Discover more from The Fitzstack
How Should a Left-Wing Politician Answer the Question “What Is a Woman”?
So - what is a woman?
This isn’t about the correct answer to the question; I’m interested in the rhetorical problem. Left-wing politicans need to appeal to normal voters, but are linked to activists whose views are normie-kryptonite. Politcians often hold those views themselves, though I suspect not always.
Thanks for reading The Fitzstack! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Practice doesn’t seem to be making people better at answering the question. I listened at least one well-known podcast in the last week where left-wing amercians expressed dismay that the question is a millstone around their necks that will come back to haunt any Democratic candidate for president in 2024 debates, possibly to terminal effect.
Isn’t it incredible to think there’s a rhetorical problem you can see this far out, which is so simple and so banal, yet apparently so intractable?
Here are a couple of examples of people answering the question, or getting themselves into difficulty by suggesting they hold extreme views on the subject. These weren’t all equally egregious, and not all of the people are politcians. Also, many of the people who ask the questions are often doing so dinsingeuously, and would have equal difficulty answering, but I think the point stands.
Rhetorically, “What is a Woman” is a great example (coming from the right for once, because it’s usually the left who are good at this stuff) of using language to frame-fix. There’s no way of answering the question without getting into biology. The effect is to make whatever politician is answering sound like a fanatical virgin from a religious sect who has somehow reached advanced adulthood thinking that babies come out the mother’s belly-button.
So basically I think answering the question as though asked sincerely is probably a loser. That suggests a couple of different approaches. You could channel Robert McNamara and, as he suggested in the documentary The Fog of War, just answer the question you wished you’d been asked. Channel Ronald Reagan responding to Jimmy Carter and just roll your eyes at a lame, canned gotcha question. And/or channel Chris Rufo and ask what is the structural reason behind asking the question - “I see what you’re doing there”.
I think a plausible response would be to say something like this (imagining it is in a debate setting):
“A woman is a woman. But that’s not what you’re asking. You don’t actually care about women and your record shows that, quite the opposite. What you’re actually asking is how should we treat trans people. I think we should treat them with kindness and respect and not curelty and hatred and derision which is what you want to do. That’s where I’m coming from. I think making small adjustments in language in a small number of cases is not that big a deal to do to allow people to live full and happy lives, and to be who they are.”
Again – I’m not trying to espouse my own political views here, or find an answer that would sound good to literally everyone because that’s impossible. That answer wouldn’t satisfy me, personally. But I think it sounds acceptable to enough normal people, and enough of their base, without coming across as an unelectable laughing-stock, *with the following caveat*.
Where you get killed with the answer above is in the specific follow-up questions about rules that allow access women’s spaces including prisons, changing-rooms, sports teams, refuges; changes to education, and the irreversible medical treatment of children. So in order for that answer to stick, the person responding or their party would need to have a proven track record of sticking up for women and girls (and kids) in situations where their rights and safety are actually at risk. At the very least you would have to have acknowledged that a clash of rights exists and needs to be managed.
If you imply it’s merely a matter of kindness (i.e.: manners) but act legislatively in a way that suggests it’s much more than that, you’ll get found out quickly.
In Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky advises activists to “pick a target, freeze it” and “keep the pressure on” - that is, trap your opponent in a rhetorical losing position they feel they can’t abandon and force them to defend it.
But he also advises “a tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag”. I’m not sure “drag” is the right word here, but there is a definite law of diminshing returns in asking your opponent the same question - “What is a Woman” - again and again and again. The chances someone will answer it well increases with every iteration, as do the chances you’ll be left looking like a mug for asking something so stupid with a self-satisfied look on your face. What you’ve done in that case is freeze yourself, not your enemy.
All of this is to say that if it hasn’t already, the question “What is a Woman” is going to become less and less useful in future. Certainly, by the time the 2024 Presidential debates roll around the chances someone will have found a better way to answer it are pretty high.
But no left-wing politcian in the west has truly been put on the spot in relation to medical treatments for children. That’s presumably because both they and the respectable media undertand how completely insane, grotesque and evil it would sound to pretty much any ordinary person, and so they choose not to foreground it. Yet all left-wing parties, politcians and administrations feel obliged to tacitly (and sometimes openly) support this stuff.
So the TLDR here is that in the medium- to long-term, a left-wing person concerned about electibility should be less worried about the question “What is a Woman” and more worried about what happens (say) in a presidential debate when someone asks Joe Biden in front of millions of people why his administration thinks a thirteen year old girl having an elective mastectomy is not just ok, but a positive good.
As a result of what I call the Dilemma of the Megaphone1, left-wing positions on the issue of the medical treatment of children have not been stress-tested and it is absoultely something that will end a candidacy, or indeed a career, in the very near future. So maybe start worrying about that.
The Dilemma of the Megaphone: if your power over cultural institutions is so strong that you can drown out your opponents, deny them airtime or shout them into reluctant compliance, that can become a problem: because it’s impossible to tell who disagrees with you, the level public support for you ideas, or what your weak points are - until it’s too late.