I recently attended a rock concert where the headline act—an artful blend of political correctness and antic comedy dressed in a leopard-skin overcoat under a silver wig—lectured us at some length on the need to respect women.  His remarks were repeated at intervals throughout the performance, and at one point were illustrated by images of Great Dames, as they were called, on a giant video screen.  I remember seeing the likes of Hillary Clinton and Miley Cyrus displayed there, along with several others I failed to recognize immediately, though I do recall that there was no mention of my own preferred candidate, Margaret Thatcher.  As I say, these pieties were regularly aired, either in visual or spoken form, during the course of a long evening.  It appeared that the distaff side of the audience was about to be awakened sexually and socially, whether it liked it or not.

Oddly enough, there seemed to be little evidence of this liberated state of affairs when it came to the role of the actual women appearing on the stage.  I will spare you some of the details, but suffice it to say there was a generous amount of “twerking”—essentially the act of bending over and energetically gyrating one’s backside while leering suggestively at anyone who happens to be present.  There was a great deal more in this general vein from among the lady dancers as they set about illustrating the night’s chosen repertoire of songs, some or most of which loudly alluded to “hoes” and “bitches.”  Even if we were agreed that this deserved nearly three hours of our undivided attention, there seemed to me to be a major artistic problem with this orgy of self-exploitation on the part of the female players: Take away the thunderous accompaniment of the music, and one was left with nothing but crudely stylized gestures that looked much too alike when batched together back to back and, relentlessly, midriff to rear.  The male artists, by contrast, continued to stand deadpan behind their instruments, lacking only the regulation stovepipe hats and frock coats to complete a caricature of Victorian industrialists posing for a company photograph.  I can attest to the delirious cheers that went up throughout the audience at these successive, and sometimes extended, displays of sexual apartheid.

Perhaps it’s extrapolating too much to say that many of today’s most ideologically pristine public entertainers don’t like women.  But I think that the case can be made.  Take, for example, the modern preponderance of the word bitch.  Once rightly thought odious in any company, it’s now ubiquitous in popular culture, from its almost monotonous airing in the skits on Saturday Night Live and elsewhere to the luridly emblazoned titles of bestselling books and DVDs.  Meanwhile, whether in the lewdly explicit lyrics of songs that routinely demean women—a dehumanizing barrage from young and often not-so-young rappers and their music-industry enablers—or in the proliferation of so-called family restaurants whose employee dress codes would have raised eyebrows in a 1970’s Vegas revue, our children are increasingly taught to thrill at violent or lurid images that portray young women as little more than nymphomaniacal swimwear models.  “Gender equality” may be extolled by the headliners of pop concerts and other opinion-formers, but in practice it has yet to disturb the age-old artistic convention regarding which performers are to be taken on their own merits versus which ones are essentially to be treated as decorative objects.

The fact is that much of our relentlessly progressive culture is simply not a place where you would want your daughter or sister to find a role model.  At its worst it is like a time machine taking you back to the attitudes and prejudices of the Sinatra era, when women were “broads,” although even that unreconstructed swinger seemed to possess ambassadorial dignity compared with today’s cloaca-tongued pop idols.  It would be one thing shamelessly to exploit women in song and on stage.  There’s nothing new in that.  What is remarkable is how many of those whom we are called to venerate in the lively arts as they dance so worshipfully and repetitively around the notion of social harmony and universal respect  actively devote themselves to the ritual degradation of half the population.  If you can bear it, listen to the inspirational words of rapper Kanye West, when, in interviews, he calls for his industry to “speak in a language that women will embrace.”   And then skim that same artist’s discography, in which his compassion and generosity are movingly revealed in such tunes as “Drunk & Hot Girls,” “Get ’Em High,” “Gold Digger,” and other titles perhaps best omitted in a family magazine.  In terms of moral authority, Mr. West speaks from the same perch as that occupied by Keith Richards when, with a straight face, he advises us never, ever to do drugs.

No doubt postmodern cultural apologists will earnestly tell us that many women are fine with the notion of flaunting their bodies, and that to be seen writhing across the stage or gyrating maniacally to the cheers and wolf whistles of the mob is in fact the highest form of empowerment.  Perhaps this is so.  Still, we have to ask ourselves what sort of society we are producing if we reduce female sexuality to just another consumer commodity.  If deporting oneself like a particularly debauched 1890’s Parisian cabaret artiste is truly the pinnacle of female self-expression, what might this betoken for the generation of girls coming up fast behind?  Is it capable of producing a Margaret Thatcher?  Or only Madonnas and Gagas?