Saturday, March 2, 2024

Flashback 2012: The riddle of the missing women’s voices in politics

Hydra and Kali, by Damien Hirst

     Facebook wheezes more and is useful less, day by day, with real people crowded out by advertising and snippets of movies. But the memories section does serve up posts from years past, and Friday offered this with my cryptic comment, "This puts a whole new spin on the question, 'Where are all the women?'" I was curious as to what might have inspired that, and re-read this column which, alas, is even more current now, after a dozen years than it was then. 

     A father and son are driving in a car, the riddle goes. The car crashes, the father is killed and the boy is badly injured. So they rush him to the hospital, into the operating room. The surgeon walks in, takes a look at the boy, and says, “I can’t operate on this boy — he’s my own son!”
     How can that be?
     When Gloria Stivic tells the riddle on an episode of “All the Family” in 1972, Archie Bunker at first misses the premise entirely.
     “That’s easy,” he says, “a surgeon ain’t supposed to operate on his own family.” Her meathead husband, Mike, thinks the man who was killed is the stepfather. “The surgeon’s the real father!” he says. Wrong.
     Forty years ago, the riddle could stump people because nobody thought of women as doctors — it was a big deal. But guess what? Women could be doctors, and police officers, and soldiers, and members of Congress, as slowly women established themselves as American citizens on equal par with men.
     More or less.
     While it would be overreacting to say that recently we’ve been going backward, women’s rights are in the news of late, and not because women are reconsidering them.
     Our leaders and would-be leaders — all men — are hot to constrain, whether it is Rick Santorum thundering against not only abortion, but contraception and amniocentesis (all the same, apparently, in his book), or various state legislatures lunging for indignities to heap upon any woman bold enough to try to exercise her legal right to an abortion.
     Here’s a more modern riddle: The thunderous outcry that those of us alive in 1970s might expect just isn’t heard. Why? Not only didn’t you hear a squeak from women leaders, but I couldn’t even imagine who those leaders might be — Hillary Clinton? A tight-lipped diplomat. Condoleezza Rice? Timid. Nancy Pelosi? Guess again. You know there’s a deficit when you find yourself hoping that daytime talk show hosts — Ellen? Rosie? — might leap into the fray. Maybe they have and nobody noticed.
     But rather than take the Republican cue and be another guy opining about women (When fighting monsters, Nietzsche cautions, take care that you do not become a monster), I thought I’d contact an actual woman politician — they do exist — and see what they say. So I phoned my pal Kelly Cassidy, the outspoken, effective Democratic state rep from the 14th district.
     “It’s kind of hilarious, in a heartbreaking way,” said Cassidy, who is in a tight race for her seat. “The women are there. But what I find most ironic in all of this: the real flashback quality in this experience. I started working in Chicago in 1992, and it feels just like that. It feels just like the level of anger I started to see from Tailhook and the Anita Hill hearings. Women are waking up and realizing this is going on around them and they have to do something about it.”
     They are?
     “Birth control is not controversial,” said Cassidy. “It’s stunning to me that we’re having these conversations. It’s almost as if we have this cyclical sense, we have to be reminded these rights are tenuous at best and these battles are not permanently won.”
     Bingo. Freedom is not free, and as the generation that won so many victories shuffles into the sunset — Gloria Steinem is 77, Jane Fonda is 74 — the generations after them take all this stuff for granted.
     “We become busy with our lives,” said Cassidy. “And when a threat like this happens, the giant is wakened again.”
     That’s true, and that is why I’m not flapping around in the I’m-going-to-Canada tizzy that Santorum’s surge seems to inspire in so many of my Democratic brethren. The country’s changed. Women can vote. Gays aren’t going back into the closet. Even the religious faithful don’t want to be bullied from the pulpit — Santorum didn’t even win the majority of Catholic voters in Michigan.
     “We have great leaders. I see [Rep.] Jan Schakowsky really stepping up,” said Cassidy. “Perhaps because she’s our own we aren’t aware of her national role and her ability to rally folks on a national level. It is almost as if the ridiculousness from the right is so loud, and they are so insistent, they drown everything else out.”
     So far. On “All in the Family,” Edith, the dingbat, comes up with the answer: “The surgeon was the boy’s mother!” It stumped people back then. (“Who the hell ever heard of a woman surgeon?” Archie says). Maybe it stumps people now. Gloria’s feminist friend, Tammy, delivers the episode’s moral: “I don’t think men have the right to control women’s lives.” People said that kind of thing on television then. Now we have “The Bachelor.”
       —Originally published in the Sun-Times, March 2, 2012


  1. Ugh, and we're still fighting these battles and The Bachelor is still on TV. It's deja vu all over again. I'm tired and i just can't knock on doors or petition another clueless agency again but I can still donate to

    1. You do know there's also The Bacherlorette, where one stupid, vapid woman who wants to be on TV chooses from a bunch of equally stupid, vapid men, who want to be on TV?

    2. Network TV is still as trashy as it was a dozen years ago...or two dozen.

  2. So much to say, and do, and so little energy left. I am a member of the Second Wave of Feminism. We fought for our civil right, for acknowledgement that we're equal, hell, that we're actually human. We made some progress. At least we thought we did. But patriarchy is strong as is hatred of the feminine. All of this is about control and domination. For whatever reason, fearful little men are terrified of women. And, sadly, some women embrace their chains. So, we have to fight those battles yet again. For me, nearing 80, the best I can do is rant. I'm too old and tired and discouraged to march. I trust ... and hope .... there's a Third Wave rising.

  3. “I don’t think men have the right to control women’s lives.”

    They don't. You'd think that would be a simple enough concept to grasp. But Evangelicals will cite some Bible verses to try to justify the patriarchy, which is part of the problem.

    As 9:42 Anonymous points out: "And, sadly, some women embrace their chains." Men who cling to their privileged positions at the expense of equity are disappointing, though pretty much to be expected. What's disappointing and unexpected, to me, are the number of women who aid and abet them.

    According to Pew Research Center, white women favored the pussy-grabber over Hillary's historic candidacy 47% - 45% in 2016. That was shocking enough. Then, after witnessing 4 years of the train wreck of his presidency and the assault on women's rights that it entailed, MORE of them voted for him in 2020, giving the orange misogynist a 53% - 46% edge. I'll never understand that.

  4. Twelve years later, and we seem to be rolling backward, down the hill hat took so long to climb. The regressives are on the march...and the feminist progressives will soon be history...Gloria Steinem turns 90 this year, and Jane Fonda just turned 86. I have clear memories of reading LIFE in the library, in junior high ,and ogling her skimpy cheerleader costume, in the multi-page spread about her screen debut at 22. Those 64 years have raced by. And where are we now?

    We're in a Leap Year, and the Great Leap Backward continues. Abortion outlawed. Birth control...BIRTH CONTROL?...on the endangered list. Gays and lesbians being persecuted and hounded. Bible-thumpers thumping away as loudly as ever. And more and more white women embracing, for yet a third time, that lying, bullying, blustering, fraudulent. snatch-snatching orange disaster.

    Hmm...maybe embracing is the wrong word here. Championing? That's even worse. The chimps who donate to their champ are donating chump change. And a majority of white women are still playing Follow the Dear Leader?. The mind boggles.

  5. kind of wondering if you'd rate nancy pelosi the same way today. not very charismatic to be sure, but perhaps the most effective speaker in at least the last 80 years or so, and maybe going back to joe cannon at the turn of the 20th century (1903-11). some could even argue longer.

  6. I would add Liz Cheney to the list of leaders...perhaps not particularly on women's rights....but she stepped up and sacrificed her political career to challende Trump


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