Monday, November 12. A small political gathering in South Carolina, captured by the local Fox affiliate: A female supporter asks John McCain,
"How do we beat the bitch?"
Massive chuckles all around, including from McCain, who looks a tad uncomfortable even as his shoulders shake with mirth. He jokingly offers, "May I give the translation?"
"I thought she was talking about my ex-wife!" pipes up a male supporter, convulsing the group again.
As the laughter subsides, McCain says, "But that's an excellent question."
He launches into some poll results that put him a few points ahead of Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton. Finally, finally, he says, "I respect Senator Clinton."
See for yourself how long it takes him to come up with that anemic response:
McCain On, "How Do We Beat the Bitch?"
Okay, so I'm pissed off. (Does that make me a bitch?)
This is the latest "straight talk" from McCain?
This guy wants to be the next leader of the free world, and he gives a free pass to someone calling his opponent a "bitch", calls it "an excellent question"? And it took him all that obfuscating just to be able to rally to say, "I respect Hillary Clinton"! Never confronting the dropping of the B-bomb? Are you kidding me?
Maybe you're thinking, "Don't be so sensitive; McCain just didn't want to slam a supporter on camera."
That doesn't cut it with me.
This guy endures years of torture in a POW camp but he doesn't have the stones to say, "Look, I want to beat Clinton as much as you do, but name-calling is disrespectful, and I won't allow it."
Buddy, if you can't even stand up for respecting women among your own supporters, you're not getting my vote.
Of course, McCain would never have tolerated a booster referring to Barack Obama using the N-word (not to mention, the booster would have been stoned on the spot--and all would have been right with the world, at least in that moment, on that (racism) count. And McCain certainly wouldn't have ignored a supporter referring to Barney Frank with the F-word.
And just imagine the firestorm that would have ensued had McCain responded in a similar way to use by a supporter of those other egregious labels above.
So tell me, why should the B-word be any less taboo?
Where's the national, international, outrage over calling any woman--and, no less, someone of Clinton's success and stature--a bitch?
Calling powerful women bitches--and laughing about it or refusing to take a stand to confront it--reveals just another buried prejudice we need to dig up, air openly, and get rid of.
Instead, too many people, just like McCain, look the other way.
In my book Ambitchous, I argue that women need to reclaim ambition for the positive attribute it is; that we as a society need to stop regarding ambitious women who want to succeed as...what else?....bitches; and that women, ourselves, should stop consciously--or unwittingly--buying into society's double standard that celebrates ambitious men as go getters, but marginalizes ambitious women as bitches.
Socially Sanctioned Self-Sabotage
Because of socially sanctioned self-sabotage, women absorb this culturally condoned vilifying of ambitious women, tamp down our natural drive and desire to achieve, and instead pacify ourselves with ideas spoon-fed to us by the culture about what a "real, decent woman" is and does.
Your ideal gal? She's cooperative, fair-minded, eager to give everyone a hearing. Yes, she values success and it's okay for her to say that.
But admit to being that dirty word "ambitious", to having really big dreams? Well, that's over the top.
And if she's tenacious, determined, stubborn, aggressive, committed to excellence in her field, confident--and especially if she's competing against like-minded male peers and feels entitled to earn her worth, power, and recognition? We swiftly unsheathe the B-word to bring her down hard, to put her in her place.
The fact that it was a woman who dropped the B-bomb at the McCain event is the perfect example of socially sanctioned self-sabotage.
I'm sure this McCain supporter thought she was being edgy and funny.
She's really just buying into the same pap that says a woman isn't allowed to be a strong, powerful leader. And this booster is also denigrating her own right, as a woman, to think and debate critically, to be ambitious, strong, competitive, and to make the contribution she has it in her to make.
She, too, has bought into the socially sanctioned idea that the world doesn't deserve to hear from a smart, opinionated ambitious woman who is trying to lead, to challenge our thinking, and to encourage creative solutions and substantive debate about confronting the fiasco in which we find ourselves. This booster has swallowed the notion that a woman has no business trying to make a difference--not because of disagreement with that person's views or positions, but because she's a bitch (code for ambitious woman who is too big for her breeches).
Unease and ambivalence about Clinton as a powerful leader ripples through the viewer feedback on websites and blogs showing the clip. But I paused when I got to "Hells' Kitchen Guy," who writes, "So what if she's a bitch? Is the president supposed to be a doormat? Margaret Thatcher was a bitch. Golda Meir was a bitch. Indira Gandhi was a bitch. Strong women are bitches. Hillary should wear the name like a badge of honor....My point is that strong women should embrace their inner 'bitch', take the word and make it a positive."
Well, it's a step in the right direction, but we can do better.
I disagree that strong woman=bitch. And I disagree that we, as ambitious women, should seize the bitch label as a virtue--that's not what I'm advocating.
What I am saying is that we, as women, can and should reclaim our ambition as a virtue, not a dirty word. Our ambition doesn't make us bitches. Our ambition is the best of who we are. It makes us better, happier, and more fulfilled individuals. It makes us better lovers, partners, spouses, friends, and community members. It makes us better mothers--because we are happier and because we are modeling for our children a life lived with passion for one's big dreams and dedication to developing our talents and intellect.
As ambitious women, we owe it to ourselves and the world to make the contribution we were born to make. The world deserves to hear from us.
And the world ought to value at least considering, seriously, what we have to say rather than dismissing our ideas based on our gender.
All of us--men and women--can and should do better when it comes to refusing to look the other way.
Hey, we've all been there, at the party where someone we know or like suddenly makes a racist or anti-gay comment or a sexist or an anti-Semitic joke. Maybe we don't say anything, maybe we guiltily join in the chuckles. We want to say something, but we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or embarrass someone. So we do nothing, we go along, under social duress, which only ratifies the harmful language, bias, or outright hatred.
No more, okay? It's a weasel move. Let's own it, and let's stop it. And let's stop vilifying powerful women as bitches, and step up and correct others when they say it.
Senator McCain, that's my straight talk. Hope you're listening.