National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Male Chauvinism & Hillary Clinton

Back in the day, feminists and those like myself who supported them, called it “male chauvinism.” It remains a mighty force in our society, so pervasive that few of either gender are really attuned to detect it.

Among men seeking to bond and avoid potential conflict, endless talk of sports and women has always been the coin of the realm. In this discourse, of course, women are routinely “objectified,” as we used to say. While often restrained in the presence of the opposite sex, amongst themselves men giggle and leer over women who live up to some social standard of sex appeal, or the opposite of it.

Does anyone not remember the extent to which Hillary Clinton was the butt of cruel male chauvinist humor during her husband’s first campaign for president and first years in the White House? Somehow, taking sexist pot shots at a First Lady was considered fair game, even in generally mixed company.

In the more recent era, the two First Ladies that drew the greatest derision from the less-than-magnificent male species were Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton. There were elaborate jokes made up about Roosevelt always related to her appearance in contrast to the conventional masculine taste in female beauty.

Many veterans of those earlier days rehashed the same jokes to tell about Hillary.

It comes as no surprise, of course, that what really distinguished Roosevelt and Clinton was the fact that they did not conform to society’s established idea of how a First Lady is supposed to behave.

Roosevelt took a high-profile, independent role in connection with the United Nations, and an array of peace and human rights causes.

Clinton made it clear the moment her husband won the presidency that she was going to make an independent impact in the domain of policy, including taking on the insurance industry with a push for universal health care.

Other first ladies have been respectable and gracious. But none, in the modern era at least, dared step out of the subordinate wife, mother and home maker role expected by Ozzie of Harriet and so forth. Even when Nancy Reagan spearheaded the woeful War on Drugs, it was like that. As a non-controversial cause, who could be against it?

There is nothing that insecure men loathe more than ball-busting women, as they perceive them. One way or another, they threaten something very deep in their psyche. They make it hard for some of them to pee.

But even more secure men, in the spirit of male bonding, tend to cover for their more psychologically “E.D.” brothers, and too often go along with their denigrating swipes at women.

An article called “The Hillary Haters” by Jason Horowitz, published in a recent issue of Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine, underscored this fact. Those men who maintained the most angry web sites dedicated to attacking Clinton could not really explain to the article’s author why they felt so angry about Clinton.

In one way or another, they tried unconvincingly to explain it in terms of policy or petty differences, but often they could not even articulate those. To the author, it became clear that maybe misogynist tendencies were behind some of it.

Of course, if not consciously, the vast majority of women know what this is all about. Many have been conditioned not to make anything of it, others are barely aware, and others feel it keenly.

But the fact is the media, especially conservative pundits, the Republicans and even some in her own party, back-slapping males and their admirers, have exhibited classic and consistent traits of male chauvinism in respect to Hillary Clinton. This persists, despite the fact she’s constantly baffled them with her relentless political rise and success as a leader.

It is never going to be easy for her. But don’t believe for a moment the bleating of the Republicans that they’d rather run against her than Obama in November. They say that in hopes they can dissuade the Democrats from nominating her. They know she’s tough as nails and a real threat to the moneyed interests who back them.

Truly, methinks they protest too much.