Coming out for Hillary Clinton is like coming out as a lesbian. (I‚Äôm the lesbian, not Hillary, despite the sledgehammered innuendos of Ann Coulter.) In conversations with friends, family and random airline seatmates, before I declare my orientation for Hillary, I think, Do I have the energy or interest to deal with the inevitable Hillar-phobic blowback? Frankly, not always, but I do it. Just as I come out as a lesbian to smash homophobia, I come out for Hillary to challenge sexism.
At the gym, I‚Äôve been listening to the audiobook of Susan Faludi‚Äôs The Terror Dream, about how 9/11 has been seized as a way to restore ‚Äútraditional‚Äù heterosexual manhood, marriage, and maternity. While my gym mates hum along to ‚ÄúWe are the Champions,‚Äù my reps sound like ‚Äú1, 2, 3‚ÄîOh, for fuck‚Äôs sake!‚Äù I‚Äôm sure the guys working out at the gym are puzzled by my glowering at them in the mirror.
No matter what you think of her, Hillary Clinton‚Äôs presidential campaign has restarted our national conversation about gender. And girl, do we ever need to keep talking. I try to do my part to keep the conversation from being reduced to little more than a dismissive crack about ‚Äúplaying the gender card.‚Äù
In 2007 gender was at the heart of all kinds of seemingly unrelated events. Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi was maligned for not reaching political benchmarks‚Äîthe implication being that she fell short because she‚Äôs a woman. But I like to point out that doing things constitutionally in the bright light of day takes longer than doing them unconstitutionally in the dark of night. I wish Pelosi‚Äôd had thought bubbles over her head during MONTH TK‚Äôs State of the Union [aka the ‚ÄúIf I Did It‚Äù] address.
When Don Imus referred to the Rutgers Women‚Äôs Basketball team as ‚Äúnappy headed ho‚Äôs‚Äù and ‚ÄúAmazons,‚Äù it was not a proud moment for people holding the white race cards. But the women‚Äôs real offense was that they were playing like boys. Actually, better.
The Imus mess did give us a chance to read about women in sports, or at least near sports. Perhaps because The New York Times is an inch and a half narrower, and New York sports teams are so good, the sports section is unable to cover more‚Äîor any‚Äîwomen‚Äôs sports. It‚Äôs not limited to sports. If you were to read the obits every morning to your girlfriend, as I do, you‚Äôd be able to announce after a quick scan: ‚ÄúGreat news, honey, absolutely no women died today.‚Äù
In other women‚Äôs sort-of-sportsnews, the New York Knicks coach, Isaiah Thomas‚Äîspiritual son of Justice Clarence Uncle Thomas, who‚Äôs still ripped and resentful from back in 1991 about Anita Hill‚Äîmaintained his petulance after the elegant Anucha Browne-Sanders won her sexual harassment case against Thomas and Madison Square Garden. Sprinter Marion Jones also proved she was a class act as she apologized for her juice use.
In television, suits are still confining talent by gender, whether or not they admit it. When Katie Couric was allowed to break the testosterone ceiling and sit solo as nightly news reader, prime time news was of course past its prime. Still, her impudence was noted by Mr. Bitter, Dan Rather. Rosie O‚ÄôDonnell, fresh from being fresh on The View, was unable to make a deal to do late night comedy. Ellen DeGeneres, who seems less comfortable with the lesbian card she was dealt than do her straight guests, was allowed humanity by playing the canine card.
Can a woman handle the presidency? Oh, come on. But America is pretty much the last of the Western nations to get it. Our big democratic U.S. seems even more preposterous with its sexist doubts now that Ireland, New Zealand, Finland, Switzerland, the Philippines, Liberia, Germany, Norway, Chile and Argentina have elected women heads of state. And don‚Äôt forget the Queens! In England, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the Village.
In the Middle East, gender is still a conversation nobody wants to have. After our friend and ally Saudi Arabia sentenced a 19-year- old woman, gang-raped 14 times, to 90 lashes for violating Saudi segregation laws forbidding men and women from associating, I waited for our international image ambassador Mr. Karen Hughes to say something. Naturally, Hughes did nada. On appeal, the Saudi woman‚Äôs punishment was increased to 200 lashes and six months in prison for trying to influence the judiciary through the media. Somebody get her Paris Hilton‚Äôs number.
Here‚Äôs something worth talking about: Gender multiplied in 2007. At least that‚Äôs how it seems to middle America. A lot of us knew it all along. When the transgender card is played and the T is dropped from LGBT in an amended ENDA, I like to point out that no matter how straight-acting we try to be, we are gender outlaws. Michigan‚Äôs Governor Jenifer Granholm, after some hard lobbying by Michigan GLBT groups, did the right thing and issued an executive order barring discrimination against transsexual state employees. The Michigan Coalition for Traditional Family Values vowed a fatwah. On Fox News, Sean Comb‚Äôs [SP???] tiny head blew up.
Having upped the gender ante in the presidential race, Hillary is taking hits on prejudices we hardly know we have. Do we really respect her choices as a woman? Do we have to? When the American people shrugged that they didn‚Äôt care what Hillary‚Äôs husband did sexually in private as long he did his job, it was exactly what gay people have been saying for years. But that whole episode still frosts women. Recently, my friend Juan, the big African-American queen and doctor of sociology tried his gay-male best to explain it to me at dinner.
‚ÄúMarried women have a pact,‚Äù said Juan, leaning in, power-pointing with a forkful. ‚ÄúIf their husbands cheat on them, they vow they‚Äôll leave, especially if the husband embarrasses them publicly. But in fact, the women rarely leave, and they hate themselves for their inaction. So there‚Äôs Hillary, a powerful woman, whose husband cheats on her, gets caught, goes on TV, denies it and gets impeached. By standing by her man, Hillary is an affront to married women, a reminder of their weakness, a hologram of their self-hatred.‚Äù
I‚Äôm not convinced self-hatred is so gendered, but when an older woman in South Carolina stood and asked John McCain, ‚ÄúWhat are we going to do to beat the bitch?‚Äù I did find myself shaking my head, muttering, ‚ÄúWhy do you hate yourself so much?‚Äù McCain‚Äôs uncomfortable chuckle, suggested that he‚Äôs thought, heard, or said worse.
Of course, I support Hillary not just as a gender lens and barometric pressure reader of sexism, but also as an actual woman with a big laugh, big brain, and cleavage, for god‚Äôs sake. I was the first in my neighborhood to sport a ‚ÄúHillary‚Äôs First Day: 01.21.09‚Äù bumper sticker.
Don‚Äôt think for a moment that I am not taking all manner of flak for my Hillary support at home. My dear partner loves to out me as a Hillary supporter to friends, family and elevator guys. She is appalled by Hillary‚Äôs hawkishness, her equivocation on gay marriage, and her three day delay in refuting General Peter Pace‚Äôs claim that homosexuality is immoral.
I agree. Then I paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld right back to her, ‚ÄúYou go to the polls with the candidate you have, not the one you wish to have.‚Äù In 2007, she closed the deal: Hillary is my guy.