Commentary Magazine


Topic: culture war

Dress Codes and the Naked Public Square

In some ways, the left’s overt hostility to religious liberty, as evidenced by the mob-shaming of defenders of basic and once-bipartisan religious freedom protections, is less dangerous than the erosions of liberty that fly under the radar. These usually take the form of advocating for freedom, though it’s an Orwellian game all the more disconcerting for its effectiveness, as evidenced by two recent stories–one on dress codes and the other on the unseen battles of the gay marriage debate.

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In some ways, the left’s overt hostility to religious liberty, as evidenced by the mob-shaming of defenders of basic and once-bipartisan religious freedom protections, is less dangerous than the erosions of liberty that fly under the radar. These usually take the form of advocating for freedom, though it’s an Orwellian game all the more disconcerting for its effectiveness, as evidenced by two recent stories–one on dress codes and the other on the unseen battles of the gay marriage debate.

Over at National Review, Katherine Timpf notes the latest in an ongoing story: the attempt to label school dress codes as part of “rape culture.” This particular incident has to do with a female student at Orangefield County High School in California who was sent home for wearing a shirt over knee-length leggings. But the issue isn’t new, and the branding of dress codes as “rape culture,” as strange as it may sound, is fairly mainstream in American liberalism today.

The idea is that it’s wrong to tell girls to dress in ways that would be less distracting to boys because teenage boys should just keep their eyes on the blackboard. (Teenage boys being famous for their studious self-control in the name of overthrowing an oppressive patriarchal order.) But of course, as Timpf writes, it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition: you can tell girls to dress appropriately while also telling boys to be respectful. (And, by the way, you should tell boys to be respectful.) Additionally, condemning dress codes as stigmatizing is one thing; blaming them for sexual violence is quite another.

And yet the left has made this leap. In 2013, a blog at the Center for American Progress’s ThinkProgress included the following paragraph:

When most Americans think about “rape culture,” they may think about the Steubenville boys’ defense arguing that an unconscious girl consented to her sexual assault because she “didn’t say no,” the school administrators who choose to protect their star athletes over those boys’ rape victims, or the bullying that led multiple victims of sexual assault to take their own lives. While those incidences of victim-blaming are certainly symptoms of a deeply-rooted rape culture in this country, they’re not the only examples of this dynamic at play. Rape culture is also evident in the attitudes that lead school administrators to treat young girls’ bodies as inherently “distracting” to the boys who simply can’t control themselves. That approach to gender roles simply encourages our youth to assume that sexual crimes must have something to do with women’s “suggestive” clothes or behavior, rather than teaching them that every individual is responsible for respecting others’ bodily autonomy.

Notice how the authors have to guide you gently away from reality. When you think of rape, the authors allow, you probably tend to think of rape. But have you considered thinking of things that are not rape, instead?

The more disquieting part of all this is this sentence: “Rape culture is also evident in the attitudes that lead school administrators to treat young girls’ bodies as inherently ‘distracting’ to the boys who simply can’t control themselves.”

And what attitudes recognize–sorry, just assume–that boys can be distracted by girls? Well, for one, religious belief. I attended Jewish schools that not only enforced dress codes but also educated boys and girls in separate classrooms. This is in part because, apparently unlike the Center for American Progress, my school administrators had met teenage boys. But it’s also because modesty in dress is part and parcel of a respectful religious atmosphere that recognizes and channels human nature instead of ignoring it.

But the truth is it doesn’t really matter as long as educational institutions can just go their own way. What the left is trying to do with the “rape culture” allegation is to drive those on the wrong end of the false accusation from polite society. Practicing observant Judaism is, according to the left, perpetuating “rape culture.”

The other troubling story is yesterday’s New York Times article on the fear that now governs the public actions of those opposed to same-sex marriage legalization. The left has come a long way from (correctly) pointing out that terrorism-related detainees at Gitmo deserve legal representation just like any other defendant:

Leading law firms are willing to represent tobacco companies accused of lying about their deadly products, factories that spew pollution, and corporations said to be complicit in torture and murder abroad. But standing up for traditional marriage has turned out to be too much for the elite bar. The arguments have been left to members of lower-profile firms.

In dozens of interviews, lawyers and law professors said the imbalance in legal firepower in the same-sex marriage cases resulted from a conviction among many lawyers that opposition to such unions is bigotry akin to racism. But there were economic calculations, too. Law firms that defend traditional marriage may lose clients and find themselves at a disadvantage in hiring new lawyers.

John Adams defended the British soldiers accused of massacring colonists. But now defending the position held by, among others, Barack Obama just a few years ago is untenable for a major law firm. Again, we’re not even talking necessarily about actually opposing gay marriage in principle. We’re talking about providing legal representation to those who hold that view.

There will be lawsuits stemming from the legalization of gay marriage because religious institutions will want to at least go on practicing their religion in private. But there’s no such thing, anymore. A church or a synagogue or a mosque will be ostracized just as will their legal representation. And traditional religions will be equated with the promotion or enabling of rape.

The future of the public square is bleak.

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Is Social Issue Strategy Helping Dems?

The Washington Examiner reports that Democrats are going to try to keep the Todd Akin controversy alive through their convention. At Powerline, John Hinderaker argues that this is the worst possible move for the Obama campaign:

We can only pray that this report is true, and that the Democrats devote all three days in Charlotte to discussions of abortion rights, rape and contraception. If there is one thing we can say with certainty this year, it is that the overwhelming majority of voters don’t want to hear about the social issues. They want to know how we are going to climb out of the four-year economic funk that has been the Obama administration. If undecided viewers tune into the Democratic convention and hear all about abortion, and tune into the Republican convention and hear all about the economy, Romney will win in a landslide.

The thing is, if Democrats talk about the economy, they also lose. They’ve been running a very targeted campaign since the beginning, reaching out to key groups on issues that are unrelated to the economy. Their main targets are Hispanic voters, women and senior citizens — they’ve already locked up the first group, and apparently they think this will help them with the second.

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The Washington Examiner reports that Democrats are going to try to keep the Todd Akin controversy alive through their convention. At Powerline, John Hinderaker argues that this is the worst possible move for the Obama campaign:

We can only pray that this report is true, and that the Democrats devote all three days in Charlotte to discussions of abortion rights, rape and contraception. If there is one thing we can say with certainty this year, it is that the overwhelming majority of voters don’t want to hear about the social issues. They want to know how we are going to climb out of the four-year economic funk that has been the Obama administration. If undecided viewers tune into the Democratic convention and hear all about abortion, and tune into the Republican convention and hear all about the economy, Romney will win in a landslide.

The thing is, if Democrats talk about the economy, they also lose. They’ve been running a very targeted campaign since the beginning, reaching out to key groups on issues that are unrelated to the economy. Their main targets are Hispanic voters, women and senior citizens — they’ve already locked up the first group, and apparently they think this will help them with the second.

One Republican strategist told the New York Times today that the latest social issues strategy will end up costing Democrats the opportunity to define Paul Ryan before the GOP convention. Maybe — but why does that matter? The Obama campaign had more than enough time to successfully define Sarah Palin post-convention in 2008. And if the last few months are any prediction, Obama’s Mediscare campaign against Ryan in the fall will probably make the Priorities USA steelworker ad look tame.

The point of the Democrats’ “war on women” clamor isn’t to make a case for reelection. It’s to knock Romney and Ryan off-message, and divert attention away from their economic prescriptions at the most critical moment for Republicans. The clock is ticking for Ryan to define himself before the end of the GOP convention, when the Medicare attacks will start up full-force.

Thanks to the Akin debacle, the press is on a hair-trigger right now over any stories that involve abortion or social issues. All it will take is one poorly-phrased remark from a random Republican delegate (or, in a pinch, one explosive comment from Joe Biden in Tampa), and the entire Republican convention will be knocked off-message. Democrats are trying to make sure the GOP convention is about anything other than the economy, and as long as the media remains as cooperative as it has been, there’s a chance it could actually work.

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