Political Correctness and Sex Appeal

Sydney Carton. (character in Charles Dickens'. "A Tale of Two Cities"). Frederick Barnard, c.1895.

Sydney Carton. (character in Charles Dickens’. “A Tale of Two Cities”). Frederick Barnard, c.1895.

Political Correctness and Sex Appeal 

These would seem to be unrelated topics. But not in my world.

First, about this Political Correctness mania. It is starting to act like a cumulonimbus cloud, soaked in its own heavy humidity, making us land dwellers underneath feel sluggish and anxiety-ridden. PC particulates are affecting us on the molecular level.

You can’t say that,

and you can’t say that either.

Since we don’t want to feel ourselves caving under pressures we can’t fathom – we want to think of ourselves as standup characters, free and fearless – our only recourse, if we want to keep self-esteem high, is not to think all those things you can’t say. So PC morphs imperceptibly into thought control.

Well, robots might appeal to some. But you don’t want to be one. It might be kinky but it’s not sexy.

So, what’s the link between PC and sex appeal? What do they have to do with each other? Well, search me. But a story comes to mind. This is a true story. Only the names are omitted.

I belong to a temple. This kind of membership is a new thing in my life. A city-bred kid, I began to feel bits of identity peeling off when I left Manhattan and moved to Bucks County. The temple came into my life partly to solve this “identity” problem, as it is called, though partly for other reasons.

The denomination I joined has a membership that mostly knows the practices of Judaism. I don’t, but I feel generally accepted nevertheless and have had a high regard for the first rabbi and his present successor.

On the other hand, this denomination has a national action committee with which I have so many disagreements on particular issues that I sometimes sum it up by saying:

“When they’re happy, I’m unhappy; when they’re unhappy, I’m happy.”

In the early days of my temple membership, the official at the helm of the denomination’s national action committee endorsed a certain policy that I thought ill-advised. So I wrote him, a letter taking issue with the policy he had promoted in my name. Since then, the official has gone up the ladder of status and influence to a high position: something like the controller of religious traffic in our galaxy. Back then, however, he had time for me and sent a personal reply.

His reply managed to label me a “racist.” I forget whether the “r” word was literally applied or only implied. But Jerry, my husband, who is often politically more savvy than me, advised me to back off and drop the correspondence.

“Once they call you that, there’s no point in trying to get the

discussion back on a rational track. It’s gone.”

I thought about that. And I did not like it. Who is this official, to shut me down? Does he care about the issues in dispute more than I do? Does he know about them – more than I do? I very much doubted it. Did he use a winning argument? Not bloody likely.

What did he use, really? What’s he telling me? He’s telling me that

I’m a Jewish girl he wouldn’t go out with!

Well, he’s a Jewish boy I wouldn’t go out with!

Really and sincerely, I wouldn’t, supposing we were in a dating situation. Keeping that epiphany firmly in view, I returned to the epistolary fray. I don’t recall in any detail what my letter did, but I know what it didn’t do. It didn’t cringe and it didn’t beg pardon.

His reply was far more gentlemanly — even faintly deferential! Maybe he decided he could ask me for a date after all. Good lad!

What had happened? For clues, let’s look back a few centuries at the history of PC in the civilization of Europe. At the start of the French Revolution, the more radical deputies took seats on the left side of the amphitheater where the National Assembly was convened. As devotees of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, they held themselves duty-bound to reflect the unified will of the people (the “general will”). What followed logically was that any expression of an individual’s will could get denounced as a deviation from the collective will. Dissenters, labeled “enemies of the people,” were accordingly carted off to the public place where the guillotine could relieve them of their dissenting heads.

“Political Correctness “ is just the latest in the long line of such exercises. As Dickens portrays the last thoughts of Sydney Carton, one sacrificial victim of the guillotine:

I see … long ranks of new oppressors

who have risen on the destruction of the old,

perishing by this retributive instrument 

before it shall cease out of its present use.

Our current version doesn’t decapitate but it might as well, since the head with the dissenting voice is shut down, as far as the shared, public conversation goes.

That being the historical background of PC and its still-applicable modus operandi, what did I do to drain its power, in my dispute with the high-level representative of my religion?

Political Correctness is the strategy of a sexual loser. Erotic life is not a monologue. If you make it so, you’re losing the precise eros of the situation. What I must have done was to insist,

hey mister know-it-all and be-it-all,

there’s a woman

sharing your conversational space.

Get back, mister.

Two persons are here,

not just you.

I wasn’t trying to be explicitly “feminine.” But my very pushback had a womanly motivation.

I don’t have to please you.

You have to please me –

at least as much.









About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to Political Correctness and Sex Appeal

  1. Mary Wiseman Goldstein says:

    There is another dimension of the political correctness issue that is not mentioned here. It is that if an individual or a group of like-minded individuals does not agree with a certain position, he often, these days, dismisses the belief as being no more than a matter of political correctness. This is to show great disrespect to those who hold the position under criticism: it denies that he or she holds the position because she believes that it is right or true and demeans her integrity and her mind by claiming that she can’t hold it on its merits–for, he insists, it has no merits. Therefore, unless she is a fool, she can only be maintaining the position because she thinks that is what she is supposed to maintain.

    The author gives an example of in effect being bullied for not being politically correct. It is, however, as often the case that one is bullied for being (what is dismissed as being) politically correct. This happens when one’s opinions are derided as mere PC and therefore not worthy of respect. An easy way to try to defeat an opponent, then, is simply to charge him or her with political correctness. A recent example, of course, is Donald Trump’s accusing Megyn Kelly of merely being politically correct in objecting to his calling some women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”

    • Abigail says:

      I couldn’t agree more and thank you, Mary, for your bracing reminder: the whole wide spectrum of opinion is put at risk when bullying trumps civil discourse. When people are shut down on grounds irrelevant to their argument, mutual respect is lost and the mutual search for truth — which is the real joy of the argument we do in philosophy and the honor of it — is also lost.

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