AMAC Exclusive – By David Lewis Schaefer
It’s become hard to be both a progressive and a feminist in today’s America.
The situation wasn’t always thus. The progressive and feminist movements long went hand in hand, as both movements genuinely cared about women’s interests.
The great abolitionist and ex-slave Frederick Douglass participated in the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 and was a lifelong advocate of women’s right to vote, which he saw as linked with black people’s struggle for emancipation.
In the second decade of the 20th century, three constitutional amendments were enacted thanks to the combined advocacy of the progressive and feminist movements: the 16th (the income tax), the 18th (Prohibition), and the 19th (guaranteeing women’s suffrage).
Prohibition was a feminist issue because of the blight of alcoholism that ruined the lives of many families. (The original feminists were generally strong supporters of the traditional family.) Although the “noble experiment” went too far and had to be repealed, it did have a lasting effect in reducing alcohol consumption.
The 16th Amendment prepared the ground for prohibition by providing the federal government with an alternative source of revenue to replace the excise taxes on alcohol from which it had previously drawn much of its receipts.
But things have changed, owing to the transformation of progressivism into wokeism. Two recent stories, both covered in the New York Post,illustrate the problem.
The first details a bill introduced by Tiffany Cabán, a Democrat New York City Councilwoman from Queens and longtime advocate of decriminalizing “sex work.” Cabán’s bill would direct taxpayer-funded assistance to past and present prostitutes, along with strippers, as part of the city’s responsibility “to protect the health, safety, and economic well-being of all New Yorkers, regardless of what they do for a living.”
Furthermore, her bill would require the mayor’s Office of Equity to create a “sex-worker opportunity program” funneling grants to groups that work with those involved in the sex trade. Finally, Cabán’s bill would prohibit “housing discrimination” against sex workers – that is, any attempt by landlords to exclude prostitutes from renting rooms in their buildings in order to pursue their profession.
The second case is the candidacy for district attorney in another New York borough, The Bronx, of a leftist named Tess Cohen. Cohen boasts of her work as a former assistant D.A. in the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor in Manhattan, where she claims to have devoted herself to supporting the victims of sexual assault, whose voices she claims, “are often ignored or further traumatized by the criminal justice system.”
In her bio, however, Cohen, a graduate of Columbia Law School, omits mention of her work as an attorney in Manhattan’s ZMO Law firm, whose website describes its “focus on clients accused of child pornography [and] other sex crimes,” including “sexual assault.” Her work at ZMO, the Post reports, included representing a client whose criminal record involved molesting a 12-year-old girl when he was 24 (a charge to which he pleaded guilty), and who pleaded guilty eight years later (this past December) to possessing phones that contained over 1,200 images and videos of child pornography.
The founder of ZMO has accused New York’s state government for years of being excessively punitive toward sex offenders, and denounces the maintenance of a registry of such offenders as a “scarlet letter” offering little service to public safety. Others might think it useful to have such a registry available to check before hiring individuals to work in positions dealing with children, for instance, or in public safety.
Cohen, however, sees matters differently. If elected, she promises not only to shut down the city’s main prison at Rikers Island, but also to “release as many people as possible” from jail. Describing her outlook as “very progressive,” she repeatedly emphasizes her opposition to the police.
Cohen even promises to make New York safer by “improving on the abysmal conviction rates for sexual assault in The Bronx” – rates she has done her best to keep down through her work at ZMO. Cohen’s past has prompted some New Yorkers to ask: While all accused criminals, sex offenders included, are entitled to counsel, do we really want as a prosecutor someone who has done her best to prevent them, when guilty, from being punished?
Both the policies advocated by Cabán and Cohen compel us to ask what it means to be a progressive feminist in the current environment. Will American society or the condition of women really have “progressed,” that is, been improved, by legalizing prostitution, helping to finance the business, and guaranteeing its practitioners the right to pursue their trade in any building where they can find an available apartment? Even in libertine Amsterdam, the prostitutes are confined to a red-light district.
Moreover, how will any of these policies advance the cause of women’s dignity and respect? And how will emptying the jails and cutting back on the size of the police force – this at a time when violent crime has mushroomed throughout America’s cities, including New York – help protect women, who are more vulnerable to violent crime?
In reality, the pseudo-progressivism espoused by Cabán and Cohen reflects a deeper cultural rot that is exhibited in two other stories also covered by the Post.
First is a piece on a new HBO series titled “The Idol,” starring Lily Rose Depp, daughter of Hollywood bad-boy Johnny Depp, that has been called “torture porn” and features nudity, masturbation, and sadomasochism starting in the first episode. The series is produced by Sam Levinson (not to be confused, for you seniors out there, with the genial, similarly named comedian and schoolteacher of the Ed Sullivan show back in the 1950s), who has already distinguished himself by producing another HBO show, “Euphoria,” known, in the Post’s words, “for its outrageous depiction of sex and drugs among teens.”
Just how many parents who subscribe to HBO will be able to prevent their offspring from watching these shows (either at home or at friends’ houses), and adversely affecting their offspring’s moral development?
But then, why wait until the kids approach puberty? At trendy and pricey private schools in New York City like the Dalton School, “sexuality curriculums” are being introduced starting in kindergarten, as the Post also reports. Some such schools ask about children’s “gender identity” and preferred pronouns on their kindergarten application forms.
Dalton was criticized in 2021 for showing how-to masturbation videos to first graders. At another such institution, the Collegiate School, children as young as five are being taught that “there is no right or wrong way to be a boy or a girl.” It isn’t much of a leap, following this logic, to judge that there is no right or wrong way to approach intimate relationships as a grownup.
Unfortunately, neither the excesses of woke progressives directing private school curricula nor the corruption of young people’s morals by TV networks whose sole focus is on the bottom line can be prevented, in a free or liberal society like today’s America, through government intervention.
In the end, then, the solution must lie with citizens sufficiently confident in their understanding of right and wrong, willing to risk condemnation by progressive media for their allegedly backward attitudes, and prepared to speak out (and vote) against the lunacies espoused by politicians like Cabán and Cohen.
They must also be prepared to “pull the plug” on media like HBO (boycotts seem to have worked pretty well in punishing the “trans” advertising agenda adopted by Bud Light and Target), and to refuse to send their kids to trendy woke private schools, even at the potential cost of interfering with their offspring’s hoped-for pipeline to Harvard.
Never in American history has the need been greater for American citizens to act both privately and publicly to uphold the principles of moral decency, and support a legislative, judicial, and law-enforcement system that preserves public order and hence the real rights of individuals, as these have long been known in civilized political societies. This was certainly the view of America’s founders, and all of her greatest statesmen since the 17th century, who have recognized that the preservation of self-government and the rule of law depends on the maintenance of an educational system that inculcates civic virtue in cooperation with (not in place of) stable families.
By all accounts, this is also what the vast majority of today’s women want as well.
David Lewis Schaefer is a Professor of Political Science at College of the Holy Cross.
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