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Transhumanism in Lipstick

Writer and podcaster Helen Roy wants to offer a traditional alternative to the open-air asylum of twenty-first century womanhood.

Helen Roy is a contributing editor at The American Mind, a fellow at the Claremont Institute for Political Philosophy, the host of Girlboss, Interrupted, and one of the women helping to redefine feminism for the “post-Christian, postmodern, increasingly post-literate, edging on transhumanist landscape.” We spoke about her podcast, her favorite writers, and one of my favorite pieces of hers: a screed against the ahistorical nature of the Renaissance Faire

Katherine: Where’d you get the name Girlboss, Interrupted? It’s great.

Helen: Thanks. There’s been some confusion about whether I’m unironically referring to myself as a girl boss, so I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. It’s not about me. The title comes from Girl, Interrupted, the 1999 psychological drama with Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder. The movie, set in late-1960s New England, is about the patients of an asylum for young women called Claymoore. Before starting the podcast, I’d frequently observed that we all live in a sort of open-air asylum for women. 

“Are women ok?”  is a meme for a reason, and to ask it is to answer it. Two major themes of the movie, the things that drove the main characters to Claymoore, are stifling careerism and sexual licentiousness. These, especially promiscuity, are things that we can no longer be critical about when it comes to women’s lives. But, as the movie suggests, I believe they together are the chief cause of women’s misery in the current year. “Girlboss” was my way of fusing that premise with a little bit of classic millennial cringe.

Katherine: Have you had a favorite guest so far? Any dream guests?

Helen: They’re all so brilliant. Mary Harrington? Mary Eberstadt? Jennifer Roback Morse? Impossible to say. As for dream guests: Camille Paglia or Melania Trump.

Katherine: Do you think we throw out feminism altogether (“anti-feminism”) or should it be reimagined in a way that’s more conducive to the reality of womanhood (for example, a feminism that embraces motherhood)?

Helen: This is a good question and a big one. The label is both useful and limiting, practically and philosophically. What else do you call a political program meant to unite women and address their particular issues? Of course, the people who actually embrace the term don’t even do this. Even when they united women exclusively, their ambitions were far from the majority of women’s natural interests. In other words, Gloria Steinem was hardly representative of the everywoman. Since the turn of the twentieth century, the feminist project has been about denying, minimizing, and transcending biological asymmetry. This is motivated by a presupposition most modern-day feminists don’t even realize they have: the idea that our unique ability to carry and bear children is the root of inferiority. 

Old school feminism is a philosophy too thoroughly enamored by enlightenment principles (rights, equality) to address the current moment. New feminism is transhumanism in lipstick. Mary Harrington calls the current counterrevolutionary moment “reactionary feminism.” That’s interesting to me. I still resist the label. But it’s hitting closer. I don’t know. Ultimately, I am inspired by the mother of Christ and believe that revivifying the Western understanding of women is possible through her intercessionand through her image.

Katherine: A lot of women have modeled their lives after media representations of womanhood – the famous one, of course, is Sex and the City. Do you think we can “fight fire with fire” on this one? That is, introduce better storytelling, or in this day and age, even influencers who have healthier messages?

Helen: Yes, I do. The medium is changing, but the Girardian process continues apace. Tradwives on TikTok are making the choice-feminist into a new scapegoat, and people are listening and coalescing into little reactionary micro-communities around these people. That’s the influencer side of it. “Better storytelling” is less common in the arts at the moment, but I believe good things are coming. Maya Sinha’s The City Mother is an amazing, almost Houllebecqian novel that I read recently. Totally brutal and funnyit deserves more attention. I’d love to see another Anna Karenina remake, maybe? People could literally do Shakespeare well, and it would be revolutionary. There’s a great opportunity in that space.

Katherine: I’ve found that a lot of otherwise good advice to women gets thrown out because the way it’s communicated feels sanctimonious or punitive. Do you think there’s any way around this? I often wonder about this in the role of parenting, too.

Helen: Yes, I certainly see what you’re saying. I think the way around this is to emphasize the real possibility of redemption. Lots of modern men who criticize modern women call them broken while also suggesting that they are beyond repair. This, to me, is abusive behavior, and it seems to come from a place of fear and resentment, which women can easily sniff out. Anyway, I wouldn’t reprimand my child for doing something wrong without offering a corrective path. That’s how you break someone. That’s how you inspire rebellion. That’s how you get the precise opposite of what you want and what the world needs. My message to women is this: you feel broken because you are broken. You’ve been broken by an ideological program by which you were explicitly instructed to abide by people you should have been able to trust with your life. It doesn’t have to be this way. Take responsibility for what you’ve done and accept the grace to go forth and live well.

Katherine: Speaking of parenting, a recurring anxiety dream I have is that I do a fine job teaching my children what I think is right, only to have a secret TikTok addiction or friend at school lead them astray. For obvious reasons, you can’t and shouldn’t surveil your children 24/7. But what are some ways you can protect them?

Helen: There’s no way in hell I can position myself as a parenting expert. My kids are very little, and my chances of seriously messing up are not zero. I do think, though, that it is critically important to shield your children from pornography by any means necessary. It’s a completely spiritually disfiguring habit that, even if it doesn’t become an addiction, can seriously undermine their lives for the rest of their lives. There is plenty of blocking software you can use. iPads are probably a bad idea. Sleepovers, too. 

Katherine: You’ve written a lot of great pieces, but in one of my favorites, you rail against the ahistoricism of the Renaissance Faire. I feel like this rewriting of history is so baked into American culture. Another obvious example is the ubiquity of people who claim to be one-sixteenth Native American, with an entire invented cultural history wrapped up in the claim. Do you think it’s possible for Americans to reclaim historical truth, even if it’s “boring” or not socially expedient? What are some (even small!) ways we can instill a better appreciation for history?

Helen: I was deeply disturbed by the Ren Faire. Have never seen so many furries in real life. Is it possible to reclaim any kind of truth in the post-Christian, postmodern, increasingly post-literate, edging on transhumanist landscape? No idea. Probably not at scale. But I can answer your last question. Even if you aren’t a Catholic, one way to instill a historical appreciation is to abide by the liturgical calendar. Feast and fast in accordance with the rhythm of Christ’s life, and honor the saints, great and often pivotal men and women of history, by reading about them on their given celebratory day. By doing this, you begin to understand the role of a real person in a real historical moment with a real connection to you. It’s a lovely habit. As narcissistic as the racial revisionists are, they’re right that, in general, people need to feel personally connected with history to appreciate it. In the same vein, read more biographies.

Katherine: What’s one myth about womanhood you’re dying to dispel?

Helen: Hard to say. Everything ever said about women is true, and everything ever said about women is a lie. There are no myths; there are only myths.

Katherine: Who’s your favorite writer? What’s one piece you’d recommend?

Helen: Tom Wolfe. Anything. If I had to choose … because it’s his only work that hasn’t been talked about enough, Back to Blood. But also, people like to laugh at I am Charlotte Simmons. I think it’s misunderstood. The novel is deeply relevant to my work, and I think women who are interested in what I do would be deeply captivated by it.

Katherine: What’s a piece of advice that’s been lost that you think should make a comeback?  

Helen: That you are more likely the rule than the exception.