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This Women’s History Month, we turn to words of female empowerment from an unlikely source: Gene Simmons.
In the age of #MeToo, the mere suggestion that the long-tongued KISS co-founder and frontman might have something valuable to say should make heads spin.
Once heads stop spinning, some women’s heads may actually explode upon hearing what Simmons actually has to say.
“If you are a woman, I must say something...that will make me sound like a misogynistic blowhard. But please get past that knee-jerk reaction because it is not your friend in the real world.”
In the real world Simmons writes about, men and women are different. He argues that women -- particularly beautiful women -- have a power that that they may choose to ignore, or to exploit: The power of sexual attractiveness.
His peroration on the power of female sexual attractiveness goes on for pages, employing more italics than any other section in the book. It’s worth quoting at length:
“So let me say this clearly: Ladies, if you are interested in harnessing this type of power, first be honest with yourself about how you look. That is to say, be honest about how you are perceived. And if you find that you have this power that is unique to your sex, you should not feel ashamed to use it.”
“People may look down on you or try to shame you for it. Do not listen to them. Your goal is power, and using all of your resources, including manipulating society’s expectations of your sexuality and your gender, is part of gaining power.”
Shame corrodes power from within. Envy erodes power from without. Simmons urges women to reject both:
“[Y]ou can choose to ignore the puritanical voices in your head that say it is ‘evil’ and ‘immoral’ to embrace your sexuality and use it where it most benefits you.”
“I happen to think these taboos are nonsense. If you have the ability to marshal an aspect of yourself to get what you want, I say you should go for it, and this includes sexuality and being sexually desired. Modesty be damned. I believe that our distaste for this sort of thing stems from jealousy. Men are jealous if they can’t have you. Other women are jealous because they can’t do what you do or are too ashamed.”
Simmons writes for women -- and men -- who want not merely to survive, but to excel, particularly in hyper-competitive fields, like the dog-eat-dog music industry he dominates. “Do whatever it takes to win,” he repeatedly urges readers, and if this strikes some as Darwinian, he offers no apologies: “The further we get away from the feral reality of natural selection and competition, the less prepared we are to face the realities of our world.”
To me, the metaphor that best captures the the idea of wielding sexual attractiveness within the context of cutthroat competition comes from The Hunger Games.
In the titular event of the drama, teenage “tributes” are chosen from each district of the dystopian empire, and forced to fight to the death. The opening battlefield is anchored by a metal structure called the Cornucopia, surrounded by a variety of weapons and supplies. The contestants must make an instant calculation: Do they see a weapon worth the risk of retrieving? Or should they take the safer course: abandon all weapons on the field and flee for the relative safety of the forest?
To me, sexual attractiveness is one of the weapons surrounding the Cornucopia on any particular arena where a woman has chosen to do battle. Most women will abandon this resource for the safety of the forest. Many women simply won’t know how to wield it. Other women will recoil out fear or shame, glorified as “conscience.” And some women will calculate that whatever the value of the weapon -- which naturally varies according to age and natural endowment -- simply isn’t worth the cost, which is largely set by the market of social convention. But the bold, the beautiful, and independent woman warrior will pick it up, and wield it as it serves her.
I have made every single one of those choices at various times in my life.
Competitive to a fault, risk-taking by nature, I rebelled against the explicit feminist strictures my mother lovingly tried to instill in me. As I recount in my Draw My Life video, my mother protectively warned me that if I played up my appearance and sexuality, men would “objectify” me. As a joke, that’s when I decided to become an Objectivist.
My motley career has spanned modeling in New York and Paris in my teens, interning at the State Department while an undergraduate at Harvard, writing scripts and fetching coffee as a production assistant at an ABC affiliate in Washington, DC, researching and writing speeches for President George H. W. Bush, touting school choice as a policy wonk at the Cato Institute, spouting off on various cable networks from Fox News to CNN to MSNBC, advising legendary financier Theodore J. Forstmann on philanthropy, starting and running a nutrition institute for David H. Murdock for 12 years as a Senior Vice President at Dole Food Company to now, serving as CEO for The Atlas Society, a 30-year-old think tank promoting the literature and ideas of Ayn Rand.
Early experience with a college professor (now deceased) who tried to extort sexual favors in exchange for a better grade, or by photographers who promised to help me land modeling contracts if I’d consent to nude pictures, or by a married State Department bureaucrat who proposed an extra-marital affair when I was an intern under his supervision, might have left me feeling bitter or vulnerable.
They didn’t. They served the dual purpose of alerting me to the fact that beyond whatever other virtues I brought to a job -- intelligence, hard work, talent -- I possessed other assets that men desired, however inappropriately, which I could mute or marshall as I saw fit. As I moved through the years, the raw power of these assets depreciated, but the sophistication and subtlety with which they could and should be handled grew. By adjusting my modality, I was able to decrease the frequency of annoying and awkward come-ons from men which could only end in mutual embarrassment, and potentially cause professional wrinkles. I was also able marshal an aspect of feminine charisma that certainly opened doors to interviews, meetings and opportunities.
And that’s really what Simmons is talking about. “[I]f you are a woman, I want you to be powerful and rich. Not with your man’s money. With your money. Your power.”
I believe him. Unlike men who have taken advantage of their power to victimize women, Gene Simmons is a man who is using his public platform, at personal cost, to empower women. Perhaps this should be no surprise for a man who was raised by a single mother, a Holocaust survivor to whom he has remained devoted all his life. Or a man whose long-time love interests include rich and powerful women like Cher and Diana Ross. Or a man who named his 25-year-old daughter Sophie -- inspired by the Greek word for wisdom. Or the man whose greatest philosophical influence was one of the wisest women of all: Ayn Rand.
Feminists will criticize Simmons. But in telling women to use how they look to get what they want, he has demonstrated he actually cares more about trying to help women become rich and powerful, than by courting popularity in the court of political correctness. For that he deserves a standing ovation - not a tongue lashing.
Jennifer Anju Grossman is the CEO of the Atlas Society.