Unfair Pitch

I think Hillary Clinton can be criticized for a lot of things, but one criticism is particularly unfair — that she becomes “shrill” when she raises her voice during moments of stress, like during the early part of last night’s debate with rival Bernie Sanders.

hillary-angryI agree with people who contend that “shrill,” “grating,” “braying,” “tone it down,” and similar terms are code words for sexist notions.  And when people start talking about things like Hillary Clinton’s “pitch” or “tone” or “volume,” they’re really communicating that they don’t think women should speak up and be heard, whether they intend to convey that message or not.  It hearkens back to Victorian times when women were viewed as delicate flowers who couldn’t undertake vigorous physical activity and shouldn’t venture their opinions about politics and other subjects that should be reserved for a male-dominated society.  It’s antiquated thinking, and comments about the volume of female politician voices are a byproduct of it.

No one criticizes the likes of Donald Trump or Chris Christie or any other male politician for yelling on the stump; it’s pretty commonplace at a noisy political rally where you are trying to be heard in a large room filled with people.  At debates, male speakers often increase their volume and talk over their foes.  Telling female politicians they can’t yell under the same circumstances puts them at an unfair disadvantage.  If we tolerate booming volume from male speakers, we can tolerate it from the female side, too.

So yell away, Hillary Clinton!  I may not agree with your positions on the issues, but I’ll defend to the death your ability to voice them as loudly as you please.

Is Bill Clinton’s Sex History Fair Game?

Bill Clinton’s sex life has moved to the forefront of the news again.

Thanks to Donald Trump — who wrote a tweet stating “If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!” — there’s a lot of chatter about Bill Clinton’s affairs and alleged predatory behavior and unwanted advances against women.  The Washington Post has even done a “fact check” that separates “Bill Clinton’s womanizing” into five “consensual affairs” (one of which was a “consensual affair” with a 22-year-old intern, Monica Lewinsky, when Clinton was the President) and other “allegations of an unwanted sexual encounter.”  And some are asking:  is it fair to delve into Bill Clinton’s sexual history?

article-2624332-1d9ec7da00000578-278_638x517Fair?  Seriously?  Since when does “fairness” enter the equation in presidential politics, particularly when Donald Trump is involved?  The lack of “fairness,” and the harsh spotlight that tends to shine on the families and friends of candidates for the Oval Office, is one big reason why some people decide never to throw their hat in the ring in the first place.  Every candidate — and every member of their families — has to know that.  It would be absurd to think that Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, who have spent a lifetime in politics, don’t understand that reality.

I guess the better question is, is Bill Clinton’s “sordid sexual history” — as an opinion piece by Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post described itrelevant to deciding whether Hillary Clinton should be president?  Marcus says it is, reasoning that if Hillary Clinton is going to send her husband out as a campaign surrogate and play the sexism card against Trump and others, it’s fair to point out that, in Marcus’ words, Bill Clinton’s “predatory behavior toward women or his inexcusable relationship with a 22-year-old intern,” in “the larger scheme of things,” is “far worse than any of the offensive things that Trump has said.”

The Wall Street Journal goes farther, contending that there was a “Clinton war on women” during Bill Clinton’s presidency and arguing that “Mr. Clinton was a genuine sexual harasser in the classic definition of exploiting his power as a workplace superior, and the Clinton entourage worked hard to smear and discredit his many women accusers.”  The WSJ opinion piece adds:  “This September Mrs. Clinton declared that “every survivor of sexual assault” has “the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed.” But when her own access to political power was at stake, she dismissed the women and defended her husband.”

There are many of us, I think, who would prefer not to revisit these topics. We don’t want to hear about Bill Clinton’s lechery or think about what kind of marriage could survive so many affairs and allegations of sexual misconduct.  But if Bill Clinton is going to be out on the campaign trail, and if Hillary Clinton is going to play gender politics in her bid for the White House, Bill Clinton’s personal record inevitably is going to come up.

And the Clintons had better be ready for it, because it can’t really be fully dismissed as old news.  One thing is true:  American culture has changed a lot since the ’90s, and the notion of what constitutes appropriate behavior in the sexual arena has perhaps changed most of all.  In an era where California has enacted a “yes means yes” statute to define what constitutes sexual consent, where workplace sexual harassment allegations are much more prevalent, and people’s careers can be effectively quashed simply by using language that is deemed not politically correct, how are people going to react to detailed information about a President having an “affair” with a 22-year-old White House intern, his initial lies about it, and the humiliation the intern endured at the hands of minions seeking to excuse or explain the President’s egregious behavior?  I may be wrong about this, but I doubt that a modern politician who admitted to Bill Clinton’s behavior with Monica Lewinsky — to say nothing of the other allegations about what Bill Clinton has done — would be able to survive it.

If a new generation of voters, steeped in our current culture, are hearing about that conduct in detail for the first time, how will they look at Hillary Clinton?  And how will revisiting Bill Clinton’s “sordid sexual history” in the light of current social mores affect his historical reputation and his status as a kind of avuncular figure on the American political scene?

In Defense Of “Movember”

Perhaps you’ve heard of “Movember.”  It’s a charitable effort designed to encourage discussion of men’s health issues, including prostrate and testicular cancer and mental health.

During the month of November, participants begin with clean-shaven faces, then grow and groom their moustaches as the weeks pass.  Their faces become a visible invitation to discuss the Movember concept, they solicit contributions to support men’s health charities, and they endure inevitable ribbing about the quality and bushiness of their facial hair efforts.  In 2012 Movember raised $21.0 million, more than 80 percent of which went to men’s health charities. Movember is not a huge charitable effort — by comparison, the Komen Race for the Cure raises hundreds of millions for breast cancer research and prevention activities — but any attempt to increase awareness of men’s health issues has got to be a good thing, right?

Not so fast!  A recent article in the New Statesman criticizes Movember as “divisive and gender normative,” “racist,” and more about promoting facial hair fetishes than affecting men’s health.  It is “divisive and gender normative,” the article argues, because only men can grow facial hair, because some men (such as those who are trans-gendered) struggle to grow facial hair, because the growth of body hair in women is socially repressed, and because it equates facial hair with being a “real man.”  Movember is purportedly “racist” because it “reinforces the ‘othering’ of ‘foreigners’ by the generally clean-shaven, white majority,” harkens back to the carefully tended moustaches of British imperialists, and supports the conclusion that “there are different rules for white faces.”  Finally, the article contends that Movember isn’t really about men’s health, but rather about making silly comments and having silly parties, because most people who participate don’t report increased awareness of health issues.

The New Statesman article could easily be a parody of the now-prevailing view in some quarters that any male-oriented activity is, by default, racist and sexist and every other “ist” in the book.  What kind of fevered imagination would conclude that efforts by guys to grow moustaches in 2013 to promote men’s health is, in reality, a thinly veiled manifestation of British imperial tendencies, or a slap in the face to men who wear facial hair for religious or cultural reasons?  We’re at the point in our politically correct world where NFL games are awash in pink to show sensitivity to breast cancer issues.  Can’t a guy grow a moustache for a good cause without being vilified as a latent bigot, chauvinist, and xenophobe?