Becoming a Feminist

Becoming a Feminist

My wife, a powerful woman in her own right, recently asked me if I considered myself a feminist.  It’s an interesting new question being pondered these days as the concept of feminism is evolving to a more inclusive term.  I said yes, and I think this election cycle has helped me to see why this label should be reconsidered by men today.

I voted for Bernie in the primaries, not that I exactly “felt the burn” or thought he could accomplish most of his stated goals, but because he has been wise throughout the years.  He’s been a leader on the right side of history, especially for civil rights, while Hillary has been behind the curve on some important issues (most notably the Iraq War).

I have reservations about her use of a private email server (though Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice did the same) and her hawkish nature.  But what puzzles me the most about this election cycle is how polling suggests that people believe Donald Trump is more honest than Hillary Clinton.

Haven’t most of us learned that when people say “Trust me” all the time, it’s because they’re unwilling to offer evidence to back up their claims?  Can’t we watch videos of someone making patently false statements and contradicting themselves daily, and conclude they’re a serial liar even if they speak “off the cuff”?

Hillary doesn’t do this.  She has certainly lied before, as have you and I and every politician, but she nearly always makes her case with fact-based argument.  Her campaign videos don’t take Trump’s statements out of context.  There’s no need to.  They just replay his greatest hits, accepting the hit of giving him more publicity because his lies are so numerous and obvious.

So how can someone lie so publicly, demonstrably, multiple times a day and still be the trusted candidate compared to someone who doesn’t do this?  I think there’s truth to the argument that the decades-old right-wing smear campaign against Hillary has taken a heavy toll, but mostly I think people are so sick of “calculating” politicians that literally anything else is blindly considered better.

While pondering this, an interesting realization hit me:

I can’t think of a single male politician who has been called “calculating”.

How can we see so few women in politics, none in the highest office, and yet be so fed up with “calculating” politicians that we’ll vote for anything else?  Can this be anything but a sexist double-standard?  I do believe I’ve been guilty of this mode of thinking, and I believe I’ve seen it in many men.

When men see a male politician wait to comment on a new controversy until passions have raged and the debate has matured, we often see wisdom.  We’ve learned not to trust the first open mouth, but rather the one who waits for everyone to have their say before offering an opinion.  Like Mark Twain’s wise quote: “It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”, we value deliberation on important decisions.

If you picture an old movie where a mob is gathered to react to some offense, who do you see as having the last word?  I see Gregory Peck listening quietly before sending the mob home with hard words of wisdom.  I bet no one imagining this sees the last words coming from a woman.  Old movies come from a different time, but the echoes of that mindset exist today, influencing our perceptions of the first woman with a good shot at the presidency.

It’s true that we don’t like scripted speeches from a teleprompter as much as we like hearing someone speak plainly about what is on their mind, but we have to expect most remarks to be scripted from the president or secretary of state when these words are so carefully parsed by our enemies and allies with such consequence.

Some of what makes Hillary look “calculating” is that we rarely see her take a strong controversial stand on a subject, and that should be counted against her.  Still her competitor has been on both sides of most important issues and lies about ever being on the other side despite video evidence (which is clearly worse).

Some of what “calculating” implies is that she just wants to succeed and rise the ladder, but if you can only do that in politics by being on the right side of a debate, then this is only self-serving if it serves the greater good.  And if a desire to rise the ladder is a bad thing, then every successful man and woman has this fault.

It seems to me the word “calculating” was years-ago repurposed and attached to Hillary’s brand to allow us a comfortable home for sexist feelings of discomfort at women in power, and provide a unique narrative to distrust her.  If you are a man that believes in equality of the sexes, then of course vote however you want, but at least allow yourself to feel comfort and see wisdom when some woman takes her time, listens, thinks, and has the final word.

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