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Hilary Rosen: Why No National Conversation on Gender?

(Tim O’Brien/Mother Jones)

Today on The Huffington Post, columnist Hilary Rosen, in a piece called “Why Do We Stick With Her?”, nudges along the conversation about sexism and gender in the presidential campaign. It’s about the only sensible comment I’ve seen yet, and really does help us all a bit.

Rosen gets the question wrong, but I admire the column. A better question is why no national conversation on gender, when Hillary Clinton’s campaign would seem to have been a perfect time to have one.

Rosen tries to explain the passion of Hillary supporters at this late date, when Barack Obama all but has the nomination sewn up.

After establishing her own bona fides, Rosen quickly starts invoking the “sisterhood,” but before your eyes glaze over she actually says something enlightening—by comparing the impact of Bill Clinton’s seemingly racist comments on African-Americans to the impact of other commentators’ openly sexist remarks. It’s the impact, not the intent, that matters, Rosen says; one more layer of slime after all we’ve been through (as females and/or Black folk).

So this “passion” of Clintonites, in the face of bad news, comes from a hope that they can be heard, so that we have a real conversation about gender.

Rosen credits Obama with stimulating a helpful national discussion about race, and I agree; his Philadelphia speech was masterful.

But there’s been nothing similar out of Clinton on what the actual experience of American women is and why we need to go beyond the status quo by electing her.

I wouldn’t want her to give a big Feminist speech (I doubt my mother would like that), but it would be great to have her take a serious look at the lives, experience and history of women in America.

But she doesn’t seem able to give that speech. As smart as she is, I’m not sure she’s able to craft a speech sufficiently balanced, nuanced, principled and generous for a group as huge as “American women.” For all they have in common, they’re also an incredibly diverse group, while the experience of African-Americans is framed on all four sides by slavery and racism.

It’s one thing to decry that we haven’t used this year’s opportunity for a national conversation on gender; it’s another thing to point out that she hasn’t made it happen. She’s actually avoided it.

Look at how she’s run: as a macho, pro-war Commander in Chief; as an anti-war liberal; as a weepy female in New Hampshire and a gun-toting hunter in Pennsylvania. In Indiana she even tried being a boilermaker for a day, and got praised for her “testicular fortitude.”

Her role model in this campaign isn’t Susan B. Anthony, it’s Margaret Thatcher. There’s no other way to explain her vote to invade Iraq on trumped-up claims, propaganda and war fever. Hillary decided long ago that for a woman to be elected, she had to be tough, like Thatcher, a right-wing warmonger who ended up hated by the British.

When Clinton got elected to the Senate, her top priority was landing a seat on the Armed Services Committee.

If we look back on 2001 we can see her strategy for 2008. But it didn’t work. That’s why she’s lost to the anti-war Black guy.

The Clintonites are right that sexism has been a constant undercurrent in the campaign, although they’re way off the charts in blaming it for her woes. Yes, it is demeaning to have airport souvenir shops selling steel-clad Hillary nutcrackers. I saw them a year ago, but the “joke” just filtered down to smalltown Indiana, as a woman friend gleefully told me about a week ago. It may have been mildly amusing 18 months ago, but please.

Who does Hillary have to blame for it, those mean sexists or her own machismo?

That said, there’s no excuse whatever for male hecklers at a campaign rally to interrupt her with an order to “Iron my shirts!” Jeez, what idiots. I’d have admired her if she’d turned to them and said, “I might iron your shirts if you could prove to me you’ve got anything in your pants.”

And yes, there have been too-frequent mentions of her looks, her hair, her pantsuits and all that. It’s undoubtable she faced a double standard—but she wasn’t prepared for it. We’ve also been subjected to occasional outbursts from White males on MSNBC, from Chris Matthews, David Gregory and others. We’ve had TV comedians saying anything for laughs, but that’s their job.

Again, there’s been no national conversation about why it’s in our economic and political interest to eliminate gender bias. The problem with discrimination is, it costs us money. We should be freeing up every girl scientist, astronaut, poet, mathematician, teacher, engineer and entrepreneur to do and be the best they can; we need the contribution of everyone here.

I haven’t heard that out of Hillary Clinton, have you?

Wangled a seat on Armed Services. Voted to invade Iraq and never apologized. Sent 4000 working class Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis to their deaths. All so she could be the first woman president.

Then went weepy. Played the victim card. Played the race card (“working Americans, hardworking Americans, white Americans”). And now has a rabid following of really pissed-off women and the men who love ’em.

My only reply: she let women down.++

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