MATTHEW BOOSE: When the left eats their own

February 9, 2018

It’s a strange thing when the left eats their own.

Rose McGowan, the actor and feminist who played a formative role in starting the #MeToo movement, cancelled the rest of the book tour for her new memoir after suffering backlash over a confrontation with a “trans woman” at an appearance in New York over a week ago.

A video of the exchange went viral on Twitter, and McGowan was widely criticized by the left for being exclusionary toward males who identify as women.

This came just a couple of weeks after lauded feminist author Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, was criticized by radical feminists for suggesting that the due process rights of accused sexual harassers should be protected.

In both of these events, the left’s tendency to punish members of its own tribe was on full display.

McGowan and Atwood’s cases are not isolated outliers — self-destruction is an inevitable result of leftist thinking.

The left’s obsession with a hierarchy of privilege drives its constituent groups apart, while its progressive view of history ends up discrediting reformers present and past for being insufficiently radical.

How the left eats their own

McGowan’s shouting contest with a transgender activist showed the left at its worst — and weakest.

McGowan was speaking at a Barnes & Noble in New York to promote her book, Brave, when a trans woman, Andi Dier, interrupted her and began to heckle McGowan over “transphobic” comments she made on a podcast.

McGowan had said in July, “They [transgenders] assume because they felt like a woman on the inside. That’s not developing as a woman. That’s not growing as a woman, that’s not living in the world as a woman.”

McGowan fired back.

“Don’t label me, sister. Don’t put your labels on me. Don’t you f*****g do that,” McGowan said. She continued:

I’m not worried, I’m f*****g mad with the lies. I’m mad that you put s*** on me because I have a f*****g vagina and I’m white or I’m black or I’m yellow or I’m purple. F*** off! All of us want to say it. I just do!

Here was a feminist activist — who played an instrumental role in bringing down Harvey Weinstein, no less — being criticized for having suggested in the past that men and women are different.

Rather than showing their support for an alleged sexual assault victim, leftists on Twitter — joined by commentators in the left-liberal press — criticized McGowan for her “transphobic” comments. McGowan has since canceled the rest of her book tour amid the fallout of the conflict.

It wasn’t the first time McGowan was criticized for making allegedly transphobic comments. In 2015, she was criticized for remarks she made to Caitlyn Jenner on Facebook:

You want to be a woman and stand with us — well learn us. We are more than deciding what to wear. We are more than the stereotypes foisted upon us by people like you. You’re a woman now? Well f*****g learn that we have had a VERY different experience than your life of male privilege.

The argument between McGowan and Dier brought into focus a fundamental weakness of leftist identity politics: the left’s identity-based coalition is built on shaky foundations crisscrossed by deep biological and cultural divides.

People occupy positions of differing relative status within a hierarchy of privilege dictated by these differences. One’s right to speak is inversely related to one’s place within the hierarchy.

Insofar that McGowan is a woman, she is oppressed.

Insofar that she identifies with her birth sex, she is in a position of privilege, and therefore must defer to the transgender person who heckled her.

The practical effect of these fundamental divides is infighting and instability. The status ascribed to those higher up in the hierarchy breeds resentment among those lower down, thwarting solidarity.

The left counteracts privilege by granting status to those lowest in the hierarchy, but this just ends up alienating those considered to be higher up. By a twisted kind of logic, men who identify as women end up controlling the feminist discourse.

This is not a formula for success. It is a recipe for chaos and disaster.

Chaos Theory

The divisions inherent in identity politics was evident in the radical left’s reaction to McGowan’s meltdown. She was criticized above all as exemplifying a privileged, tone-deaf form of feminism for which McGowan’s mere identity is enough to serve as a pejorative.

To the most radical leftists, “cis white feminism” is an insult.

Differences between the disparate groups on the left cannot be simply wished away. The diverse beliefs and practices of people from different cultures presents a formidable enough barrier to unity. A coalition that tries to unite orthodox Muslims and feminists is not only illogical, it is impractical.

Things get even trickier when biology comes into play. The status of “transgender women” within feminism is a lucid prism for seeing the deep fragmentation within identity politics when biology is a factor.

The left prefers to ascribe differences between groups to social norms because culture can be destroyed with relative ease, but biology is more difficult to overcome. We think of biology as something deeply rooted in our being.

A biological male who identifies as a woman can only claim the status of a woman if we regard biology as negligible in determining a person’s identity.

The exchange between McGowan and the heckler ends up having two very different meanings depending on how you look at it.

Looked at with biology goggles, McGowan, a woman, was verbally attacked by a man.

Looked at with ideology goggles, McGowan, a woman, bullied a more oppressed woman, who rightfully lectured her.

The difference between these two interpretations is indicative of the depth of the divide at the heart of the left’s politics.

Unplanned obsolescence

A couple of weeks before the McGowan incident, author Margaret Atwood suffered a backlash from feminists over an essay she wrote in which she expressed concerns about the #MeToo movement.

“In times of extremes, extremists win. Their ideology becomes a religion, anyone who doesn’t puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic or a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated,” she wrote.

In the essay, Atwood expresses worries that #MeToo is in danger of going south. Her remarks were interpreted by radicals as a shot at less powerful women by an established author. Contradicting Atwood’s injunction to think, she was told to “just listen.”

It’s unlikely that Atwood will lose her place in the literary establishment because of some angry people on Twitter. But the backlash she suffered speaks to another problem with leftist movements: the punishment of the insufficiently radical.

In revolutionary movements, erstwhile radicals — the “old guards” — are eventually punished by their successors for being too moderate. This isn’t a coincidence, but is something deeply baked into leftist thinking and its actual playing out in history.

Examples are not lacking: from the French Reign of Terror to the Soviet purges, leftists have been eating their own for centuries.

At play in the left’s progressive understanding of history is a strange irony. For progressives, the yet-realized utopia of the future is always better than the present.

But by this thinking, it is inevitable that our future selves will look back at the present as unenlightened and oppressive. The future, in turn, will eventually be condemned as unjust by the succeeding generations of that future.

This mindset ends up discrediting reformers both past and present. Since the most important progress remains to be made, the progress already made is not enough.

The thinkers and activists who contributed to past reform come to be viewed as safe, naive, or even cozy friends of the establishment. Once radical activists, writers, and thinkers become victims of unplanned obsolescence.

To the new radicals, the old guard might have played a role in getting the gears of progress turning, but they didn’t go far enough. To the new radicals, liberal feminists like Margaret Atwood who have the audacity to tell people to “think” are the enemy — because they are not radical enough, but mostly because they are old.

The backlash that McGowan and Atwood suffered is deeply ironic but not coincidental. Both events show fundamental weaknesses of leftism at play.

McGowan’s sin was being privileged.

Atwood’s sin was thinking like a feminist from the past.

Both of these trends fracture the unity of the left, but since they are endemic to it, they will not go away. If anything, they will be the left’s downfall.


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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.