Lauren Boebert and the “good man” problem

As a rule, every man should want to be a “good” man, and every woman should want to be a “good” woman. But what is a “good” man, these days?

The thought occurred to me watching a clip from American TV that did the rounds on social media yesterday. Reacting to the possible defeat of US Congresswoman Lauren Boebert – a Trump supporting Congresswoman from Colorado, pictured above – progressive political strategist Kurt Bardella said this on American national television:

“If this woman loses her job, she could become a sex worker” is, apparently, a joke. But an odd one, because it is not one that would ever be made about a man. Reducing women to sex objects when they disagree with you politically is hardly very progressive, or liberal. And it goes without saying that had some prominent Trumpist oaf said the same thing on Fox News about, say, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, we would currently be in the middle of a five-alarm culture war fire about right-wing misogyny that would certainly, by now, have crossed the Atlantic and landed on the pages of the Irish Times.

Anyway, one jackass is just that – one jackass. What’s more interesting is the line of thinking that men are broadly encouraged to take, these days, about what defines a “good man”.

If you had to sum it up in a paragraph, it would probably go something like this: Good men support women. Good men promote women. Good men are allies. Good men let women speak, and do not mansplain. Good men support the right to choose. Good men work towards social justice. Good men care about climate change. 

And so on, and so on. The good man stands with his fist aloft at the march about the current thing, and chants the chant about that current thing, and maybe attends a spoken word session to listen to poems being read about the current thing. The progressive definition of “good man” is increasingly based on whether a man holds the correct political views than it does on whether he is, actually, “good”.

It’s one of the reasons for the popularity of somebody like Jordan Petersen with young men: Like the man, or loathe him, Petersen articulates a message for young men about how they can be good and attractive people while maintaining their intellectual independence. Progressives increasingly reject that: Goodness, or the lack of it, depends almost entirely on what you think, and less about how you behave, day to day.

The problem with that is that it is relatively easy to fake what you think. When the standard in the progressive movement for goodness becomes more about professing respect for women than showing respect for women, your movement becomes a haven for people who don’t respect women at all. You can be the perfect “ally” by wearing a pride pin or attending a pro-choice march, while at the same time viewing women as sex objects first and human beings second. Hell, you can be celebrated for it.

And, it’s easy to be confused: One of the odd things about sexual liberation is that it is, on its face, a celebration of choice. Live your life how you want, feel no shame, do the things that make you feel good and fulfil you. But in practice, it’s not a choice at all: It’s been turned on its head so that the shame is simply reversed, and there’s shame in not being sexually liberated. Virgin, and Prude, and uptight, and so on, are now common insults. Sexual shaming remains one of the most common ways of shaming women, except in reverse – for some progressive men, if you’re not willing to be a sex object, there’s something wrong with you.

It’s important not to over-analyse a lone bad joke, but that was the message, and the humour, behind the joke: That Boebert should give up the day job and go back to what she might be good at – providing sexual entertainment to men.

One of the growing feminist critiques of progressivism and the sexual revolution is that it has been a boon for men like Bardella above: That rather than promoting respect for women, sexual continence and self-discipline is no longer a necessary precondition for entering the “good man” club. While, at the same time familiarity with, and enthusiasm form the latest trend in sexual acrobatics has become a necessary precondition for entering the “liberated woman” club. It’s a pretty good deal, for blokes.

The problem arises with women like Lauren Boebert: Not liberated, not, apparently, sexually available, and certainly not somebody who could be sweettalked with gentle words about how you consider yourself a feminist ally. When women don’t hold up their end of the “deal”, a lot of “good” progressive men suddenly no longer feel as if they need to hold up theirs, and so it’s okay to joke about women maybe being whores again.

Because that’s the thing: While some of these men are certainly “good men” out of genuine conviction, a great many more are “good men” because of a trade they believe they are making – wokeness, in return for more sexual opportunities.

None of us, of course, are perfect. And perhaps, Bardella here just had a brain fart at a bad time, and feels bad about it. But it was revealing, in terms of what costs you a “good man” card, these days, and what does not.

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