Monday, February 22, 2016

February 22, 2016--De-Gendered

Do you recall the year 2000 Senate race in New York State? Hillary Clinton verses her Republican opponent, Congressman Rick Lazio?

She was elected by a wide margin, but what is most remembered about that contest by political junkies is their infamous debate in Buffalo in September.

Ensconced behind two lecterns about ten feet apart, everything was proceeding more or less normally until Lazio extracted some papers from his jacket pocket, a pledge form, he said, that he had signed not to use so-called "soft money."

He challenged Clinton to sign it. Even at that time 16 years ago, Hillary, wife of still President Bill Clinton, was way ahead in the race to attract big-donor money. In fact, that Senate race shattered all previous records by turning out to be the most expensive in history.

It was clear that she was not willing to do that and so, to make his challenge more dramatic and presumably to show his toughness, Lazio stepped from behind his lectern and walked toward Hillary with the pledged form thirst at her. As if fearing a physical attack, Clinton took a half step back then stood her ground. The audience gasped audibly.

After all was said and done, with Hillary Clinton elected to the Senate, political analysts and gender-sensitive reporters, looking back at the race, said that Lazio lost any chance of winning that night because of the physical confrontation.

It, many claimed, was an inappropriate way for a man to challenge a woman. By "violating her private space."

One good thing emerging from the current, increasingly nasty race is (1) that no one--not even Donald TRUMP--would think to do this now and (2), much more significant, no one, no male candidate, would hold back in challenging Clinton forcefully and directly. This is the result of the cultural shifting since that time and very much because of Hillary Clinton's preparedness, relentlessness, unapologetic ambition, and smarts.

As a result, one thing her candidacy has accomplished is to de-gender, at least for this campaign, the debates, political ads, and how the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton and the Republican candidates are treated in the media.

She and the others are treated mainly as equals. No deference is shown to her because she is a woman. More than anything this shows how much progress has occurred since 2000. Things are far from perfect, but they are much better than when she and other women politicians were thought of primarily as female candidates.

The less gendered playing field makes it possible for opponents to exchange comments and attacks even about sexism.

For example, we have seen debates about who is the most sexist--Donald TRUMP for his misogyny or Hillary Clinton for putting up with and thereby enabling Bill Clinton's sexual malfeasance.

As ugly as things can get, in the current race even the mud-slinging is being spread around more equally. In fact it is progress.

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