I keep hearing this statement from women about the presidential election:
“Don’t ask me to vote with my genitals,” they say, meaning, Don’t tell me to vote for Hillary Clinton just because she’s a woman.
They’re right. If we voted for women only because they’re female, Carly Fiorina and Sarah Palin would still be around. These two are gone because they were ridiculously inexperienced, plus: you can’t cram femaleness down the throats of American voters, male or female.
Still, the fact is, the presidential election has been hijacked by genitalia.
From the moment Donald Trump said that Hillary Clinton got “schlonged” in a primary election, to his delight in describing the size of his penis, to his disgust at Megan Kelly’s menstrual period (“blood running out of her whatever”) and even at Hillary taking a bathroom break, genitals have been Trump’s way of avoiding serious subjects and generating headlines for himself.
But here is my hope:
After decades of hearing increasingly blunt slang about men’s private parts, I respectfully suggest the term “winkies” as a gentle way for women to refer to ours.
I’ve never had an erection or worried about genital size or understood what penis envy is all about. But I do know that just as the stars wink from above, wondrous reminders of life’s joys for women twinkle below.
The language of winkies is elegant and subtle. It connects our biological apparatus with life-inspiring things — love, babies, growth, purpose, harmony. It overrides Donald Trump’s references to a woman as a “bimbo,” a “pig,” a “fat ugly face” or “piece of ass.”
And it defuses Trump’s hate-mongering of other men as “rapists,” “losers,” “liars” and “killers.” When he threatened Ted Cruz with plans to “spill the beans on your wife,” he again cheapened the whole conversation with genital-based remarks. So the erosion of winkiedom continued.
Then came the recent Chris Mathews interview about abortion, Here more blatantly than before was Donald Trump stomping around our winkies to say that our choice about our reproductive organs and our belief in the moment of life’s conception were all for Himself and the government to decide.
So it’s no longer a question whether you even want to vote with your genitals. Donald Trump is saying his genitals overtake yours, if you let him.
Voting with my winkies, I won’t let him.
Back to Hillary
Most people acknowledge that Hillary Clinton is the most experienced candidate by far. That fact alone should be enough for a landslide victory.
But it isn’t enough, and the reason is well known: Hillary has a trust problem. I find it painful to watch, but she’s just not convincing at the microphone sometimes, not in the way Trump is. Perhaps that’s why Trump supporters forgive his many gaffes — yes, he’s belligerent, they say, but at least he’s honest. Maybe he’s fibbing, but he would never lie to us. Not in the way Hillary could.
The most eye-opening umbrella poll (combining data from 10 polls in one) charts her “unfavorable” rating from 33.4% in January 2009 to 54.7% by the end of January 2016. That’s a lot of lost trust.
Things might not get better for Hillary, as TV comic Jimmy Kimmel “man-splained” while she pretended to give a speech on his show: “You’re too shrill,” he said, followed immediately by: “You’re like a mouse up there.” “Is that what you’re going to wear?” “It would be nice if you smile” / “It’s too forced! Do you want to be president or a Lakers’ girl?” / “Oh my god with the sourpuss…”
It was funny and revealing. Hillary was a good egg about it. But the point landed beautifully:
Kimmiel: “You’re not doing it right. I can’t quite put my finger on it. You’re not ….”
Hillary: “A man?”
Kimmel: “That’s it! But listen, that was really cute the way you said it.”
The takeaway one couldn’t shake was that if Hillary Clinton were Donald Trump, she would wear her entitlement like a shroud. She could, as Trump has said about himself, “go out and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” And Jimmy would really approve.
A book reviewer’s perspective:
Maybe it’s Hillary’s advisors. There must be dozens of them making pronouncements about her style of speaking, dressing, talking, debating and, unfortunately, writing.
This last — her writing style — is my purview. I’m a book reviewer who for 20 years has been decrying and pounding the table and worrying about the narrative voice that Hillary Clinton uses in her books.
She’s written three memoirs to date and I’m sorry to say they’re all overwritten and full of palaver. Here’s an example from page 26 of Hard Choices, her 2014 book about being Secretary of State:
“My confidence was rooted in a lifetime of studying and experiencing the ups and downs of American history and a clear-eyes assessment of our comparative advantages relative to the rest of the world. Nations’ fortunes rise and fall, and there will always be people predicting catastrophe just around the corner. But it’s never smart to bet against the United States. Every time we’ve faced a challenge, whether war or depression or global competition, Americans have risen to meet it, with hard work and creativity.”
Oh, dear. You have to prop up your eyelids to slog through the blah-blah effect that takes up about a third of this 635-page book.
It sounds so superficial that I used to joke after reviewing Living History, her 2003 memoir: Why, the committee that wrote this book should be ashamed: Two or three words of actual significance sneaked through.
The “Rape Capital of the World”
At the same time, however, I want to say, READERS, KEEP THOSE EYES OPEN, because when Hillary Clinton decides to take action, the writing comes alive, and big, trustworthy events take place.
For example, on page 280, here is Hillary going to the “rape capital of the world” — the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (She was the first Secretary of State to visit an active war zone, according to the New York Times.) She went to Goma because soldiers on both sides of the conflict were raping women “as a way of dominating communities and gaining tactical advantage.”
This hideous idea, that rape has become tactic of war, systematically used to demoralize entire populations, was so brutal that women “could no longer bear children, work, or even walk,” she writes. And the practice wasn’t limited to Goma. Hillary would tell National Public Radio that rape as a weapon of war spread “from the Balkans to Myanmar, Sri Lanka to Guinea.”
Forget for a moment how many Secretaries of State risked their lives to enter a war zone. I want to ask how many of our highest officials before Hillary have mentioned the horror of soldiers raping every woman in sight as a war tactic?
Colin Powell’s report on “the atrocities in Darfur in 2004” included “exactly five sentences” on the subject in 2004. Madeleine Albright mentioned “organized rape” as a weapon of war in Kosovo in 1999. Condoleezza Rice spoke about it movingly on ABC News in 2008.
But it was Hillary who made international headlines in 2009; Hillary who declared it the responsibility of America to expose what is now recognized as an “epidemic of rape“; Hillary who introduced a mobile banking system for soldiers whose salaries were being stolen by corrupt officers; and Hillary who didn’t just meet with Congolese president Joseph Kabila but talked to rape survivors, aid workers, engineers, medical personnel and children in refugee camps that were getting larger by the day.
I go into this episode at length to acknowledge how quickly, and how deeply, Hillary Clinton learned to address complicated problems with long-term solutions during her term as Secretary of State.
In the Goma instance, for example, she could have waited for the usual State Department bureaucracy to grind out thousand-page reports nobody would read.
Instead she announced while still in the Congo that the United States would provide $17 million to “train doctors, supply rape victims with video cameras, send American military engineers to help build facilities and train Congolese police officers, especially female police officers, to crack down on rapists,” according to the New York Times.
And that kind of approach is just beginning. When it comes to women-related issues that too often get lost in obscurity across the world — issues like “domestic violence, forced prostitution, rape as a tactic or prize of war, genital mutilation, bride burning,” as Hillary’s “list of abuses” then included — Hillary Clinton knows how to work with her counterparts to find an answer.
Didn’t government used to be about getting things done? By comparison, the short-term, headline-making, genital-waving Donald Trump only wastes the world’s time.
Maybe it’s the MacEnroe Syndrome — that tendency named after tennis player John MacEnroe to explode with righteous anger when officials make what he saw as the wrong call. MacEnroe played great tennis, of course, but perhaps his real performance was disguising that quivering lip, that scrunched-up face, so no one would see a little boy throwing a temper tantrum over which he had no control.
Trump’s version of this, whether attacking Rosie O’Donnell or China, is to distract people from how much anger he really carries around by acting tough and worldly:
“Get even. When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades. I really mean it. I really mean it. You’ve got to hit people hard and and it’s not so much for that person, it’s that other people watch.”
It comes on as a syndrome because blam! all of a sudden the weirdest outrage overwhelms the senses. By contrast, we may not like Hillary’s style, but she’s never apoplectic. Trump so believes in his sucker-punch persona that he wants his genitals to rule.
(Note: I quote the NYTimes and NPR above because [Donald, are you listening?] Hillary doesn’t brag. In Hard Choices we see that she did even more in the Congo and later at the United Nations about stopping rape as a war tactic (pages 279-282), and she makes clear these actions were only a start.)
So I don’t care if …
So I don’t care if Hillary sounds phony when her advisors tell her to raise her voice at the microphones, or look angry for the cameras, or develop that male swagger that makes Donald Trump such a compelling fascist to some.
It’s Hillary’s actions that count — hundreds of acts as complicated and terrifying to contemplate as standing up to the rape epidemic in Goma. And hundreds of others require the kind of calm, firm, transparent testimony she gave to the bullying and interrupting Republican members of Congress, who made the House Committee on Benghazi “thoroughly discredited as a partisan sham.”
That test of leadership included eleven hours of grueling testimony, from which she emerged as both trustworthy and presidential. Baited, patronized, attacked and dismissed, she never raised her voice, never responded angrily or tried to distract the proceedings by referring to genital size. She doesn’t have genital size from Trump’s point of view. She doesn’t care about genital size.
And then, voila, her most formidable critics could not contain their praise. If the hearing had been “designed to go after” Hillary so she’d wouldn’t dare run for president, it failed. As a result, her approval ratings soared.
That lasted about a week.
I’d also like to say a word about how great it is to fall in love with Bernie Sanders, as Susan Sarandon and a lot of women voters have. Bless him, he was a fierce opponent of the war in Iraq (Hillary voted for it); he’s passionate about income inequality and Wall Street reform; he’s taught us all to prioritize the issues (“your damn emails“), and I bet no one is more embarrassed and ashamed at Donald Trump bringing his genitals to the table than Bernie Sanders.
I worry that Bernie with so little foreign policy experience would, on his first day in the White House, be so completely overwhelmed at how close the world is to nuclear war that he’d want to call Hillary, who used to eat those Top Secret briefings for breakfast and digest them by noon, every day for four years as Secretary of State.
But most of all, I worry that if Bernie loses the nomination and urges his supporters to vote for Hillary, it won’t be enough.
It’s like the Equal Rights Amendment. Remember? A simple statement that said women are equal to men. Introduced to Congress in 1923 — a shoe-in, right? — pronounced dead by 1982. And that was a trust issue, too. A lot of women believed it but did not trust it.
The parallel seems to be that in the United States, when complexity is reduced to simplistic ideas, voters are supposed to sort things out. That’s going to be hard in November when we face opposites defined by cliche: Hillary wants to lead; Trump wants to rule. She is a feminist; he is the patriarchy. Hillary wants to be president; Trump wants to be king.
Not vote with your winkies?
Listen to them, girls — it’s the only shot we have.
Note: I’ve said all of this without mentioning Hillary’s first book, It Takes a Village, which is still the foundation of her candidacy. More about that, the recent fiasco about abortion, and a Hillary Clinton most of us don’t know in Part II.