Inez Stepman: How Cancel Culture Conditions Society to Accept the Absurd
History is being rewritten in schools across the country in line with the ideas of critical race theory. The Department of Education has proposed a rule to prioritize funding for education programs that incorporate the ideas of the New York Times’ 1619 Project and critical race theorist Ibram X. Kendi.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of a dramatic cultural shift occurring in America today—from separating kids in school based on race to the debate about transgender athletes participating in female sports. In prisons in some states, biological males who identify as female can now be housed with females.
In this episode, we sit down with Inez Stepman, a senior contributor at The Federalist and senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum, to understand our current cultural moment and how woke ideology is transforming America.
Jan Jekielek: Inez Stepman, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Inez Stepman: It’s great to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: Inez, something that you wrote recently, in “The National Interest” caught my eye. You were talking about this proposed rule with the Department of Education, basically bringing critical race theory into curriculums around the nation. Tell me about this. The other thing I want to make sure we do is I want you to tell me how you understand this whole concept of critical race theory, because everyone seems to have a little bit of a different take on it.
Ms. Stepman: They are proposing a grant program that encourages schools around the country with money, a financial incentive, to adopt what they’re calling critical race theory and anti-racism.
As you know and as you said, both those things have somewhat nebulous definitions, but they were helpful enough to include the three examples of what they were talking about in the text and surrounding the proposed rule.
The first thing that they included was the work of Ibram Kendi. He is an academic who wrote, for example, “Stamped From The Beginning” which is a book laying out his views that America was stamped by racism from the beginning and not just in the obvious ways, the obvious historical ways, but in every system in the United States.
My parents were immigrants who came to this country who cherished the Constitution and the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence. These are all just cover and in fact are themselves systemically racist. Just to give you an idea of how radical his scholarship is, one of the things he’s proposed is to create a Department of Anti-Racism in the federal government.
So far, this sounds unobjectionable to most people, but he wants that unelected department staffed by trained academics, presumably by him, to have veto power over every municipal, state, and federal law in the country, if it creates, in his eyes, any kind of disparity between groups. And he wants that body to have veto power over who stands for political office, who stands for elected office.
That’s incredibly radical, incredibly contradictory with the American system, but yet the Department of Education is citing this guy as an example for what they want to encourage schools around the country to teach young Americans who then grow up to be voters in this republic.
Mr. Jekielek: What you described sounds, probably to many people including me, like a kind of authoritarian position.
Ms. Stepman: A little bit tongue in cheek, I call it woke Stalinism. His position is that a group of unelected academics should have complete veto power over all laws in the United States and, similar to how it works with the mullahs in Iran, to basically select the slate of candidates. The people may vote, but only on the candidates selected by people who think like Ibram Kendi.
And he’s very open about the fact that past discrimination in his view justifies current discrimination, i.e. that in order to undo the discrimination of the past, we need to actively discriminate in favor of marginalized groups today.
He is incredibly radical, and yet, this is literally the U.S. government. According to this proposed rule, this actually becomes a regulation issued by the Biden administration. They’ll be giving grants. The federal government of United States will be giving grants to public schools around the country to teach Kendi’s [thought].
I think this is incredibly pernicious, especially for a multiethnic republic like the United States where we do have citizens of all different backgrounds. “E pluribus unum” is more than a funny phrase for us, right? Out of many, one. It’s a challenge, and one that we necessarily must meet to remain a whole country with citizens who recognize each other as fellow citizens.
I find this whole thing to be dangerous and pernicious and definitely not something that the federal government should be going out of its way to encourage.
Mr. Jekielek: The 1619 Curriculum is also one piece of curriculum that’s being cited here as an example.
Ms. Stepman: Yes, and that is a project by Nikole Hannah-Jones among other authors. She was the lead author of it, published in The New York Times. It’s been awarded with many, many fine awards, but it has also drawn criticism from virtually every corner of the political spectrum when it comes to historical accuracy.
For example, one of the central claims of that piece, her overall narrative, is that the United States wasn’t founded in 1776. It was founded in 1619 when the first African slave arrived on our shores and was brought here. To that end, she claims that the American Revolution was fought, for example, in order to preserve slavery.
This is just flatly historically false. It has been recognized as false by historians all the way from the socialist left to the conservative right, and there are many, many inaccuracies besides that one in that project.
Again, not something that the federal government should be encouraging teaching in our schools when it has been blasted across the spectrum for being not just a radical idea or having radical perspective, but actually for being completely historically inaccurate.
Again, this is one of the examples that the Biden administration has laid out as basically the gold standard. We want schools to teach this, and I find that to be exactly the wrong approach.
Parents across the country are already gathering in groups. They’re already binding together because they’re so upset that a lot of this stuff has made its way already into the curriculum at the state and local level.
What the Biden administration wants to do now is turbocharge that one side of that debate and once again push aside the many voices of parents who are saying, “We don’t want our kids to learn this. This is divisive and pernicious.”
Mr. Jekielek: Right, and we’re seeing a lot of these kinds of voices. In fact, we had Asra Nomani on the show recently, who’s in Fairfax County, essentially fighting against implementation of critical race theory-based curriculum and ideas.
The federal government doesn’t set curriculum though. This is done in the states. How is this going to be adopted or how does it work? You talked about a carrot-and-stick approach.
Ms. Stepman: Yes, I think a lot of people will be familiar with two things. The Common Core debates, that, I would say, reached a fever pitch around 2010, 2011, 2012 in this country which was an attempt by the federal government—it started out in the states, but then the federal government got involved, the Obama administration got involved and essentially implemented, as you say, a series of carrots and sticks. “If you adopt this kind of curriculum, we’ll give you some nice grants. If you don’t, you might be under the threat of investigation.”
For example, another thing that has been adopted in this way is something called restorative justice, a mode of discipline in schools that seeks to reconcile students with one another or students and teachers with one another. It comes from the criminal justice system.
I’m not saying that it has absolutely no merit whatsoever, but in schools unfortunately, it has prevented referrals to law enforcement for things like real threats, bringing bullets to school, right? Unfortunately, it’s coincided with a large increase in what I should frankly call crime because that’s what it is, violent crime in schools. But in any case, it was implemented in exactly this way.
On the one hand, there are grants for you to implement restorative justice practices. On the other hand, if you don’t and you have, for example, racial disparities in your suspension or expulsion rates, then the Department of Education is going to investigate you under civil rights law.
That powerful combination has been very successful in the past in implementing things that the federal government wants into the curriculum in all states across the country, even though, yes, the federal government has no constitutional power to set the curriculum in education.
Even the Department of Education’s enabling statutes forbid it from meddling in curriculum, and there are actually multiple laws by Congress reaffirming that the Department of Education does not have the power to set curriculum. Nevertheless, they have been meddling in this for decades, and this is the new thing in which they’re meddling.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. One thing that you said is very interesting. They look at these suspensions or expulsions or something like that and whether that actually reflects what the classroom makeup is, I guess by sex, by race, by gender, and so forth. If they don’t, then they give you a penalty, right?
Ms. Stepman: Right. Go ahead.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s really interesting because that also speaks to the kind of approach that critical race theory and frankly a lot of these different critical theories take, right? They look at this immutable characteristic, in this case race, as the thing by which to judge everything, right?
Ms. Stepman: Yes, it’s racial essentialism by another name, right? The corollary claim, as you point out, is if there is a disparity—between ethnic groups, between racial groups, between the two sexes, any kind of classification by identity you’d like to cut people up by—if there’s any kind of disparity in any way, then that must be ipso facto the result of discrimination.
That’s simply not true. That premise is simply not true. There are thousands of reasons why such disparities might arise, starting with the fact, for example, that our school system unfortunately does assign students by zip code. We do not have a fully school choice-based school system, and there are a lot more minority kids in this country that are assigned to poor schools, schools that do not give them the education that they need to succeed in life.
I’ve spent most of my work in public policy, most of my time in public policy, fighting for school choice, fighting for equal opportunity. Just to look at the back end and say, “Okay, well, there are disparities in society by race, by socioeconomic class, by sex, gender, and sexual orientation or whatnot,” to only look at those disparities and then to work backwards and assume that it’s because of not just discrimination but systemic discrimination—
I don’t think anybody denies that there are instances of racism in this country, just like there are instances of racism in every country in the globe and always have, and I suspect unfortunately, always will be. But the question is: do those instances amount to a sort of systemic barrier that prevents people from success?
I don’t think that the Kendi-types, the school of critical race theory, has actually proven that it is. In fact, we have a lot of social science evidence to the opposite. I don’t think they’ve proven their underlying premise at all. In the meantime, they’re teaching it.
Our schools are currently teaching to kids who perhaps come into school not seeing themselves as a collection of essential attributes that determine everything about them. They’re learning to view themselves and others that way.
Like I said, I think this is particularly dangerous in a country that is as diverse as ours. We’re not Sweden. We’re not a homogenous society. We never have been, so to actively teach us reasons to hate each other to me seems to be completely wrongheaded and dangerous, and in fact, putting the United States on a very dark path.
Mr. Jekielek: What is critical race theory? How does it work exactly and how does it basically create the scenario that you just described?
Ms. Stepman: I think that the fundamental premise of critical race theory is what we just discussed which is that because disparities exist, there exist systemic forces. In fact the very system that we praise about the country—and not even just limited to the United States, when we praise the Constitution, the separation of powers, the Bill of Rights, that we praise the ideals of the Declaration, all of that—according to critical race theorists, is in fact white supremacy or a system built by white supremacists in order to perpetuate their power,
But it goes beyond the United States. It goes to the entire West, right? The critical race theorists are also critiquing the Enlightenment. They’re critiquing the foundations of the Western Judeo-Christian values that in large part influenced so many.
You can have the whole debate about what counts as the West, where the boundaries are, what different influences there were, but they wholly reject virtually any praise of Western civilization, in particular, the United States. I think that that is totally absent any kind of context about world history.
To me, the remarkable thing about the United States is not that slavery existed in this country. Slavery existed for millennia before the United States, in fact, which apparently something 30 percent or 40 percent of people under 40 do not know. They think that the United States invented slavery, which is, again, a condemnation of our education system.
The remarkable thing though, is not that the United States had slavery or that racism existed and at one point was systemic in this country, in the sense that it was enshrined into law, but the fact that we had a founding that pegged such a declaration against the idea that men are not created equal.
The fact that we have this in our founding, we have this what Martin Luther King called promissory note to look back on and to reference and to become almost part of this American civic religion for us. That’s the thing that stands out to me when I look at world history.
World history is full of not just the evils of racism, but the evils of violence and division and war and slavery and all kinds of evils that human beings can perpetuate on each other.
The remarkable thing to me is that the United States has made so much progress away from day-to-day life having to deal with these kinds of horrendous evils and has built so much prosperity in doing so.
That’s the remarkable thing about this country to me, not the fact that it too has black marks on its history. Whoop-de-do, every civilization in the history of the world has done some evil things along the way.
Mr. Jekielek: To your point, I was thinking the 1619 Curriculum—and correct me if you don’t agree—is kind of American history according to critical race theory. From what I understand, Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass are not included in that story, and that’s fascinating and frankly very telling if that’s true. I haven’t looked through the whole thing.
Ms. Stepman: Frederick Douglass, I think the country would benefit enormously if more people read him. The more people read Frederick Douglass in this country, I think we’d be in a better place. Exactly because he takes [an intellectual] journey. Not just because, of course, he had a remarkable life, escaping from slavery, teaching himself how to read and write. …
The only time you ever hear Frederick Douglass cited, you hear bits of his 4th of July speech cited where he says, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” You hear that piece cited, but you never follow his intellectual journey, one that he took, I guess, in dialogue with Abraham Lincoln, from thinking that the American system was built on slavery, much like Nikole Hannah-Jones thinks, to declaring the Constitution the greatest anti-slavery document ever written.
That’s the position that he came to over the course of his life and over the course of advocating vociferously for the abolition of the institution that had enslaved him. Critical race theory today is such a repudiation of Frederick Douglass’ work as you noted.
It’s also repudiation of key parts of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy as stated in his famous speeches. I want to ask these folks, what do they think will happen or can happen if we continue down essentially a road of division and of racial essentialism? At what point do you think that people will just be irreconcilable in terms of their hatred for one another and can no longer live as fellow citizens?
That’s what I’m afraid of. It’s hard enough to make a melting pot, which is an unfashionable idea now, out of the peoples of the world who have come here essentially. It’s difficult enough even if you have a common purpose, a sense that American history belongs to us all.
I consider George Washington and Frederick Douglass to be my countrymen, my history, right? I arrived here, as we were talking about before this, in my mother’s womb. I was born here [in the U.S.] by just a few weeks.
I consider that to be my heritage. They’re not my blood, but it is my heritage. And I don’t think America can survive without most of her citizens feeling that way about her common past, about her founding documents and the ideas contained in them. That’s what we have to bind us together.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s very interesting. It makes me think of one of the things that you mentioned in your comment about this proposed rule, that it might actually violate civil rights law. I thought that I hadn’t seen that angle before. Tell me about this.
Ms. Stepman: Well, no organ of the government—and in fact, also with public accommodations, even private businesses, but let’s lay that aside for a moment—certainly organ of the government can treat citizens differently on the basis of race.
What we’re seeing in some of these schools that are implementing this critical race theory is the introduction of affinity groups. David Duke is smiling down on this, separating out black children from white children from Asian children from Hispanic children and delivering different instruction to these groups of kids based on their race.
Obviously, civil rights law doesn’t forbid Ibram Kendi has a First Amendment right to write what I think is pernicious nonsense, but the government itself cannot treat children differently on the basis of race. That does violate civil rights law. It potentially violates the Equal Protection Clause as well under the 14th Amendment and I think we will see more and more.
Christopher Rufo has been fantastic in gathering some lawyers to challenge some of these programs, and there are other groups doing it as well. I think increasingly we will see cases litigated under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and under the 14th Amendment about whether it’s permissible for the government in schools to discriminate on the basis of race just because we say it’s in an anti-racist context. Because that’s what’s happening.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s right. FAIR is another group that’s out there right now that’s doing a lot of work and Parents Defending Education, I think, just barely a month old where Asra Nomani is working. We’ve seen a lot of pushback on this actually.
We’re starting to see it’s typically either teachers or parents that just decide, but what’s very curious to me is that everybody who has come out to talk about it, whether it’s Asra or Paul Rossi or Andrew Goodman, Ian Pryor in Loudoun County, all these people that have come out, they say the moment they do it, there’s a ton of people that come out and say, “Oh, thank goodness you’re doing this. You’re so brave. I can’t believe what you’re doing. This is so important.”
But if so many people think this, why is it just these very few people who are stepping up at this point?
Ms. Stepman: People are terrified of being called racist or now the term racist has lost its cachet because it’s so overused now. It’s white supremacist, right? As applied to completely mainstream views in terms of politics, I think people are really scared of being called those nasty names, so that they have an enormous amount of power, which to some extent is good, right?
I was actually asking John McWhorter about this on my podcast the other day, but we do want these words to have some power, right? We don’t want people to be blase say about being called a racist. We should have this social program, but it’s become so strong that people are terrified to share their political views, even when they’re completely mainstream, and by any traditional definition, they’re not racist at all.
Some polls show that up to 65 percent of the American public is afraid to share their political views. That’s what we’re seeing, right? As soon as one person stands up like Paul Rossi, as soon as somebody like Asra Nomani stands up, you get this flutter, or if you comment on these things publicly as I do, you get the emails, you get the DMs, “I agree with you, but I could never say it.”
This is really pernicious. As you noted, Kendi’s ideas sound totalitarian. This worries me about the fact that self-censorship has progressed so far in this country that although we have what are probably the most ironclad protections for freedom of speech legally in the world—much more ironclad than, say, the UK or Canada.
I’m not just talking about third world countries but even countries that we think of as being generally liberal democracies. We have enormous protections for speech in this country, but if people are afraid to use their right to speak, you can end up with the same result as though you had censored speech on the basis of law.
I think we’re quickly approaching that period, which is why I’m so grateful that so many parents have spoken out now. I think the more people see other people seeing exactly what they think and are afraid to say, the more bravery will perpetuate itself and perpetuate more bravery and less these ideas—which I really do believe have purchase only with a small percentage of the population—the more these ideas will actually be challenged, in a way that until the last maybe six months to a year, they really have not been in our institutions.
Mr. Jekielek: Right, something that you just said reminded me of this, so I pulled up this tweet by Zaid Jilani which I think we both commented on very, very quickly. I noted it to you a few days ago, and I’m going to read the whole thing actually. I want to get your thinking behind it because we both saw something really interesting in this.
He writes, “There was a study performed a little while ago that showed a sense of victimization and supremacy are linked. When you think of yourself as a victim, make that your entire identity, you can’t think about other people’s welfare or their feelings or your responsibility.” You wrote, “Extremely important to understand for our age.” I wrote something similar, “It’s a fascinating small sample study. I’d love to see a lot more of this work done.” What did you see?
Ms. Stepman: I see an explanation for how people behave. We talk nonstop about empathy in our politics, to the point where it’s extremely irritating to me. I call it like therapeutic language or therapeutic politics. We have politicians in positions of power talking about how they’re traumatized on the national stage, and yet all of this empathy creates a kind of viciousness towards your fellow citizen if they don’t buy into the same political priors.
I think that study is really interesting, and like you, I’d like to see it done repeated in a larger context, but how viewing yourself primarily as a victim makes you paradoxically so completely vicious towards your fellow man. This is something that that I’ve tried in various contexts—I’m not sure I’ve ever quite captured it—to explain about socialism and communism that, in fact, it does the opposite of create a brotherhood of man.
If you’re looking for brotherhood of men, America is much closer to that or at least traditional capitalist America is much closer to that, because we’ve created so much prosperity that my kid’s shoes don’t mean that somebody else’s kid goes without braces. When you pit people against each other in that zero-sum game and then you reward neediness, because I think that’s the similarity here.
In a communist country, you reward economic neediness, right? You have to stand up. You basically say, “I am needy. Here’s the list of things that I’ve been deprived of and I’m owed.” That encourages a certain type of person. It creates a certain type of person culturally.
I think the same thing is happening here, just not with regard to economics. It’s happening with regard to identity, whether that’s racial or sex or gender identity or sexual orientation or whatever else categories people like to create for themselves. It’s the need for that victimization that has turned into cachet, that then grants you all kinds of privileges in society culturally or socially speaking that you wouldn’t have.
One of those privileges is to disregard the thoughts, the feelings, the needs of others around you. Paradoxically, I think it makes us, hence, nastier people who are unable to sit down with a fellow citizen and share our views and have an intelligible debate and then still continue, for example, to be friends with each other afterwards.
Mr. Jekielek: You can disregard a whole swath of people basically based on their identity of some sort. That’s what you’re saying?
Ms. Stepman: Unless they debase themselves entirely, right? That’s what we’re seeing. The demand from critical race theorists is that if you’re white or if you’re a man, you should completely psychologically debase yourself and apologize for sins committed long before you were ever born.
First of all, I don’t understand truly the psychology behind wanting that debasement. Let’s say, you’re a black person in the United States, does any black person the United States, any, I’m sure there are, but do people actually want somebody like Robin DiAngelo who wrote the book “White Fragility”? Do people want to be treated as though they’re like kids?
Because that’s how I see this writing. You can’t say what you think, can’t advance an idea, can’t talk to somebody like an adult. You have to treat people who may have a skin color—that at one time meant that that the United States law treated them very unfairly and at one time—just on the basis of that to have this interaction.
I think it’s very, very childish. I think it’s very condescending. I would hate it, in fact, when people treat me like that because I’m a woman, most of the people on the left, right? I find it enraging.
I don’t ever want people to hold back what they think or not treat me as a fully cognizant adult because I’m a woman, but it seems like in a lot of these interactions that is the only acceptable way for people of different racial backgrounds to have a conversation. I can’t think of anything that that’s more irritating personally.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, you’re in good company with Bob Woodson. He’s been on the show a number of times and has told me this is just purely insulting a whole group of people. I want to talk a little bit about how this woke or critical social justice ideology applies to sex and gender. This is obviously one of your main topics.
You’ve described to me previously that there’s basically kind of an advocacy for the abolition of legal sex [definitions]. I think those are the words that you use. It sounds insane when you hear that as a biologist. Sex is pretty clear biologically. You don’t get much more clear, right? How do these critical theories apply to sex and gender? Frankly, even sex and gender are becoming mixed up in our minds certainly for me even when I think about it.
Ms. Stepman: There’s plenty of debate about the definitions here, but for the purposes of the conversation, let’s say that sex applies to biological sex. Gender is an expression of that sex in society, and therefore is at least partially socially constructed, although I would argue that even gender isn’t wholly socially constructed. It’s not arbitrary. There’s a reason that most girls are feminine and most boys have masculine traits. There are biological and hormonal reasons for that.
When I say the abolition of legal sex, I think that’s exactly what’s happening there. There are two major pieces of legislation that, in my view, are attempts to abolish biological sex in the categories of male and female from the law.
One is the Equality Act. It has been going through Congress, has passed the House, is now in negotiation in the Senate. The other is the Equal Rights Amendment which is an attempt to amend the Constitution to say that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.
Now, that sounds very nice in the way that we use the word discrimination in common parlance which means in some way unfair discrimination, but we discriminated on the basis of sex all the time in ways that I think people would be shocked if we stop doing it.
For example, we discriminate on the basis of sex when we separate men’s and women’s prisons. We don’t put males and females into lockup together for obvious reasons. We discriminate on the basis of sex when we have male and female sports teams, right?
This is the big transgender debate, but in some ways, both the Equality Act and the Equal Rights Amendment make the transgender accommodation debate moot because they explode the categories of sex all together. It’s easier to talk about what do we do with a tiny percentage of exceptions, what’s the fairest way to deal with those exceptions.
It’s much more radical, in my view, to blow up those categories altogether and to pretend that sex is a spectrum, which it is not. The human species, as you know as a biologist, is sexually dimorphic. A tiny percentage of genetic pathologies do not disprove that–those examples like some people are born XXY or YYX. There are some genetic maladies that create appearance of having sex organs of both sexes and so on.
That doesn’t mean the human species is not sexually dimorphic. We are. We’re biologically male, biologically female, and yes, there are some very tiny percentage of exceptions. I’m not speaking in the derogatory sense here; they’re pathologies in the medical sense. They’re abnormal genetic mutations.
To not recognize that, I can’t think of anything in some sense more radical. Critical race theory in some way I understand, even though I think it’s damaging and pernicious and all the things that we just talked about.
We talked about Frederick Douglass. He started with the position, essentially the underlying position of critical race theory, that “The systems of this country, its Constitution and its Declaration, are what are oppressing me,” and I think unlike today’s minorities, he could have an indisputable claim to being oppressed.
He was literally enslaved because of the color of his skin and forbidden from learning to read or write or improve himself in any way, but he moved on from that position the more he learned about our system.
But I can understand the impulse [behind critical race theory]. We aren’t so many generations removed from, for example, Jim Crow, right? I can understand the impulse to say, “This country,” I guess, Langston Hughes said it best, “It was never America for me.” I think that’s a Langston Hughes poem, “It Was Never America For Me”.
I understand this impulse. I think it’s ultimately destructive, but it makes more sense to me than the idea that biological sex is not real. This is something that I can’t believe we’re debating. It’s so obvious that not only are men and women biologically different—in the sense that men are stronger and faster and this makes women vulnerable in certain situations like prison—but also that our brains are different.
There’s a ton of social science and science-science, neurobiological research, that shows that men and women are quite different, and those differences start in the womb. There was a study, I think in 2017, that showed that you can with 96 percent accuracy or something determine by a brain scan whether a six-month-old fetus is male or female.
That’s not social construction. That’s not taught to us by evil, sexist patriarchs. That doesn’t mean that women are lesser, they’re dumber or incapable or anything like that. It means that we are different, and we should expect, ultimately, that men and women in a free society will make different choices about life, career, interpersonal relationships, that they’ll behave differently, that it’s appropriate for them to, on average, behave differently.
We don’t have to be deterministic about any individual to say “Yeah, I think society should treat men and women differently in certain circumstances where those differences are relevant.” And most certainly, the law should recognize when men and women are different, and those differences are relevant on sports teams or in prison or any situation in which those very real biological differences become relevant.
Now they’re not relevant in all situations. It’s not relevant to who can become a chemist, for example, but there are many situations in which they’re relevant. It seems to me to be anti-reality to pretend that that’s not the case, and it has really terrible consequences for girls and women.
Mr. Jekielek: It is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. I think the vast majority of people looking at reality, not even a party to some of these studies—that’s a fascinating study about the brain scans, for example—would understand that humans are sexually dimorphic fundamentally. But this is being discussed at the highest intellectual and policymaking levels of the country as if it was not true. How does that happen?
Ms. Stepman: I think it happens for the same reason. People are afraid to say something that is, as you say, patently obvious. To the point where we see a lot of parents feeling they have to shut up, for example, about their daughter running track against biological men and losing out on scholarships because of that.
The data was just released—or there was a leak basically because they tried to hide this from the press—in Washington State and Oregon, they are putting men into women’s prisons if they claim to identify as female. That has already in Washington State resulted in at least one sexual assault in a prison by a sex offender who claimed to be female, was put in with women, and then committed an assault.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s like a license for sexual predators basically.
Ms. Stepman: Yes. It’s foolish to imagine that these laws won’t be taken advantage of by the way by sexual predators, by other folks who are looking to exploit any kind of advantage, whether that’s actual predation or just the opportunities in scholarships and so on for women.
I’m not in any way saying for transgender people, this is their motivation or whatever. But once you erase those legal categories—which is why by the way something like the Equality Act goes much further even than its proponents say it does. They say that it protects transgender Americans from discrimination. I would say that’s fine, but there are, again, certain situations in which your biological sex is relevant.
Maybe it’s not relevant in all situations, if you’re applying for credit, for example, at a bank. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but if you’re talking about sports or prisons or anything that references the biological differences between men and women, I would say it still matters.
But the legislation goes much further even than that because it doesn’t just say transgender. It says gender identity, and it’s wholly based on self-identification. That’s when you have situations like this. I’m speculating here, I don’t know the details of this case, but I would bet a lot of money that this man who claimed to be a woman, who identify as a woman, the sex offender, he’s not transgender, right?
He just saw the opportunity and went for it. Now, again to be clear, I can’t confirm that, but I would be very surprised if he actually had a history, a long history of being a transgender person. It seems to me more likely that he declared himself this way because the law was based around gender identity with no reference to biological sex and entirely self-determinative.
I think it’s foolish to imagine that there won’t be a lot more use of these laws. In the case of the Equal Rights Amendment, we can dispense with this controversial subject of self-identification altogether. Because a boy can just say, “I have a 400-meter time that qualifies me to be at the top of the girls team.
The only reason I’m not admitted to the team is because I’m a boy.” Therefore, that’s a discrimination on the basis of sex. Therefore, you are in violation of an Equal Rights Amendment.
There’s no need to even go into how you identify at that point. You just say, “This is a discrimination on the basis of sex. I’m a boy. I want to run on the track team. The cutoff score is X. My time eminently qualifies for that. Why are you discriminating on the basis of sex by keeping me out?”
Mr. Jekielek: That’s unbelievable.
Ms. Stepman: It sounds crazy. It is crazy. It is patently obvious that men and women are different. Actually, I worry beyond the issue itself, which I think is really important. I worry that it’s training us to be silent about things that are obvious, to cultivate a public and private self. In your own mind, you know this is crazy.
It is crazy to send a man, a biological man into the boxing ring with a biological woman. That actually happened in MMA and it ended up with the female fighter going to hospital with a broken skull. People know this is crazy, but they’re afraid to say it.
I think that’s almost more pernicious than any of the effects of the thing itself. It’s bad enough, but the worst thing is that it’s training us not to say what’s obvious.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a kind of social conditioning that’s been happening. It’s like political correctness on overdrive, right?
Ms. Stepman: Yes. I think we are not having honest conversations with each other outside of some forums like this one. That can never be productive, right? No matter where you are in the political spectrum, it cannot be productive to get people to lie about what they think. We’re not going to come to any kind of conclusion.
I think this is really what happened and why so many people reacted the way they did to Trump’s election. It was like a slap in the face to them because they had never— It’s like that apocryphal story about the Times’ columnist or whatever, who said, “How did Richard Nixon win? I don’t know a single person who voted for him.”
I think for a lot of people, it was a slap in the face: “What do you mean? There are 63 million Americans who voted for this guy.” Instead of wanting to find out why so many millions of their fellow Americans—who are nice people, they meet on the street, they’re in the checkout line in the grocery store—why so many of their fellow Americans voted in a way that was so incomprehensible to almost everybody in the media and the political class.
Instead of having a genuine curiosity and wanting to understand what’s in their heads, they immediately slapped a bunch of labels on those people.
I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I know he’s a figure who incites plenty of emotion on both sides. I frankly don’t care so much about Donald Trump. I want to understand why 63 million and then 75 million Americans voted the way they did. There’s the total absence to that curiosity. Instead, we’re just slapping all these labels on it which makes it impossible for us to have an honest conversation.
If you start the conversation by saying, “You’re a bigot; you’re a racist; you’re an evil person,” that’s the end of the conversation, right? We can’t do that because no matter what side of the political divide you’re on, there are literally tens and tens and tens of millions of Americans who disagree with you in the same country.
We’re never going to get anywhere if we’re not honest with each other. Recently, I’ve started a podcast called “High Noon” in an attempt to have exactly those honest conversations. So far, it’s been mostly people from the liberal left, but I do have Heather MacDonald. I’m speaking with her later today. So some folks from the conservative right as well, but I would say what they have in common is that they’re in that 35 percent.
We said that 65 percent of Americans are afraid to have those honest conversations. My hope is that with “High Noon,” we can have those honest conversations, disagree, talk about all kinds of political issues, talk about sex and gender, talk about race in this country, talk about all the things that are third rail and not allowed and start these conversation.
It’s in the hopes that, like I said about Paul Rossi, when people hear that other people think something similar to them and they’ve been keeping those thoughts silent, they get a little bit braver. That’s what I’m hoping to do with my podcast is to make everybody a little braver by inviting some of the brave onto the podcast.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, absolutely fascinating. It’s “High Noon.” Where does someone find the podcast again?
Ms. Stepman: You can find it at iwf.org or you can find it anywhere you get your podcast, so that’s Apple, Acast, Google. Anywhere you get your podcast, it should be available, and we also have the YouTube videos up.
Mr. Jekielek: These are some wonderful people you’ve had on: Deborah Soh, John McWhorter, Chris Rufo, who’s been on this show, of course, Heather MacDonald and Melissa Chen. This is a very interesting start. I’ll be watching. That’s for sure.
The final thing is creating this type of discourse, empowering people to speak up around these things when are they’re being told, “You’re not allowed to talk about,” that’s one thing, but then actually eliciting change, there are people that are doing this as well. Where are the areas that you see as we finish up that the biggest push should be?
Ms. Stepman: I think Chris Rufo tells us to be not to be pessimistic and that, in fact, there are reasons to be optimistic about how Americans are waking up about this critical race theory stuff. Some of the most radical gender and sex stuff, I don’t think the majority of the American people agree with those things, and I think there’s enormous energy around pushing back, especially on the local level.
You mentioned some of the fantastic groups like FAIR that are pushing back on the local level, on the national level against these ideas. I guess what I worry about is how easily our institutions were captured by those ideas. That’s the part that makes me pessimistic. I’m optimistic about the American people. I am pessimistic about our institutions. I think in many cases we’re going to have to work around them or build new ones.
Here, I’m talking about flagship institutions, like The New York Times that had essentially this woke coup that that ended up with several of the major editors having to leave and then more worryingly something like the military which has put out these recruiting ads that basically sound like something from the faculty lounge and of course, then the administrative agencies now run by the Biden administration that are putting out rules like this proposed rule that I commented on.
These institutions worry me enormously, the fact that it was so easy for them to adopt this ideology, the fact that they have an enormous amount of gatekeeping power still.
I think our future is very much on a razor’s edge in terms of whether the power of the pragmatic American people—I hold many views that I’m pretty sure are not majority views in the United States, but I do trust the American people to be fair and pragmatic and not to be ruthless ideologues, totally invested in something like critical race theory, and that makes me optimistic.
But on the flipside, I don’t have that faith in our elites. I don’t have that faith in what Michael Lind calls a managerial class, and I don’t have that faith in our institution. I think what’s in front of us is the very difficult job of building new institutions, and we’ll see how we do with that job in the next 10 years.
Mr. Jekielek: Inez Stepman, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Ms. Stepman: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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