Below is my latest for Exponents. But first, when I shared the article on Facebook, I was surprised to find that many people who follow me were unfamiliar with the term “neoliberalism.” Here are some good reads on neoliberalism if you’re curious.
Longtime friend/follower Kai M. Wright pasted this in the comments:
I agree that 99% of the time someone wrote or said “neoliberal” up until about five years ago it was a leftist complaining about anything that couldn’t strictly be defined as classical liberalism. However, the definitions of words change over time. There’s now a concerted movement, complete with a magazine (Exponents,) a few think tanks (Neoliberal Project, Niskanen Center, Progressive Policy Institute), and a podcast devoted to making neoliberalism happen.
What appeals to me about neoliberalism is that it has the potential to take a lot of what’s good about libertarianism/classical liberalism and correct for some of what I’ve come to dislike about it.
Specifically, neoliberalism retains the respect for property rights, desire for innovation and economic growth, and respect for evidence-based policy prescriptions that I like about libertarianism/classical liberalism. But it combines it with support for functional social safety nets and a policy pragmatism that libertarianism lacks. It also crucially lacks most of the bigotry libertarianism is saddled with due to our unfortunate collusion with the right.
Now obviously none of this is black-and-white or static. People have and will disagree about what neoliberalism means, and I believe the “truth” is being decided by many people dynamically. But I think neoliberalism is a fun movement with some amount of promise to move politics in a basically left-libertarian direction.
Anyhoods, here’s the story.
Vogue recently called “WAP,” the new single from Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, “More brilliant than any of us could have hoped for.” But is it also neoliberal? I believe it is for two main reasons. First, it promotes a worldview that centers individual autonomy. Second, it promotes ideas based on evidence, rather than tradition or superstition.
The acronym stands for “wet-ass pussy,” and the song, on first blush, stands for women unabashedly wanting and enjoying sex. It’s frank, lewd, and has predictably triggered some conservative men. Ben Shapiro worried the wetness signaled an infection (it doesn’t). While singer CeeLo Green called WAP “shameless” and “disappointing on a personal and moral level.” Former Republican Congressional candidate DeAnna Lorraine tweeted the artists “just set the entire female gender back by 100 years with their disgusting & vile ‘WAP’ song.”
Of course with their augmented bodies, heels, and makeup Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion have also put themselves in the crosshairs of progressive feminists like bell hooks, who criticize women who take pains to look stereotypically “feminine.”
So while Cardi and Megan may not fit neatly in with the conservative or progressive sides, I believe they are doing the Lord’s work promoting a third, better way: Neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism is about autonomy
As Keith Robben writes in What is neoliberalism?, “Neoliberals, as one can deduce from the term itself, are a part of the broader and older Liberal tradition. We, like all liberals, maintain that there is a presumption in favor of liberty, broadly (and vaguely) defined as every individual being ‘their own master.’”
WAP furthers this tradition in the context of women’s sexuality and self-ownership. “My favourite part of ‘WAP’ is that it promotes women articulating sexual agency, prowess, desires, demands and autonomy,” wrote Sharine Taylor.
The song begins:
Whores in this house
There’s some whores in this house
Rather than using the term “whore” as a slur, the song seems to celebrate capitalism and free exchange generally with lyrics like “Swipe your nose like a credit card,” and “Pussy A1 just like his credit.”
It also celebrates women’s ability to use markets to our advantage, specifically: “Ask for a car while you ride that dick,” and “Pay my tuition just to kiss me on this wet-ass pussy.”
The song and neoliberalism both recognize that if women are not free to sell access to their bodies without the threat of state violence then we cannot be said to own them.
Neoliberalism is about evidence
While liberalism and neoliberalism both respect individual rights, neoliberalism differs from liberalism, (along with conservatism and progressivism) in many important ways. One of those is our commitment to evidence-based policy prescriptions. One of our core values, writes Robben, is “making sure that policymakers are making use of the best, most up to date, and most useful scientific/empirical evidence and literature.”
Cardi and Megan are also, frankly, in the business of promoting evidence-based viewpoints. In this case about gender relations. While it would be easy to dismiss lyrics like “I ride on that thing like the cops is behind me,” as pure hedonism, it would be a mistake.
Rather, what we’re seeing here is Cardi and Megan dismantling sexist notions like the Madonna/whore dichotomy with lyrics like:
I don’t cook, I don’t clean
But let me tell you how I got this ring
Here a woman’s sexual prowess is not a disqualifier for marriage, but a quality that makes her even more marriageable (what a concept that a man might want to marry a woman who enjoys and is good at sex!). Research shows sexist ideas like the Madonna/whore dichotomy reduce both men’s and women’s overall well-being.
With conservatives pushing for porn bans, it’s more vital than ever to take an evidence-based approach to policy. Even if you don’t oppose speech restrictions on civil liberties grounds, you may be interested to know that porn use is actually associated with more egalitarian views on gender roles.
Neoliberalism and WAP both move beyond what tradition/intuition tell us, and to look at the literature before making choices on sex, policy, or sex policy.
“The consistent neoliberal must take liberty seriously,” Robben writes. “This means embracing a radical cultural liberalism. People are not free if they are not free to love who they want without fear of retribution.”
Truly. And what we can learn from Cardi and Megan is that no pussy is free until all pussies are free to be as wet-ass as they want to be without shame or stigma.