity" in voting for Trump she wrote:
I got up on Election Day and burst into tears — not a genteel twin trickle but a great heaving burst, zero to firehose. Tears spattered the inside of my glasses, dripped from my lips, and left mascara-tinged rosettes blooming black in my cereal milk.

“Honey,” my husband crooned to me. “Honey, it’s going to be O.K. The numbers are still good. It’s O.K.”

But it wasn’t the numbers. I wasn’t sobbing because I was afraid Hillary Clinton was going to lose. That would come later. I was sobbing Tuesday morning because, as I poured my coffee, I’d caught a glimpse of a cable news interview with Mrs. Clinton just after she voted for herself in Chappaqua, N.Y. She seemed breathless, exhilarated, a little overwhelmed. Over her shoulder, Bill Clinton stared at his wife and beamed.

My husband stares at me like that sometimes. It’s not just love — we expect husbands to love their wives — but something less traditional, more conditional and gendered. It’s professional respect. It’s pride.

We’re accustomed to that pride flowing the other direction, from wife to husband, because men in our culture get to be more than just bodies, do more than just nurture. Men get to act and excel and climb and aspire and thrive and win and rule and be the audacious, hungry fulcrum of public life. It is normal for men to have ambition. It is normal for women to stand aside.

...I cried because I want my daughters to feel that blazing pride, that affirmation of their boundless capacity — not from their husbands, but from their world, from the atmosphere, from inviolable wells of certainty inside themselves. I cried because it’s not fair, and I’m so tired, and every woman I know is so tired. I cried because I don’t even know what it feels like to be taken seriously — not fully, not in that whole, unequivocal, confident way that’s native to handshakes between men. I cried because it does things to you to always come second.

Whatever your personal opinion of the Clintons, as politicians or as human beings, that dynamic is real. We, as a culture, do not take women seriously on a profound level. We do not believe women. We do not trust women. We do not like women.

I understand that many men cannot see it, and plenty more do not care. I know that many men will read this and laugh, or become defensive, or call me hysterical, or worse, and that’s fine. I am used to it. It doesn’t make me wrong.

But maybe this election was the beginning of something new, I thought. Not the death of sexism, but the birth of a world in which women’s inferiority isn’t a given.

After I had read this it occurred to me that what she was really seeking in having Hillary elected was psychological validation. She has a hunger for validation. She wants her daughters to feel "that affirmation of their boundless capacity...from their world, from the atmosphere, from inviolable wells of certainty inside themselves". She is crying out "World please validate me and save me from feelings of inferiority". She believes that having a female president might deliver this.

Her quest for validation has led her to reject the feminine in favour of the masculine. She sees men shaking hands firmly, having self-confidence and energy and she is envious. She thinks that men are being given something by society, that they have been placed on a track by society that gives them this sense of inner validation. She wants it for herself. And so she wants to cast off the feminine and adopt the masculine.

In one sense, she's right. Men probably do have, on average, a more securely anchored sense of themselves and so do not seek external validation as much as women do. But I think Lindy West is wrong to assume that this is because society has empowered men to have ambition and denied this to women.

After all, we have had many female world leaders now; we have had women rising through the professions; we have had generations of girls raised to be ambitious at work. Lindy West herself has a relatively powerful and prestigious career as a journalist. If Lindy West were right, then women should now be amassing a treasure trove of validation, but instead Lindy West finds herself crying into her morning cereal.

And what of men? If Lindy West's theory were right, then ambitious, powerful men should feel validated, other men not. But it often doesn't work out this way. There are plenty of men working very humble jobs, who nonetheless have the self-confident, knockabout qualities that Lindy West seems so envious of.

So the question is this. How does an individual come to have a confident and secure sense of themselves as having worth as an individual?

There's no single thing, is there? If a son receives a good dose of mother love as a child, this helps. The same if a daughter grows up lovingly protected by her father. Genetics contributes something.

From here there is a gap between traditionalists and liberal moderns. Traditionalists can find worth for the individual in things that transcend individual life. For instance, if the masculine virtues have an inherent worth, and I as a man can embody some of these virtues, that then gives worth to who I am as an individual. Similarly, if there is a beauty in nature that has inherent value and I can perceive this and feel connected to it, then that too will add to my sense of worth as an individual.

For secular liberals, things are more difficult, as there is only the individual and his choices - there is no connection to things that have objective, transcendent value. So how do I prove my worth if I am a liberal? It has to be through things that mark out a purely personal, individual achievement, such as social popularity, sexual success, sporting achievements and, most of all, careers.

I can't be sure, but I suspect there is a major split between the kind of women who support Trump and those who support Clinton. The Clinton women are more likely to think that individual worth comes the liberal way (sexual conquests, social status, career advancement) and so are sensitive to the fear that they are being held back in achieving this because they are women. Lindy West is a case in point in how this is failing women. Despite women being given the green light to do whatever they want to, she still feels invalidated in her life. She hasn't gained a sense of worth from these pursuits alone and in seeking worth through these things she has turned on her own feminine identity.

The Trump women, I suspect, still look to more traditional sources of worth for themselves as individuals. Perhaps, they see a transcendent value in family and their own role in family life as wives and mothers. Perhaps they see a transcendent value in the larger communal traditional they belong to (i.e. in their identity as Americans) and don't wish to see this dissolved within a tide of globalisation and open borders. Perhaps they see a transcendent value in womanhood itself, and are uncomfortable with its declining status in the modern world or with the attempt to dissolve sex distinctions between men and women.

One final point. Liberal women see no reason to be loyal to the men of their own community. If all you are doing is pursuing sexual conquests; amassing likes on social media; and pursuing a career then why do you need to stand in solidarity with the men of your community? There's no logical reason to do so, especially if you believe these men are your competition.

Once you see yourself, though, as part of a family, a community, a culture and a civilisation, then you do have a reason for loyalty. And it is a good thing for men and women to be connected to each other in this way. It is an ugly part of modern life that men and women have been so set apart.


  1. Career success is a zero-sum game. Half of all people will be below average in career success, even if the average keeps moving up over the decades. How are the women in the bottom half going to find validation, per the feminist model?

    1. Good point, particularly as liberals believe that they are serving up human equality. In some ways, it's even worse than you describe as there is always someone higher up the ladder than you are, and therefore you are likely to feel that you are being robbed in some way of something that defines your human worth. It's a recipe for discontent. In a traditional society, the sources of human dignity are open to everyone: moral integrity, manhood/womanhood, family, nation, church/religion, nature, art and so on.