A Response to Anthony Esolen Regarding Women and Hysteria
November 2, 2018
Anthony Esolen is an author whom I’ve enjoyed reading. I have respect for his work and his integrity to speak his convictions even when it costs him something. This is why I was so troubled to read his convictions in his latest article for the New English Review, Hysteria and the Need for Male Leadership. The title alone is disturbing. It reduces women to a term loaded with historical baggage. Based on the Greek word for uterus, hysteria refers to extreme irrationality and excessive emotion. The title portrays that since uteruses cause women to have “ungovernable emotional access,” women cannot lead.
Esolen plays out this theme by addressing the hearing regarding the sexual allegations against Mr. Brett Kavanaugh, which he calls “the ghastly farce,” and his confirmation as Supreme Court Justice. The article goes on to describe how the whole ghastly farce happened because we are listening to women. He concludes:
Hysteria is not a new thing in the world. Think of Salem. The new thing here is that Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis are sitting at the bench. What is to be done? The same as must be done for the colleges that the politics of hysteria has ruined. Men must build their brotherhoods again, from the ground up, and be once again, if unacknowledged, the legislators of our common life.
I couldn’t believe my eyes while I read through to this conclusion. Is he equating the two girl accusers from the Salem Witch Trials to women sitting on the Supreme Court bench? Is the problem with our society and the outrage between the tribes on the left and the right due to women?
Apparently the “hysteria” around the Kavanaugh hearing is a good picture of how our whole society is becoming feminized. Esolen first makes the point that citizens no longer care about the actual vocation of the Supreme Court, as we are ruled entirely by our emotions. He then describes how inept our senate is today saying, “Ours is like a football game with referees but no rules—better if you had no referees at all. A brawl in a barroom ends when the men’s arms grow tired. Our civic violence, because there are no rules but there are referees, never ends.”
I agree with some of the critique Esolen offers. When charges are made, we need to care about actual corroborating evidence, not slander or gossip. The Kavanaugh hearing was a mess from the way it was handled by the politicians to the social media mob mentality and death threats on both Kavanaugh and Ford. It was sickening to see how it all played out in front of the public eye. Ultimately, Dr. Ford’s testimony could not be corroborated and Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. I agree that we cannot “ruin a man’s life” without evidence. Many men and women slandered both Kavanaugh and Ford during this process.
The next point Esolen raises about the hearing is the need for a statute of limitations for accusations such as Dr. Ford’s:
People forget things. They invent and imagine things. They make artificial sense of things that were not related. This is especially true when no definite crime has been committed.
Here Esolen moves from the argument of how accusations can ruin a man’s life to downplaying the nature of the charges. First he suggests that Dr. Ford is remembering it all wrong. Clearly Anthony Esolen has never been a victim of sexual assault. That is not something that you can easily forget. It is a definite crime against your very dignity as a human being made in the image of God. I may not remember what I said last week, but I certainly would remember if someone attempted to rape me when I was a teenager. I would remember if I was scared for my life as two drunken boys locked me in a room against my will and held me down trying to take my clothes off! While Brett Kavanaugh may be innocent of the charges, we must not pretend that they were no big deal. This kind of talk is exactly why women may wait 30 years to speak out.
And the message we send to sexual assault victims who are watching should never be “just get over it.” That is what Esolen says, adding that maybe the reason Dr. Ford can’t get over such a thing is because she is a woman and she is taking things too seriously:
Battles must end. In the jubilee year, slaves are set free, and that is that. When boys in the old days got into a scrap, they would often pick themselves up, more dusty than hurt, and become friends again. What’s done is done. If we are not talking about a serious crime that was committed and not just intended or imagined or, the agent in a drunken stupor, placed within the realm of possibility—an act such as murder, arson, kidnapping, or rape—it is destructive of the common good to hold people responsible for bad things done long ago.
Esolen continues to lament that “If you are a drunken teenage boy and you grab a girl when she does not want it, that’s a hanging offense.” I agree that is not a hanging offense. But we don’t only have the two options of hanging groping punks or shrugging our shoulders. Let’s not send that message to our children. Esolen points out the hypocrisy of wanting to hang a man for groping while simultaneously fighting for the rights of fornication and adultery. Sure, there are many male and female hypocrites out there (none advocating for hanging, by the way). But in describing these hypocrites, he uses the language of a mother bear guarding her cubs to further perpetuate the uterus/hysteria message from the title. Christians should be speaking out about all sexual sin. In that case, I wonder how Esolen would feel if a man groped him in the privates and he was powerless to do anything about it? Is it no big deal? Of course not, it is a terrible violation. However, this is not even the point. I agree, “justice demands distinctions.” Again, the testimony against Kavanaugh is far more serious than unwanted groping!
He rightly says that “we hate rape because it is vicious and violent, an offense against the vulnerability of woman,” but then adds, “not to mention subjecting her to the possibility of a life-altering pregnancy.” Unwanted pregnancy isn't the only life-altering consequence rape victims have to bear for the rest of their lives. Here again, I see women reduced to their uteruses. We are more than bodies with sex organs that produce babies. Rape affects a woman’s soul, her mind, and her whole psyche. And for this, we don’t only hate rape, but attempted rape as well. I am not saying that is what Kavanaugh did. But that is the nature of the charges.
Next, Esolen begins to explain the differences between men and women in broad strokes. Men pride themselves in knowing when to bend the rules to fit the case. Women are incapable of this and cannot be objective with their own children, favoring them over others. He continues:
…the female of the species, which is, as Kipling says, “more deadly than the male.” The male can be fair to other men’s children against his own. That is not in the female nature. That great admirer of women, G. K. Chesterton, said that there are only three things that women do not understand: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. He meant, by all three together, the lively liberty that a brotherhood of men enjoys when they argue with one another in a club or a beer hall or a college dining room, and no argument is ruled out for its being put forward by a plumber and not a professor, and everyone tacitly agrees that you have a right neither to an opinion nor to any tender feelings regarding your opinion, but rather to an argument. Women in our universities have given notice that they will not abide that masculine punch and counter-punch. Hence the “safe space,” safe for a cancer.
Esolen continues to run nostalgic on the good ol’ days when were settled in the beer hall. For the sake of brevity, I will just fire off some concluding thoughts:
• You cannot reduce men and women to Victorian stereotypes and call that an argument.
• I've been around enough childhood sports events to see that men are not objective with their own children!
• Has Esolen EVER been in a barroom fight to settle an argument?
• Sounds like men were ruled by ungoverned passion in the good ol’ days. Fueled by beer. I think those were the days that many of them returned home to their families in a violent stupor.
• I know plenty of women who make good, sober arguments that are just ignored.
• It is simply not true that there are no power dynamics of class and social status in the brotherhood.
• He's the one arguing for a safe space!
• I know how to give a pretty darn good punch and counter punch, buddy.
Esolen concludes that women are despots who govern for their own interests. Listening to women these days is like listening to two girls who ignited the mob mentality hunting witches in the elate 17th century. After all, even with all the progress we’ve made in society, we still have uteruses.