Tucker Carlson vs. Chelsea Handler: Why the right-wing is steaming mad about childfree women

The Fox News tantrum over a childfree comedian says a lot more about Republicans than it does about modern women

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published February 17, 2023 6:21AM (EST)

Tucker Carlson and Chelsea Handler (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson and Chelsea Handler (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

It's a cliche at this point to note that, for Republicans, every accusation is a confession. But it's a cliche for a very good reason: They keep proving the point on an hourly basis. The latest example is so pathetic that one almost feels bad laughing about it. There is currently a spasm of performative anger from right-wing pundits over the fact that comedian Chelsea Handler is happy to be childfree. 

For those who are blessedly not in tune with the daily male whining that is the Fox News and Daily Wire universe, here's what happened. Handler, who is guest hosting at "The Daily Show," did a cute, harmless skit about the glorious day in a life of a childless woman. It was, due to being a joke, completely over-the-top. As a fellow childfree person, I can assure you we don't dash off to Paris at a moment's notice, and we certainly don't have teleportation or time travel powers. But of course, that was the point: To mock not just the overbearing pressure to have kids, but the false assumptions that childless women are nothing but selfish hedonists. 

The way that the right-wing media freaked out over Handler's video made it clear they see insecure, bitter men as their primary audience.

Naturally, the crybaby right-wing press lost their minds, going wild with accusations that Handler is secretly miserable and lonely. 

Tucker Carlson of Fox News brought on misogynist commentator Jesse Kelly to rave that feminists have been "lied to by their society forever that you can be a girlboss, and you can do anything a man can do—which everyone who's ever seen a woman back up a vehicle knows that's not true." He kept going by claiming that for Handler — or any feminist, really — their "Valentine's date for the tenth year in a row is a ten-year-old copy of 'Magic Mike' and a half-full bottle of Xanax, and you're trying to pretend like you're happy, but you're not happy."

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Note that almost none of this unhinged rant is actually about being childless at all. Babies don't provide Valentine's Day dates or parallel park for supposedly helpless women. No, Kelly is mad at women for not being dependent on men.

When Carlson calls the video "super-depressing," it's a classic psychological projection. He knows what actually depresses his largely male audience is not fears that women are lonely, but their own fears of being alone. The roots of this anger over women's independence aren't hard to surmise. It's about insecure men who fear women won't choose them willingly. Carlson is speaking to those who think their best bet at having a stable relationship is forcing women into economic and social dependence on men. 

Indeed, the way that the right-wing media freaked out over Handler's video made it clear they see insecure, bitter men as their primary audience.

Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire tweeted that Handler is "a deeply unhappy woman who keeps insisting she is REALLY REALLY SUPER HAPPY while her eyes say she's dying inside." Self-declared "Transphobe of the Year" Matt Walsh screeched, "She's so happy, you guys. Okay? Nobody say she's sad. She's not. Definitely not." Someone here is super defensive, but it's not Handler. Handler is doing fine, but the audience hungry for this misogynist content is radiating pathetic divorced dude energy. 

Again, it's quite telling how a video that's about not having children was read, by the GOP punditry, as about not having a man. This comports with research that shows that opposition to reproductive rights has little to do with being "pro-life" but about anxiety over changing gender roles and anger over women's independence. As I reported earlier this month, new polling data from PerryUndem shows that the best predictor of a person's views on abortion is their levels of sexism. Opposition to abortion correlates strongly not with respect for life, but with beliefs like "it bothers me when a guy acts like a girl" or that women are incapable of making choices for themselves.

"This entire thing says a lot more about you than anyone else" is true across the misogynist landscape.

This defensive, angry reaction to Handler is part of this. Clearly, none of these men are actually worried about her wellbeing, or the wellbeing of childfree women in general. Instead, the emotion here is anger. They're angry at women for wanting more out of life than a servile relationship with some man who takes them for granted. Babies only factor here because they're seen as a tool to force women into subservience. It's why the same people who support forced childbirth oppose improving our social safety net and health care system. The point of forcing women to have babies is to force them into dependent relationships with men. A robust social safety net that allows mothers to leave unhappy relationships would, in conservatives' eyes, defeat the purpose of abortion bans and other policies meant to coerce childbirth. 

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These resentments against independent women are rarely far from the surface on the right.

David Futrelle, who tracks online misogyny at his blog We Hunted the Mammoth, recently posted a rant from an incel at a Reddit forum set up for the purpose of letting misogynists and feminists debate. Unlike the try-hard rants from right-wing pundits projecting their audience's insecurities onto feminists, this incel admitted straight up he resents what he imagines is the glorious, stress-free — and most importantly, socially active — life of a single woman. "Multiple texts from your siblings, friends who are girls, friends who would probably date you if you gave them the chance," he writes in a post titled, "How I imagine life as an attractive woman is like." He continues to fantasize about how single women's lives are full of friends, potential lovers, and fun, and how they are always "Dopamine up." 

"Because you are a hot girl, you somehow received an invitation to a social event, or one of your friends did, and you are tagging along," he writes, as if being invited to a party is the rarest and most impossible thing he could imagine. 

As his interlocutors pointed out, having friends and family who care about you, much less getting to go to parties, is hardly the sole province of the conventionally attractive single woman. "This entire thing says a lot more about you than anyone else," one person replied. One is almost tempted to feel sorry for the original poster— but for the fact that his loneliness is likely the product of his misogyny and resentful personality. 

"This entire thing says a lot more about you than anyone else" is true across the misogynist landscape. Sometimes it manifests in fantasies, like those projected onto Handler, where sexist men imagine the women who rejected them are being punished with loneliness. Sometimes it comes in even more pathetic fantasies, like this incel's belief that life is a cakewalk for anyone female and remotely attractive. Either way, it rarely has anything to do with the real lives of real women.

That's the hex that toxic masculinity puts on men's heads. It starts with a belief that men are entitled to have a woman to care for them and clean up with them. When they discover that women have minds of their own, and therefore aren't interested the thankless role of being someone's sex mommy, the entitlement turns to anger. And that rage is very profitable for the Tucker Carlsons and Ben Shapiros of the world. No wonder these pundits encourage their audiences to cultivate even more repulsive personalities that will result in more loneliness and rage, leading to even bigger profit margins at the Daily Wire and Fox News. Someone here is getting conned, alright, but it's not Chelsea Handler or the people who had a laugh at her silly little "Daily Show" video. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Ben Shapiro Chelsea Handler Commentary Jesse Kelly Matt Walsh Tucker Carlson