Politics & Policy

Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle

Is Gloria Steinem's endorsement really helping Hillary?

Stumping for Hillary Clinton in New York on Sunday, feminist Gloria Steinem adduced, once again, how women are always being put down by The Man.

Mocking the Republican frontrunner’s experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Steinem asked: “Suppose John McCain had been Joan McCain and Joan McCain had got captured, shot down and been a POW for eight years.” Egging on the crowd, she insisted that the media would ask, “‘What did you do wrong to get captured? What terrible things did you do while you were there as a captive for eight years?’” She continued, to audience laughter: “I mean, hello? This is supposed to be a qualification to be president? I don’t think so.”

Maybe this is my Y chromosome talking, but what can she possibly mean?

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve struggled to understand Gloria Steinem. In 1995, Steinem appeared on an ABC special with National Review’s Kate O’Beirne. Asked what to do about female firefighters who aren’t strong enough to carry people out of burning buildings, Steinem had a ready, ridiculous answer: “It’s better to drag them out, because there’s less smoke down there. I mean, we’re probably killing people by carrying them out at that height, you know, so — I mean, you know, we really need to look sensibly here at these jobs and what they really require, and not just some idea of what macho is.” Touché. Why quickly and efficiently usher people out of harm’s way, when we can spend three times as much time inside burning buildings dragging unconscious residents by their ankles down a fifth-floor walk-up? Why risk smoke inhalation when you can throw the dice on a cerebral hemorrhage banging your head on every step along the way? Under different circumstances, repeatedly dragging someone down the stairs for no reason other than fulfillment of one’s deranged ideology would amount to nothing less than torture.

Could Ms. Steinem’s illogic be torture? McCain would be a good judge.

Steinem has always been the queen of dramatic victimology. She, for instance, has been a main proponent of focusing on other v-words on that Hallmark holiday we all know and love (well, or hate), Valentine’s Day. As O’Beirne relays in her book on the feminists, Women Who Make the World Worse, Steinem believes that “The shape we call a heart resembles the vulva far more than the organ that shares it’s name.” And further, that the vulva “has been reduced from power to romance by centuries of male dominance.”

The connection between the vulva and romance here seems pretty obvious to this male oppressor, but might taking the heart out of romance be a disservice to women (and men)? Moreover, to a large extent, the vulva has replaced romance: the cost of “free love” on college campuses these days actually fluctuates with the price of penicillin.

I realize that Senator McCain and his policies seem far less touchy-feely than those of Steinem’s preferred candidate, but I doubt it’s because McCain doesn’t have a vulva, er, heart. McCain does indeed have a heart, though after five-and-half years of torture by North Vietnamese bastards, he can’t raise his hands above said organ. I imagine that as a result of that experience he learned some fundamental things about the real nature of oppression, which in many ways is the antithesis of the spurious victimology that Steinem has spent her life peddling.

Which is not to say that women aren’t subject to injustices, but instead to say that Steinem doesn’t know how to begin addressing them. So she lives in her feminist fantasyland and attacks John McCain for daring to be male while a prisoner of war. She clings to the idea that no meaningful differences between the sexes exist, and that any favorable treatment or exemptions permitted to women by society must be promptly ignored.

Steinem’s weekend rant begs the question: What is Hillary Clinton thinking? Does she in fact believe, as Steinem had argued, that women have it worse than blacks in politics? Does she believe that McCain’s suffering in Vietnam doesn’t count because he’s a man? If not, why in the heck is she taking Gloria Steinem’s political counsel? Why doesn’t she leave Ms. Gloria in obscurity like old copies (and new copies, come to think of it) of Ms. magazine? Hillary should have learned her lesson two months ago, when Steinem was heavily criticized for a New York Times op-ed, “Women are Never Frontrunners,” where she suggested that it was more difficult to be female than black. A Steinem strategy — whereby Democrats sit around arguing about who is more “oppressed” in America, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama — is a surefire path to victory … for Republicans.

It’s a sign that Hillary Clinton isn’t with the times that she thinks she needs Steinem to win over liberal female voters. What her opponent has recognized, however, and she has not, is that the electorate is largely moving past identity politics; Obama’s campaign appears to be reaping the rewards of his unifying “post-racial” rhetoric. Obama has kept racial agitators such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton at arm’s length (bless you, Obama!) from his campaign for exactly the same reasons that Hillary should have made sure that Gloria Steinem was not in the same zip code, let alone emceeing her campaign events. The victimology — nevermind the idiocy — of Steinem’s Joan McCain rant made her candidate look small and backward.

Hillary Clinton is still a female trailblazer in this male oppressor’s book. She may not win, but she’s made clear a Ms. President isn’t an implausible scenario. Before we see a female president, though, she will have to prove she’s woman enough to throw overboard a walking anachronism like Gloria Steinem.

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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