Kathryn Jean Lopez talks to author Ashley McGuire about men and women and how the sexes can survive the culture
“Pope Francis recently ruffled feathers,” Ashley McGuire writes in her new book Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female, “when he said that ‘gender theory’ amounts to a ‘global war on the family.’ It’s true, because if sex is meaningless, and the sexes don’t need each other or have different contributions to make, then why band together? Why should a man stick around to help the mother of his children when the media celebrates the record number of households headed by single moms as some sort of feminist triumph?”
McGuire talks about the book, feminism, and faith.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: You’re a convert and with the Catholic Association. How has your faith helped you see clearly on matters of sex? In terms of difference between men and women and an unpopular morality?
Ashley McGuire: My first real exposure to the Catholic Church was actually on the issue of contraception. I thought the Church’s prohibition against it was the most “out there” thing I had ever heard of, and was so intrigued by something so countercultural that I just wanted to know how anyone could seriously hold that view. I read Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Man, Woman, and The Meaning of Love. I was not expecting to read the entire book in one sitting and to find his logic completely foolproof. I always tell people that when I closed the book, sitting on my dorm room bed at Tufts University, I could almost hear an audible “crack” in my universe, because I knew I had to walk in the direction of something so beautiful and true and could just tell my life was going to really change.
Since then, my faith has helped me see these matters so clearly because my faith’s teaching is so clear on these matters. Not just is the Church clear, but so clearly teaches from a point of view of love. People so desperately want to be happy and loved, and yet they so often resist the one institution reaching out to them with love.
Lopez: Who are “the gender radicals”?
Ashley McGuire: I think a lot of people on the other side of this debate are well meaning and genuinely think that the path to equality involves eradicating sex differences — they see the differences as the source of inequity. But I think there are others who have a more radical agenda, which is to go after nature itself in the doomed quest for pure individualism, self-satisfaction, radical choice. These are the people who will not let children be children and want to teach first graders that gender is a fluid spectrum, something a rational adult cannot even understand. I think they are purposely sowing confusion, which only leads to more pain and suffering.
Lopez: Why is Barbie on the cover of your book?
McGuire: I must admit I had nothing to do with the cover. Though I do think it’s fitting – the Barbie is androgynous and portrayed only from the waist down, and naked. I think it actually sums up quite nicely in an image my thesis – that it our quest for gender neutrality, we wind up navel gazing all the more and objectifying and androgynizing women in particular.
Lopez: Are conservatives obsessed with sex? Including in this way you’re approaching it?
McGuire: I think our culture is pretty drenched with all things sexual. Conservatives are very determined to preserve certain essential components of a civilized society, which include modesty, chastity, and chivalry. Denying sexual difference undermines those virtues, which by the way, protect women. Plenty will say that it’s patronizing or infantilizing to talk about protecting women. As a woman, I have no problem saying that I want protection from evils like war and violence and rape. But I also think preserving a civilized approach to sex and sexuality helps us to better appreciate women, whose contributions get swallowed up in a sex-blind society.
Lopez: You write that “There are people in America who consider it criminal and abusive to identify children by their biological sex. And they are coming for yours.” That sounds like a scary tactic to sell books.
McGuire: I admit to a twinge of hyperbole. But at the same time, it is truly not an exaggeration to say that the push to deny the truths about who we are is now very much aimed at children: what they learn in school, what toys they play with, what clothes they wear, what pronouns they use. We’ve lost the sense in society that childhood should be something innocent. Our local library recently had a display in a section for toddlers with board books about sex and gender. Shopping at Target is now a quasi-political exercise. It’s hard for parents to keep all this at bay.
Lopez: What gives you hope, despite all you chronicle in the book?
McGuire: I try to end the book on a more positive note, by pointing out all the ways that our culture is concurrently affirming and celebrating sex difference. “Gender reveal” parties are all the rage; they reveal that parents actually yearn to celebrate the sex of their unborn baby. Single sex education is on the rise – I just saw that D.C. might soon have its first all girls’ charter high school. And women in particular are driving the demand for single-sex spaces like women-only shared working spaces, gyms, and other recreational activities, which I see as women trying to take back their femininity from a culture increasingly bent on denying it to them.