By the time I finish writing and then submitting this column to The Mirror, there may be any number of new developments in the Herman Cain sexual harassment imbroglio. But for now, can we say that it’s at least interesting that someone can push themselves that far into the national spotlight and not have any consciousness about a history of having paid women settlements following improper behavior? To put a finer point on it, it strikes me that Cain first thought that some idiot behavior didn’t matter because he was a man and they were women. Then, after inflating himself like a Macy’s Thanksgiving balloon on the national scene, he followed his old first mistakes with new mistakes in thinking that the settlements that verified he has an archaic attitude toward women didn’t matter either.
Calling all men: It’s the 21st century. Despite throwbacks to old school sexism like those Carl’s Jr. Six Dollar Burger commercials and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, things have actually changed. Or have they?
Kim Kardashian: Self-marketing genius or sex worker? Hooters saitresses: brassy independence or sickening objectification? Katy Perry pop music videos: Feisty post-eeminist style or exhibitionism for gain? Curvy weather reporters on L.A. News: See “Hooters waitresses.”
Now, in the examples above, I’m citing situations in which smart women have made choices, and are contributing to retro stereotypes. I suppose we could haggle about the weather reporters, and maybe we’d ultimately need to come up with an e-mail or memo from a producer that read, in part, “tighter sweaters, more visible cleavage or we’ll find somebody else…” to really know who is responsible. Herman Cain could possibly look at the world and see some of these things I’m citing, and then conclude that he was cool in saying or doing whatever he did.
But he would be wrong. Just as Republican Scott Brown was wrong when he was asked about Elizabeth Warren’s comment on Brown’s younger days nude centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine. Warren was asked how she paid for college. “I kept my clothes on” Warren replied. Following that, Brown had an interviewer remark that Warren never posed in the buff. Brown replied “Thank God” and then both he and his interviewer shared hearty laughs.
I’m not sure we can even tally all the levels of wrongness in that, but let’s take a shot. One: Brown judges Warren so unattractive that a nude photo of her would naturally elicit that response, creating a “joke.” Two: We must assume Brown thinks of himself in the nude, at least back then, as much more appetizing. Three: By laughing at his own comment along with the interviewer, Brown and the dope interviewing him confirm to all listening that men determine what is attractive about women. Four: Warren is running against Brown for Ted Kennedy’s old seat. He has now confirmed for us that in his mind his opponent should be evaluated for her looks. Five: Scott Brown has such a tenuous grasp on his own thoughts that he blurts things out straight from his id. That’s not a good attribute for a Senator.
Or maybe Brown didn’t blurt. Maybe he thought his comment made perfect sense because, just like for Herman Cain, the world hasn’t changed when it comes to this woman stuff. Well, here’s some women’s stuff that has changed, as cited by Bloomberg View columnist Margaret Carlson: “There are now 17 women in the Senate and 73 in the House of Representatives, an exponential increase from just 20 years ago. We have already had—and lost—the first female speaker of the House. Clinton is the third female secretary of state since 1997.”
Columnist Carlson listed these facts while writing about Elizabeth Warren, where she also points out that “Warren originated the idea of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but she proved so annoying to powerful men in Washington that she didn’t get the job of running it.” Yet on Facebook and Internet videos Warren’s comments on fairness that begin “Nobody in this country got rich on their own…” have become something of a present day “I have a dream…” speech and are repeated in at least one “Occupy” video that I’ve seen. Warren’s not annoying to Americans sharing their thoughts online. So what bumped those Washington men? Well, again, if you don’t think the world has changed then you might find Elizabeth Warren to be strong-willed and firm of mind to the point that she kind of scares you; a woman who might react to an improper proposition from Herman Cain or a crack about her attractiveness from Scott Brown with a sharp left hook.
An October headline from the humor newspaper The Onion reads, “Nation Breaks Down And Begs Its Smart People To Just Fix Everything.” It’s satire, but… if Americans did insist on getting smart people in positions of power, it’s possible that the dull minds that reveal themselves by way of sexist comments and behavior would have to move over and make room. They might help themselves before that purge by buying a calendar, especially since current calendars are on sale this time of year. They’d see that it’s 2011, not 1965. “Mad Men” is a period TV show, not a guide to life in the 21st century. And sexism is now very old school. To quote Scott Brown, “Thank God.”