The Most Amazing Superpower

So what if Superman can fly? Olivia Pope has him beat.

My daughter's friend got me started watching the TV show, Scandal. I know the show is ridiculous - I've worked in government and specialize in crisis management -- but the costumes! The romance! Washington with cherry blossoms in full bloom! It's a lot of fun.

Olivia Pope, the "fixer" at the center of the show, has many powers beyond those of mere mortals. She can hack into and manipulate any system on a moment's notice. She can stride in and out of the Oval Office without invitation or permission. She has blackmail material ready to go for any Senator whose mind needs to be changed. She can even murder with impunity. These astonishing skills, though, pale in comparison with her most impressive ability.

Olivia yells at people and they do what she wants.

Do you know a woman who can do that? In my experience, if a woman is yelling - or, for that matter, directly expressing anger in any way - she is in the wrong. We have many words, applying only to women, to describe this. Harpy. Nag. Shrew. Harridan. Scold. Oh, and bitch. There's always bitch.

Yet there is Olivia Pope, week after week, invading the personal space of the world's most powerful fictional men, sticking her face right into theirs, and forcefully, at high speed and raised volume, her lovely lip curling, tells them exactly what they will do. Then, a miracle occurs: they do it.

When we first started watching Scandal, I thought to myself, "you can't get away with that unless you look like Kerry Washington [the actress who plays Olivia]." I suspect I was wrong, and that even the stunning Washington couldn't, in real life, get away with it. Men hate an angry woman. It doesn't matter how justified her anger. They turn on her. They hit back. They shut her out.

My daughter graduated from college a couple of weeks ago. I thrilled to the sight of her and her girlfriends. Such beautiful, fiery young women, so comfortable with their male counterparts. Laughing, debating, teasing. Charming and raucous. Young and smart and accomplished and bold and so very lovely. I found myself wondering, "Will that change? Will they feel as free to go toe-to-toe with the boys in twenty years? Will they, like Olivia, get to be heated in debate and still be effective?"

Was Hillary Clinton like my daughter and her friends when she graduated college? Today, the pundits keep saying she must stop "yelling" into the microphone. Or "shouting." Or "screaming." Or, heaven help us, "shrieking." It is a time-honored tradition for candidates to give loud, rousing stump speeches. Their thunderous voices crescendo and they fire up the crowd. Every single candidate this season was shouting behind a microphone. Bernie Sanders still is, and his supporters love it. Donald Trump puts his hands over his ears, hollers that he can't stand Hillary's voice, and the crowds go wild. Clinton's crowds cheer, too; but only Clinton is criticized for the rousing stump speech. What's worse, the tone of the criticism suggests that there is something repellent about this rhetorical style when she employs it.

I admire Shonda Rhimes, the producer of Scandal. She isn't producing realistic television, she's producing highly entertaining, fantasy television. It's also aspirational television. Wouldn't it be wonderful if women could relax and be their own, authentic selves, even when they're passionate, even when they're frustrated, even when they're angry? Even, perhaps, when they're not young and adorable? Even when they're running for president?