Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
MAGA is morphing beyond a political identity into a sexual fetish

MAGA is morphing beyond a political identity into a sexual fetish

Columnist Amanda Marcotte on the emergence of ‘tradwives’ and how the Christian right uses sex to sell religion

Donald Trump has been very public about remaking the Republican party in his political image by boosting people who flatter and praise him the hardest in primary elections. But his longstanding role as leader of the Republican party isn’t just having an effect on the politicians, it is also remaking America’s right-wing subculture in his personal image as well.

Besides being thoroughly corrupt and authoritarian, Trump is also incredibly strange, especially in his attitudes toward women and sex. That strangeness is filtering down into the Republican electorate as a whole, turning MAGA into a sexual fetish as well as a political identity.

It’s really something to see, and joining me in this episode to discuss is Amanda Marcotte, she’s a senior columnist at Salon who has been doing some interesting writing on how the Christian right is using sex to sell religion in the age of TikTok and Trump.

The transcript of our April 2, 2024 conversation is below. Because of its length, some podcast apps and email programs may truncate it. Access the episode page to get the complete text. The video of this episode is also available.

Cover photo: A photo posted online by tradwife content creator Estee Williams. Credit: Estee Williams.

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Related Content

Audio Chapters

00:00 — MAGA isn't just a political identity, it's a sexual fetish

11:21 — How the "tradwife" lifestyle transformed from a worldview for women into a sex fetish for men

20:33 — Many Mormon social media influencers clearly do not live Mormon doctrines

25:59 — Fundamentalist Christians have realized that sex sells, in their own way

32:09 — Far-right Christians have realized they need unplanned pregnancies, and so they're attacking birth control

39:07 — Controlling women is both a doctrinal and political necessity for the Christian right

41:39 — How far-right activists hoodwink moderate Republicans about reactionary authoritarianism

46:00 — The disastrous effects of oppressive religion on women

50:22 — The role of identity and religion in conservative politics

55:18 — While religion often justifies sexism, there are plenty of non-religious sexist arguments also

Audio Transcript

The following is a machine-generated transcript of the audio that has not been corrected. It is provided for convenience purposes only.

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: I think the American political media doesn't really talk about a lot of this stuff at all, because national journalists have to pretend that nobody has sex and nobody goes on dates. These things don't happen. And so you've basically kind of had the field to yourself a little bit in this regard, I have to say.

So tell us, what the hell is going on with MAGA and the sexualization of MAGA?

AMANDA MARCOTTE: Yeah. I mean, [00:02:00] it's a complicated subject, I suppose. I've been writing about it a lot on different levels. I hadn't even thought of it as something I was specializing in, but I think that what we're seeing is a few threads that Evangelical Christianity has really had a lot of dramatic changes in its self presentation around sexuality and gender issues that, even as their ideological beliefs about these things have not changed at all.

And then you are seeing this dramatic, a lot of the coalition that Donald Trump has built, and one of the reasons that the Republican party has become so incredibly dependent on him is he speaks to this group of, I would say, secular male losers who are very difficult to mobilize. I mean losers kind of are hard to get to vote.

And Trump kind of set off, I call it the dirtbag bat signal for the sort of Joe Rogan audience of male insecurity, just [00:03:00] this rat's nest of that. And I think that those two have kind of come together in this way, it is about sex and dating. It's about masculine self image.

Trump, because he is a sociopathic narcissist, I think he actually has this real talent for sort of speaking to people's deep insecurities, because what is a narcissist, but a person whose entire life is about being a narcissist? Like the conflict between their, both the part of them that has this like overbearing sense of self, this like almost godlike sense of self, and then the secret fear that they actually are the worst, which we see with Trump all the time.

SHEFFIELD: Well, he has so many insecurities of his own that he's very good at playing to other people. I think that's really what it comes down to. And you do see that also in the elections where he's not on the ballot, that there's the Republicans just have much lower turnout. [00:04:00] Because there is really this subset of people who, they like him as a person, or at least they're inspired by him.

MARCOTTE: Yeah, he's an aspirational figure. I mean, he's definitely like, when you look at the chuds that follow Elon Musk and like him on Twitter and whatnot, that's kind of like Pepe the frog dudes.

So much of it is: ‘Oh, wow, he's a big, fat, gross loser like me that smells like a butt and ketchup, and is repulsive in every way. And yet somehow he manages to be successful.’ That speaks to a certain mentality of people that want to be successful without being good at stuff.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and we're certainly seeing that with the Trump Media and Technology Group, recently they had to disclose to the public that they lost $58 million last year and made only [00:05:00] $4 million. So this is par for the course for a Trump business.

MARCOTTE: Yeah. I think Timothy Noah, if I recall, he wrote about this recently for the New Republic. I think that there are actually more people that invested in truth social than our users of it.

SHEFFIELD: Oh, wow. That, is hilarious, if that's true, yeah. They have what I think about 63 million shares, I believe, or something like that. Yeah. So there's a lot of, there's more Trump donors than Truth Social users.

MARCOTTE: Either way. Like the point is there, it's such a bad service that people won't take it even though it's free, but they will pay him money for this thing.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, they won't use it, but they'll own the stock in it. If you're too extreme, too right wing crazy for Twitter under Elon Musk, he's basically opened the doors for everyone who is a complete psychopath, right wing nut job and said, come on in on Twitter. And they have, and so there [00:06:00] is basically no market if there even was one to begin with.

MARCOTTE: Yeah. I would say there was never really a market for it. And Elon is learning this the hard way too. Like the selling point of these services to those guys, to trolls, to right wing trolls is not their opportunity to speak to other losers like themselves. It's so that they can annoy people that they don't like because they feel on some level rejected, there's always such a mentality of, resentment and envy towards liberals. there's this real right wing rhetoric is all shot through with this real FOMO almost of the sense that that the left is having a good time. And they're the ones that have all the like musicians and artists and comedians and that, and the fun friends and the good parties.

And [00:07:00] so like it, it cultivates this childish desire in some people and we see it all the time on social media to just, well, pull on their ponytail then, and so without the liberals there to troll, there's not really any purpose for a social network of just a bunch of like fascists.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, this vibe exists with their romantic lives such as they are as well, because I mean, it is absolutely the case that when you go on various dating websites, there are no women on profiles saying things like, well, if you like Joe Biden, swipe left. That's just not happening.

And so, whereas in fact, there are a lot of, for very good reason, and I've heard from a lot of women that, they basically I used to Sometimes date Republicans and, once Trump came along, I, just don't bother with it anymore because if you actually like Trump and you're a guy, why you're an [00:08:00] asshole, why would I want to be with you? It's gotta be very depressing for them.

MARCOTTE: Yeah. I think it is true that it's really underestimated how much perceived or an often real romantic rejection is feeling a lot of the, like resentment that a lot of like the men that get in, especially the low propensity voters that Trump kind of pulls on that are difficult to get out.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, the Joe Rogan stans.

MARCOTTE: Yeah. I think a lot about the Proud Boys and what, they, when they came onto the radar, I think by then most people's perception of them were just that there were this paramilitary, neofascist organization. What was lost is that in the beginning, the Proud Boys, when Gavin McInnes was kind of putting them together, a huge part of their sales pitch was, we're going to make you better with women.

It was a lie. [00:09:00] Gavin got these guys to do a bunch of stuff that actually made them lonelier and less attractive to women. Like for instance, the Proud Boys only hang out with each other. Like they never speak to women and so they get worse at it, right? Their entire social life kind of is built around right wing politics, which is just a terrible way to meet women.

And so they actually become more unattractive. But what's funny about that is it's just like circular logic. Therefore they become more addicted to the MAGA lifestyle because it's the like only people that will have them anymore.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, it's, a, it is a self fulfilling curse in a sense that they become less effective and then also less able to realize that they're less effective at their dating.

And the other kind of interesting thing that, that isn't talked about a lot with this is [00:10:00] that younger people, generally speaking have been leaving evangelical denominations like the Southern Baptists for a number of years, and they've just been bleeding members.

But since Trump came along, there has been a small percentage of people who were in other Christian denominations who now identify as evangelical. And so it's it has been a little bit of a gravitational effect for them. And because they, feel like, well, that's, these are the people that agree with me politically.

So I guess. Maybe they're on to something where I don't know. It's, I mean, we can't tell what's going on through their heads since--

MARCOTTE: It's interesting. I was reading that book Exvangelicals last night and she had an interesting statistic, which was in 2000, And six, I do believe 23 percent of Americans identified as white evangelicals. That's dropped to 15%, but that includes, like you said, it's actually dropped more in a, in one regard in terms of like people that are like [00:11:00] church going evangelicals because the, a huge percentage of self identified evangelicals, I do believe up to 40 percent now do not attend church, do not belong to a church. They derive that identification from watching like Matt Walsh videos or something.

"Trad wife" has transformed from a worldview for women into a sex fetish for men

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, No, it is. And it's an identity rather than a belief system. And I think we're, we could definitely see that in regards to the whole tra wife thing, which you have been writing about quite a bit recently.

So for people who don't. Know what a what this whole trad wife thing is. What the hell is it? And we'll go from There's a lot to talk about

MARCOTTE: on one hand, I feel like trad wife is kind of like one of those self explanatory terms It just means traditional wife. But actually what it is it's an internet phenomenon It's it's like a hashtag trad wife, right [00:12:00] kind of thing and the idea of it is it's a bunch of social media influencers who present themselves in idyllic terms.

Like they, they have, they're influencers. So everything about them is kind of this like fantasy, but it's like a very politicized fantasy in that, they're, Pushing this idea that women have been tricked by feminism into believing that they should have a life outside the home, that they should want careers, et cetera, et cetera.

And that in fact, the real path to women's happiness is to be a stay at home wife. And not only a stay at home wife, but like a submissive stay at home wife, right? A lot most of them are very christian. A lot of them don't lead with that. But a lot of it is christian propaganda, right?

like right wing christian propaganda and you discover pretty shortly after like You might follow trad wives because [00:13:00] you like their sourdough videos or their You might envy their beautiful kitchens or whatever. They're little sweet, obedient children. But then what you get is this like message that it's because I adopt this like right wing Christian view of male headship in the house and female submission and, look how.

Wonderful. My life is and it's kind of a difficult subject to sort of explain in full to people because a lot of stuff on social media, there's actually a shocking amount of diversity within this kind of world. I mean, they're all selling the same fantasy, right? Of Women's joy is through submission, but some of them are kind of like trying to sell themselves to women.

Some of them are a little more obviously selling themselves to men and kind of pitches changes like person to person. So it kind of can be a diffuse trend. [00:14:00]

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and the religious motivations are different also as well for, cause like actually a huge percentage of these women are Mormon.

And a lot of them are evangelical and, some of them are just there because he wants you to go to their only fans also.

MARCOTTE: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and there's some crossover, but yeah, that I do want to be clear that it's like a lot of Mormons and then a lot of evangelicals. And while both have very like Rigid and sexist gender roles expectations, like the theology of them is a little bit different.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and but in terms of it does seem like that the audience, like they. Sort of understand that these are different things that are going on, but, some of them don't quite understand that I think, and so it's interesting because yeah, as you were talking about, I mean, there is quite a bit of.

Kind of a [00:15:00] fetish marketing, sub subtext to a lot of the videos that they're making, whether it's showing the, making sure that they put their breasts very large and out front and so you don't miss them.

MARCOTTE: It's true. so. So much of the trad wife stuff on Tik TOK.

When I first started researching this, I expected it to mostly be like what I was told it was, which was influencers that are selling a fantasy to women of a mad, like an understandable fantasy of kind of almost slipping back to childhood, but as a wife, wouldn't it just be nice to give up on all these adult responsibilities to make money and make decisions and take care of yourself and instead just have a man take care of you.

Right. And there is some of that content, but yeah, a lot of it was just here I am in a negligee, like stirring some vague thing in a pot really hard. I found a photo of one trad wife influencer and I put it up. I didn't even notice this, [00:16:00] like a lot of the people in my comment section did. She was.

Kind of like, sexually posed over a bowl that she was stirring. But when you actually look at it, it's a, colander. It wouldn't have something that you can stir in a colander. Didn't even bother to check that part of her photo.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and it's, well, because, yeah, because that's the other half of it is that it's, it is a fantasy to the men as well.

And that fits to the Trumpian worldview as well, because, like you've got on the men's side, of course, this enormous plethora of male content creators and influencers that, that's the fantasy that they're selling that, we will, if you follow my advice, you will be able to be a high value man and, be able to get someone who will do whatever you say.

And and that's, they're, playing into that for people who [00:17:00] actually believe that stuff, that they're kind of like the sort of The virtual Christian wife for them in some sense.

MARCOTTE: Well, and it's funny to me, cause I feel like there's a long tradition in conservative politics of packaging a political message.

It's like self help. Right. But it's gone. It's on steroids in the 21st century as part of the MAGA movement. Like a lot of people. Buying into social media stuff that purports to give you advice on how to make your sex life better, how to make your home life better, how to make your marriage better, how to, be more attractive how to be better at your job, other things like that.

And actually what it is it's, glib bullshit that is just reeling you in for what it's real message is, which is this fantasy claim, this nostalgia, this functionally a fascist nostalgia [00:18:00] for the idea that in the past, before Roe versus Wade, before Brown versus the Board of Education, before all these things, life was good and it's only those progressive changes that are why you personally are finding it hard to achieve the things that you want to in life.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and, that's important because, the actual policies that could be made to, if, allow people to have a single income household, they're against that. They're against family leave. They're against higher minimum wage. They're against unions. They're against, national health care.

they're, against all of these things. And so that's why it really is a fantasy and no, and it's, it is destructive in a sense because they are, it's I mean, in some ways it's kind of like the conservative feminism of Sheryl Sandberg, I would say [00:19:00] that, you can have it all, but don't actually do anything about this.

MARCOTTE: Yeah. And at least she was open to the criticism. at least on the surface she was, and they are not, it is interesting. Cause it's like, for instance, like in, in my, like my in depth article that I did on some of the people that are fighting back against trad wives online, like I opened talking about this Mormon influencer named Hannah Nealman.

She runs a little Instagram and all these other social media like feeds called ballerina farm. And that's because she. Used to be a ballerina and now she's a farmer's wife supposedly. And like they have eight children. She's only 33, which is kind of wild to me. And they run this farm and the whole kind of premise of the Instagram feed and their other marketing is that they have somehow made this like [00:20:00] fantasy of self sustainability happen, that they have this farm and they raise these animals and they sell farm goods.

And on that money, they're able to have this Enormous family and this perfect expensive kitchen and this gorgeous house and all this Extremely expensive stuff and what she doesn't really talk about is that it's because her Husband is the son of the jet blue founder not because they make a ton of money on their little farm project.

Many Mormon social media influencers clearly do not live Mormon doctrines

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And they I mean that, that is kind of the fantasy behind all of these accounts either, they have money independently from that or they don't but they're just, Pretending to, in the hopes that they can get endorsements and whatnot for their social media.

MARCOTTE: And if you think about that, then that means that kind of by definition, none of these tradwife influencers are actually stay at home wives.

They are professional [00:21:00] content creators. Their job and my job aren't all that different. I'm just more honest about it.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, no, and it's true. And and, but, and some of the more, some of the right wing audience does understand that. And the men in particular. Some men do criticize these content creators for that.

and saying that, well, look, if you really are sincere about wanting to be a, trad wife, you need to get off of social media because you can't be a trad wife if you're a real trad wife, if you're out there, prancing around for a million Instagram followers.

MARCOTTE: It's funny cause, and that's where the Mormon thing, I think really kicks in cause you're ex Mormon, right?

So, that there's like a long tradition there of not necessarily being like, you must be a stay at home, non employed mother. Right. But that there's a lot of discourse about like having a workout from the [00:22:00] home kind of job so that you are present for your children. So it's a little less like overt about the idea that women should not be making money, right?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. It's, still better if you aren't, but yeah. Well, and then to the Mormon thing, and one of the other things that you talked about in that is that, a lot of these women who are making this content, they're not following, they're clearly are not following the Mormon doctrines in their in their lives including specifically, with regard to the.

The undergarments that Mormons are supposed to wear, like they're wearing these clothes that very clearly would not be allowed if you were actually wearing them.

MARCOTTE: I love that so much. I, cannot tell you how much. So, in my reporting on this, I spoke to this wonderful couple. They're named Jordan and McKay Forsyth. They just go by Jordan and McKay online. Look them up. They're so much fun. They're ex Mormon and they did an [00:23:00] how Mormon influencers aren't wearing their garments. And I, and I was like, why is this such a big deal? And they're like, because it's mandatory. And the fact that church is giving them a pass speaks volumes about how much this is propaganda.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and the thing is there is a long tradition in Mormon culture of doing this sort of thing, like allowing members who very clearly do not live the expectations and requirements. And they never face any accountability, quote unquote, for that. I mean, like the Jack Dempsey, for instance, the, boxer, the mid 20th century boxer he was regarded as a Mormon, but he didn't follow any of their practices. He smoked, he drank, he, and I think he, was not had any sort of, traditional Christian lifestyle, quote unquote. And they never did anything to him. Never. Whereas if you're a [00:24:00] regular Mormon and they find out that you're smoking and drinking, they will come to you and start harassing you about, Oh, you need to, give that up.

And I mean, even in Mormon culture, unfortunately there are Mormons who will literally go and feel your body to see if you're wearing the garments underneath. It's so creepy. Yeah, these, women are not being subjected to that, obviously.

MARCOTTE: Yeah, no, I mean, look at the pictures. It's impossible.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. But it's, yeah. And yet, there is this, I mean, that, really is though the, this whole milieu, it really does speak to this constant tension that right wing Americans live with every day of their lives because, they know that they can't prove their beliefs that evolution is fake or that, vaccines are, harmful or, or that, or that, well, in the case of Mormons that, Native [00:25:00] Americans were the, our ancient Jews they know none of their beliefs are provable and they also know that their lifestyle mandates are oppressive and annoying.

MARCOTTE: And off-putting.

SHEFFIELD: Off-putting. Yeah. And yet they continue to believe them. When I was Mormon, I was, constantly had that tension in my mind that like for Mormons, their, dating experiences much like as bad as it is for everybody else on dating apps and whatnot in the Mormon culture, they have congregations that you're supposed to go to as a young single adult. And their sole purpose is to get you to marry somebody in that congregation. That's why they exist. And you're also chaperoned by a 60 year old at these events. You can't have your own congregation of young people. No, it has to be run by old people. Yeah, so it's just it's just a horrible tension. They all live in their own cognitive dissonance.

Fundamentalist Christians have realized that sex sells, in their own way

MARCOTTE: Yeah. And [00:26:00] I think evangelicals have a very similar situation going on, which is, you see this happen a lot and it's kind of getting worse. It was bad in the Bush years and it's, been bad for 40, 50 years, but it's, it seems like it's getting even more pronounced as they're trying to sort of vacuum over those contradictions.

On one hand, they know that the prohibitions against sex before marriage, the prohibitions against abortion. and while they're not necessarily all against birth control, it's kind of discouraged or at least, stigmatized. All of this comes together to create a very strong and accurate image of them being just really against sex and, but you know, it's not popular being against sex. Like sex is super popular. So sex is more popular than puppies and ice cream. I always say [00:27:00] most people have sex, like 95 percent of people.

SHEFFIELD: Certainly more than any politician. Yeah.

MARCOTTE: 95 percent of people have sex before marriage. It's incompatible with modern American life. And so what you get is a lot of propaganda and books and videos and sermons where evangelical leaders try to position themselves as we're not against sex. If you follow our rules, you're going to have the best sex of your whole life. It's going to be just so fulfilling. It's just going to be amazing.

It's an obviously false promise, as anyone who has had sex could probably tell you. But of course this pitch is being made to virgins and that's the like bait and switch that they're trying to pull off. And it kind of requires like an ad hoc conspiracy of sorts of everyone just not talking about the fact that in reality [00:28:00] we find that Couples that do wait until marriage and you all follow all the evangelical rules have really high rates of sexual dysfunction and Unhappiness because that just doesn't work.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Because they don't even know who the other person really is, even themselves. That's the other thing. It's just a bunch of ignorance piled upon ignorance, both individually and sort of philosophically, that's really what it comes down to.

But this is very important in becoming very important politically for them as well, I think. Because there's that old saying that right wing Christians used to say about about gay people, that they can't reproduce so they have to recruit. But the opposite is true for the Christian right. That they cannot recruit anymore. And so they have to reproduce. That's the only way that they can get anybody to sign [00:29:00] up for their oppressive alternative lifestyle.

MARCOTTE: Even then most of the loss, like the loss that they're seeing in terms of losing membership is younger people. So you can raise somebody to be evangelical. You can bully them into believing it for a long time, but a lot of them are going to grow up and start to be like, this isn't working for me.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, I mean it is in fact the case like with Mormons, that now there are more former Mormons than there are current Mormons And similar things that are happening with evangelicals as well, to your point.

There is a little bit of pushback though, for among some of these Christian conservative content creators who are women that I think some of them have finally understood what it is that they are advocating for.

So like Allie Beth Stuckey, who is this commentator for the for The Blaze, I believe, and some of these women have begun [00:30:00] to occasionally say, okay, this is really horrible what you guys are saying. Like they have said that recently with there was this right wing fever about a video of women dancing to a rap song in Louisiana that, that it set off. the right wing fascists out there that they were saying, how dare these women, go out there and dance to this jungle song or whatever, why are they not home behind this stove, serving their man.

And, some of these right wing Christian women were like, okay, I'm not down for that. But they, they're, in this weird place where they don't, I don't know if they ever will Come out and just be like, look, you guys are wrong about everything. I don't think they can.

MARCOTTE: I don't think that they can cause they've sort of built their life around this, but it's certainly, yeah, it's certainly younger women. Hopefully you're seeing this and realizing they need to hit the eject button before they've gotten into deep because yeah, [00:31:00] The thing is back in the Bush years, like the Christian right, like definitely kind of marketed itself as a chivalrous movement, right?

You heard a lot about chivalry and there's a certain appeal and rationalization to the idea that, well, there's like a sexual hierarchy, but at least it obligates men to protect and cherish women, right? Like pets admittedly, or children, but not like equals, but there's still man has

SHEFFIELD: to submit to Jesus at least.

MARCOTTE: But now they don't even bother with that. It's just mean. And I think that they've they've given up on that argument and it's, I don't know. Like how you like they've just given up on persuasion, I think, and that's the end problem here.

SHEFFIELD: It's interesting to watch from afar.

Nice not having to be in the middle of it. I bet. [00:32:00] Yeah, if only we didn't have to share a country with these people, that's the only downside. I'd like it to be further afar.

Far-right Christians have realized they need unplanned pregnancies, and so they're attacking birth control

SHEFFIELD: But in the political realm, there's Turning Point USA has really been pushing ramping up a lot of propaganda aimed at young women to try to get them married off and having kids as soon as possible to kind of prevent them from seeing the world on their own or just seeing other people or seeing other cultures, other idea sets.

and they've really kind of pushed that quite a bit. You want to talk about that?

MARCOTTE: Yeah. I mean, I think that there's this, kind of a twofold thing. You have a lot of this kind of trad wife type material out there. That's like hyping this idea that getting married young and all that is a wonderful and great.

And again, I do think that there is a, I don't want to discount that there is like [00:33:00] a surface appeal to the idea that it would be nice to like, Never have to grow up and never have to be responsible for your own decisions, be responsible for household finances, be responsible for going to a job every day and doing it well, right?

And That has a certain appeal. But on the other hand, when you actually see the statistics of where young women are at, you realize that while people might enjoy that fantasy for especially you've come, you've been at work all day and it's been hard and you might go look at some trad wife stuff and think about it for 10 minutes.

And then the next day you're like, nah, I'm not going to do that. So where persuasion is not working, I think we're starting to see force and trickery come in. And obviously the most salient example of the force is the, is Dobbs is repealing Roe versus Wade and starting to ban abortion. But [00:34:00] that's coming with another, there's been a real uptick of and Peter Teal has been funding this a lot too, of propaganda being decimated on online that's trying to get women to give up on the most effective forms of birth control with lies saying it's bad for them.

And I think that's starting to work because it,

SHEFFIELD: if you don't mind, I actually have a clip that I want to play on that. So, yeah, that's why I got a clip on that. Alex Clark, who is a commentator for Turning Point USA, who focuses exclusively on young women, and she's an evangelical, and she basically, her biggest thing is lying about birth control to 20 something.

So I'm going to play a clip where she says some false information about that.

ALEX CLARK: Well, all of a sudden women are waking up to how absolutely toxic hormonal birth control [00:35:00] is. It accelerates aging. It amplifies feelings of anxiety and depression. It depletes our bodies of vitamins and minerals. It makes sex painful. It causes migraines, weight gain. It can affect how attracted we feel to our partner. I

UNIDENTIFED WOMAN: I know that. Oh my gosh. What else? There's, it's, it can cause so many hormonal acne. So people think, Oh, I went on to fix my acne. Well, it can cause acne. It can cause yeah. Infertility issues in the future. Not directly, but because it's depleting all of these essential vitamins.

MARCOTTE: Yeah. All lies. I just want to be very clear. Yeah. When I started the pill, my acne just went away. I had bad acne as a teenager and it just went as soon as I was on the pill. So I'm just going to put that out there. Anyway, like here's what drives me nuts. This has been a talking point that comes and goes for like ever since, like at least since the nineties, right.

And it's always been [00:36:00] untrue. And. What's also really frustrating about it is it's built on this assumption that is flat out untrue, which is that the medical establishment would let women have access to dangerous medications.


MARCOTTE: Or like we do all those things.


MARCOTTE: Yeah. That allow us to have sex.

As if there was so much like support socially for women having like sexual freedom, that, the risks would ever be overlooked. And it's if you've ever been female and been to a doctor, you will find that is not true in the slightest. it's just not how it is. The idea that you, this, is assuming a level of respect for women's ability to make choices that I wish was true in American society, but is not.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, it isn't. Well, but of course, the reason that they're doing this is, to what I was saying that they [00:37:00] have to reproduce. It is literally their only way of having any sort of political coalition in the future because, because yeah, they're usually losing young people in droves.

And this is why they become so paranoid about, racial replacement and, all that stuff. And it's, just lies upon lies because of course these illegal immigrants are not allowed to legally vote. So they very clearly are not shifting the vote totals in any way to the Democrats at all.

And the real reason why Republicans are having a harder time demographically speaking is that they're losing young white people. That's actually what it is. Because of how they oppress them.

MARCOTTE: Especially young white women. And I think, a huge part of this. Because, a lot of the anti birth control thing is, not just about getting people to reproduce, but also getting young women to give birth before they're ready.

Before they know they're ready [00:38:00] is, a great way to derail their, I'm, I don't think I'm only speaking for myself when I say before you're like 25, 26 years old, you're not necessarily the best decision maker in terms of who you're sleeping with, maybe Republicans. But I think that there is like a, not to make it too sound too sinister, but I do think that a huge part of this is like hoping that college girls and, very young women get rid of birth control methods that are very effective and switch to condoms, which a lot of men don't want to wear and that they get pregnant and then they find themselves submitting to marriages that they weren't necessarily going to make if they were had a total freedom of choice there.

Now, I don't know how true that is. Cause I think what actually happens is women still do not marry those men and, end up just being single mothers or finding a way to abort [00:39:00] the pregnancy, even where it's banned. But I mean, I think that's the goal

Controlling women is both a doctrinal and political necessity for the Christian right

SHEFFIELD: yeah, well, and they do, I mean, they do openly talk about the idea that when you look at women who are married versus women who are not, that non married women are more likely to vote democratic.

And so by their definition, if we can do anything to make women get married and for whatever reason we don't care we feel like that will help us. And it's, it is, it's magical thinking in some sense though, because, it doesn't, Factor in that, well, maybe the percentage of women who are interested in being married at all are more likely to be conservative because, there's plenty of people out there that are like, well, why, what's the point of getting married?

I don't see the point of it when I can have the same effects as not, without the ceremony. Yeah, I think it's a little bit of contract.

MARCOTTE: I think it probably is a little bit of both, right? That's my, I think that both women that are more conservative probably get married [00:40:00] younger. So thus are more likely to be married.

and then I do think that marriage can make women more conservative because men are more conservative than women. And because we live in a male dominated society, Men's opinions tend to become the dominant one in a married couple more often than not. Like they pull women in their direction more than vice versa.

If not, if nothing but to keep the peace. Right.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and then it's also a matter of interest as well, because women tend to not follow. Politics as a hobby compared to men, but a smaller percentage are interested in it compared to men. And that's, that's just how it is, at least how, things are right now, at least in this country.

Yeah, so I think you're right about that, that and so, like that's, that really is the motivation and it's just so much manipulation. And it's no, I don't think it's sustainable for them. And, but rather than admitting, look, we [00:41:00] have ideas that people hate let's become more moderate. They're not going to do that.

MARCOTTE: We're seeing that we're seeing that a lot, like that play out really. Like dramatically with the Dobbs decision. I think they've been caught really flat footed by how angry it's made people. I've done this work my entire career and I've been caught flat footed, but how angry it's made people.

And I have some long, boring theories as to why that might be, but it doesn't really matter. what's happened is, By banning abortion, they made people more pro choice and more adamant about it.

How far-right activists hoodwink moderate Republicans about reactionary authoritarianism

SHEFFIELD: It made people realize how radical they were. Like, because I think that's, that really is, the linchpin of, reactionary political success is camouflaging their radicalism.

If you talk to your average Republican, or let's say your average Republican leaner, so an independent who says they're not a Republican, but they [00:42:00] vote for them, in their mind, they actually think that the Democratic party is more extreme than the Republican. They really believe this.


SHEFFIELD: That is the foundation of reactionary organizing is getting is camouflaging extremism and making, conservatives think that they're centrist, basically, I think.

MARCOTTE: Yeah, I think a lot of people like, so I know a lot of like pro choice Republicans and, what I would find in my discussions pre Dobbs with them was that they really wanted to talk about this subject as if it was a matter of personal opinion, as a map instead of policy.

Right. and they wanted to talk about what they can see what they perceived as they saw the abortion issue as a bunch of meanie feminists being mean to the sweet little church ladies who just don't like abortion. And it's no, I don't care if you don't [00:43:00] like abortion, just don't try to ban it.

Right. And by banning it, they've made feminists, they've proved feminists were right all along that it was never about somebody's personal choices. That's why we called it pro choice. Like it was always about letting people choose. The religious right was literally trying to take away extremely crucial health care access.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and they're doing that with this birth control stuff. I mean, that's, there is obviously no fertilized egg at risk in when a woman is using hormonal birth control methods.

MARCOTTE: Yeah. Well, but they, will lie about that through their teeth. It's insane. And to the point where I've, unfortunately that propaganda has gotten so widespread that I hear liberals repeat it all the time.

They think that the birth control pill kills a fertilized egg. It [00:44:00] doesn't, it prevents ovulation. That's how it works.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. But speaking of the, sort of educated Republican, I think, there's another person who kind of really personally, crystallized this, I think recently, which was Katie Britt in her State of the Union response to Joe Biden recently, that she, this is a woman who very clearly is a professional, educated, smart person, independent has always had, a high paying job and works very effectively and intelligently, but at the same time, she knows that's not what she's supposed to do.

MARCOTTE: Yeah, I think one of the reasons her response to the state of the union went over so poorly is like She's actually not all that great at doing the like Syrupy fundamentalist [00:45:00] trad wife bit, right?

I mean how much yeah, it's not her

SHEFFIELD: native language.

MARCOTTE: Yeah Even though she's from alabama and I feel like they just teach you that stuff from the cradle there Yeah I mean, she, had this sort of voice down the Fundy baby voice thing, but like she just could not sell it like but she looks the part.

And again, I think that she was put up to it by a bunch of like male leadership that told her that this was her way forward in the party and this was how she was going to get more power. And, she did her level best, but. And I think that's generally true. Like a lot of Republican women in leadership know that being able to sort of flatter and placate incredibly sexist men is the sort of path to success in their party.

And so they've, made their peace with that, if nothing else.

The disastrous effects of oppressive religion on women


SHEFFIELD: Yeah. It like, yeah, in some level they have. And yeah, it's just, it is really. It's really unfortunate to see, because I mean, I do personally know people who have had those things happen to them. women that I knew when they were teenagers.

who were so smart and witty and, but then over time they're, they just sort of gave in, lost themselves and it's, it's awful to see. And, I really, that was ultimately one of the reasons that, that I left Mormonism was that I didn't like what it did to women.

But it was subconscious at first. I couldn't see, I didn't have the vocabulary for understanding. Well, why is it that these Mormon girls are so different from the non Mormons? I couldn't see it. I, didn't understand how to say it at first.

And then, eventually I realized that's why I don't want to date [00:47:00] them.

MARCOTTE: It's, funny. yeah, I, often have said my whole like life that like one of the like hardest things for patriarchy to do. Do is to convince men not to see women as human beings, because we obviously are. And, you really have to beat it out of boys and and nonetheless, some still managed to keep hang on to.

Like the obvious fact that like women are people and not just helpmeets put here to serve them. I saw a speech by an abortion provider many years ago where he did talk about like why he got into it. And it was literally that when he was in high school, he had a crush on this girl. And she couldn't get an abortion with her boyfriend that she was dating.

And his just total compassion for her, drove him to go to medical school and become an abortion provider. And I was just like, [00:48:00] well, aren't you sweet? not only were you moved by this girl's play, but you didn't even care that she was dating some boy other than you.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, no, true. And.

but this just bundle of contradictions it, also, it was manifesting recently with the Donald Trump Bible that he's out selling now, that a guy who is literally on trial right now for paying off an adult film star that he had cheated on with his wife while she was pregnant.

It's also selling a Bible for 60.

MARCOTTE: Well, there's a lot of old Testament prophets who did similar stuff. I suppose, well,

maybe not prophets,

but figures like the evangelicals are always comparing Trump to King David and it's like, all right, whatever you guys,

SHEFFIELD: yeah, well, [00:49:00] yeah. And, but, and, that really is how they've kind of justified it.

It is that. They do see him as God's instrument, even if. They acknowledge that he may not live the, the, ideas and and, from a theological standpoint, I do think that also, their theology also makes them vulnerable to somebody like Trump or this type of thinking, because, if you believe, well, I'm, can be forgiven for anything that I do.

I just, I'm already forgiven, I can sin as much as I want, or, or you go to confession and then it's over, like If that's really your mentality and your belief, you actually can get away with any manner of sin, quote unquote.

MARCOTTE: Especially men. I will say in my research on my trad wives piece, like a lot of the religious trauma therapists I spoke with said that they've had a huge influx of patients since Trump, because [00:50:00] the contradictions are more than a lot of people in the church could bear.

And it was a breaking point for them for leaving. So I think we've been seeing an exodus. That's probably in larger numbers than the stats show because of what you said, that it's been offset by people self identifying as evangelical, even though they don't go to church.

The role of identity and religion in conservative politics

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and it's, yeah, it is, it's an identity which is another one of these, every accusation is a confession things like, the right wing Christians.

Southern right wing Christians invented identity politics. That's the entirety of what their movement is about. It's not about ideas. They don't have any ideas. They don't have policies. Their policy is the government shouldn't do stuff. But that's not really a policy or an idea.

MARCOTTE: It's true.

They always yell and scream about like people talking about race and gender. And it's well, but it's, like conservative forces, like historically that [00:51:00] invented these categories in order to classify people based on how much power they're allowed to have. . Like the concept of black people didn't exist until racists needed it to justify chattel slavery.

and as a lot of gender theorists point out, the only reason we buy into this myth of like that there are men and there women and there's no in between and there's no ambiguity around those two categories, that they're just a black and white categories. Is that. We need there to be men and women in order to know who's in charge and who's the servant, right?

And I think that liberals are just using categories that we've been handed to criticize them, but we're not, the people who need them as much,

SHEFFIELD: yeah, well, and again, and it's something that the right wing, right wingers don't understand when they talk about, That women need to be feminine and [00:52:00] men need to be masculine.

When they say things like that, they don't understand that people on the left don't deny that either. If somebody wants, if a woman wants to be feminine, quote unquote, nobody says, no, you can't do that. There's nobody out there saying. No, you cannot wear a dress if you like wearing dresses, take that off right now.

MARCOTTE: And one of my favorite contradictions about that is the same people who say that like gender's, inborn, unchanging, and immovable also completely lose their minds. If a man wears a skirt or a woman does sports or yeah, does something considered not of their sort of gender stereotype. And it's well, y'all decide, right.

Is it inborn and therefore unchangeable by any choice I make, or is gender performance that we have to just constantly keep up by what the clothes we wear, the choices we make, the like way we present to the world. I feel like you have to choose. [00:53:00]

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and then from a theology standpoint, if they do claim to believe that, God is this, transcendent, non physical being that contains the essence of everything and everyone, so therefore you can refer to God as female, and that would be correct if you want to but you know, if you do that, like they get massively triggered and angry at you or calling God non binary. of course, like if you're talking about a non physical being that is eternal, of course it is non binary. of course it is but you can't say that to them.

MARCOTTE: Yeah. Every time that they're like, no, God is a man. I just. I'm just like, what does God have junk? I just want to know, does God have junk? I want but I never have the courage to ask that, but I'm always thinking it.

SHEFFIELD: I, I have once in a while asked people, did Jesus die for the [00:54:00] alien? I have asked someone that.

MARCOTTE: That's, a good one.

SHEFFIELD: And yeah, somebody told me that, yes, the answer was yes to that. Then I said, oh, okay, well tell me more. And then they

MARCOTTE: They wouldn't be unsaved because they haven't heard the good word. No, I don't want to go down this rabbit hole.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, I see. Well, that's the thing, like you're not supposed to, you aren't supposed to think about it too much.

You really aren't like that's all of the, like all of this stuff. That's the one consistent thing they have is that you're not supposed to expect consistency. You're not supposed to think about it. You're just supposed to follow. That's really what it is.

MARCOTTE: Aliens land. Are we supposed to meet them with Bibles and be like, ‘Oh good. You're saved.’

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, I guess so. See, hopefully we'll have that, that, first contact. We can find that out.[00:55:00]

Well, so we're coming up on the hour here. So, is there any other aspect of this that we haven't talked about that you feel like we need to cover here?

MARCOTTE: No, I think aliens is good. That's some fun stuff.

SHEFFIELD: We've reached the natural end point.

While religion often justifies sexism, there are plenty of non-religious sexist arguments also

SHEFFIELD: Um, well, I guess, how about then let's just maybe end that, as much heretics like you and I do enjoy making jokes of this nature.

It is also the case, that a lot of these sexist stereotypes and submission narratives do, they're not dependent on religion necessarily.

MARCOTTE: No. And in fact, I think, maybe less so than when I was like first starting out as a feminist writer, but there was like this whole like notion.

and Jordan Peterson still kind of minds this territory a lot that like, there's something called evolutionary psychology that it, and it's not a real science, [00:56:00] but people present it as it is. And it is also the same kind of just so stories, but they package it as science instead of religion, that women are born to be helpers and men are born to be leaders.

And if you start to dig into it, you find that their claims are just unevidenced in all ways. And they're untestable also.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. To say, well, this is how things were for humans 20, 000 years ago.


SHEFFIELD: It's like, how do you know that.

MARCOTTE: Jordan Peterson and his lobsters is like the kind of thing that sounds persuasive at first glance and then you give it like five minutes thought and you're like, wait, none of that makes any sense. Is our society to look anything like lobster society? These claims here that are not testable, like you said, or like comparisons that don't really hold up under scrutiny.

So there is a secular version of it, but I do find it interesting that I, when I [00:57:00] look at like secular, like conservative spaces, I don't really see as much.

Of the sort of like elaborate Evo psych, like arguments that you used to see. I think it's just Donald Trump has kind of created this permission structure to just be a belligerent jerk about your views without ever even feeling the need to kind of prop up even a half assed fake proof,

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And, and I was talking with somebody, another fellow ex Republican about that. And he made the point that I think was very interesting, which is that all of the arguments you used to see of this nature, they weren't for the general public, they were actually for the moderate Republican.

And once the moderate Republican was just like, yeah, I'll just vote for you no matter what you do. Then they don't even bother with the pretense anymore. And that's a really good point. Interesting idea. Yeah, and so and that is yeah, why I would say, you know the To the extent that there are [00:58:00] still any moderate Republicans out there, you guys need to fucking stand up for yourself. Come on now.

Fascism is dependent on conservatism to win. It cannot exist without it. And conservatives need to understand that and they need to assert themselves because they are the first ones who will be up against the wall. The conservatives will, that's who they come for.

MARCOTTE: Yeah. I mean, that's. That's literally how Donald Trump is operating, right? He's following the fascist playbook of get the conservatives on your side and then purge them from the party. Hitler did it with the knight of the long knives. Trump does it with tweets, but it's, and that is less violent.

So I'll give him that, but it's kind of the same premise, right? You use them as a ladder to climb the power. And then when. You've gotten there. You just take them out.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Well, so Amanda people who want to keep up with your stuff, how would they do that?

MARCOTTE: I recommend just going to [00:59:00] salon. com. I, write there every day. I have a Twitter account under my name, Amanda Marcotte. I post there once in a blue moon. I also am on Bluesky, which is a little bit more fun for me these days. So, check me out in those places.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Sounds good. It's been a great discussion today.

MARCOTTE: Thank you, I've had a blast.

SHEFFIELD: So that is the program for today, I appreciate everybody joining us for the conversation. And you can always get more if you go to theoryofchange.show, you can get the video, audio, and transcript of the episodes.

And if you are a paid subscribing member, thank you very much. You are making the show possible. And if you can't afford to subscribe right now, I understand that. But please tell a friend or a family member about the show and ask one of your favorite podcasters to have me on. I do those once in a while as well. Those are always fun.

I appreciate everybody for joining me today and I will see you next time.

Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.