Over this past summer, Maureen Dowd questioned “Are Men Necessary?” Also over the summer, several sports announcers compared violence against animals to violence toward women and a major film was released that was partly based on literary icon Nancy Drew, except with cooler clothes and a first kiss.
As the summer ended, the most shared YouTube video was Miss Teen South Carolina’s response to the question of why many Americans couldn’t find the United States on a map. Despite the fact that presidents of countries or presidential candidates also have had a similar or worse bungling of geography, they do not inspire as much laughter as this teenage girl.
As this fall began, more and more political columnists have questioned or commented on Hillary Clinton’s outfit choices. Then the Washington Post referred to Condoleezza Rice as President’s Bush’s “office wife,” quoting President Bush as saying, “[Rice] can be my date” since the First Lady was unable to attend.
If you take any simple gender theory course, one of the first things that you are taught is: “Traditionally, men are in the public sphere; women are in the private sphere.” But what does that mean as more and more women enter the public sphere in ways previously unheard of?
How is it that people who were interested in Jackie Kennedy’s Dior sunglasses because they wanted to emulate her are now interested in Hillary Clinton’s hemlines to see if she’d be a good president? How does it happen that the Secretary of State is referred to as a date and not one of the most powerful and high-achieving women in the country (especially because I think it is no secret how this country feels about presidents being too cozy with the ladies at work)? How come Nancy Drew’s outfits are one of the running jokes of the movie, as opposed to emphasizing that, for goodness’s sake, she’s Nancy Drew?
I spent elementary school learning about all the different things women could be. After all, Barbie is an astronaut. And a woman could be a teacher, or a doctor, or president or a mommy – or all of the above – or none of the above.
Yet, we apparently forgot, or didn’t yet know, that along with this lesson, we also should have been taught that you can do all these things – but people are going to judge you on your clothes. They are also going to judge you on how many children you have, or if you are too masculine, or too feminine, or too androgynous or if you just might happen to be competing for Miss Teen USA and stumble on your answer.
Not blaming him, but a lot has been said after the Don Imus comments about women in athletics. Despite that incident, things do not appear to have gotten better in regards to respecting women. Although I understand the sports commentators’ logic about how some athletes with public crimes are treated more harshly than others, it is not acceptable to draw a comparison between a woman and an animal.
It is not acceptable for a publication of note to refer to a cabinet member as some sort of trophy wife. It is not acceptable for a political figure to be judged purely on race or sex – and it is especially not acceptable to judge on clothes. After all, who really bases their viewpoints on who wore Armani instead of on important issues? It is not acceptable to treat women in the political arena as if they are celebrities who are asking to tell gossip magazines about their latest jail or rehab stay.
People spend a lot of time talking about whether feminism is dead, if it has gone too far or if it’s necessary. Apparently, people have also been wondering if certain genders are necessary.
People can speculate on whether this, that, he, she or they are really needed in today’s world, and that’s fine. But for all this speculating, we seem to have lost the important necessity of just respecting other individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, belief or gender. It is my hope that now that summer is over, we can start to show some respect.
Frank is a member of the class of 2009.