Katie Lou Samuelson
Have you ever heard of them?
How about Breanna Stewart?
Familiar with those names?
Still no? I’m not surprised. Those are among the names most responsible for the University of Connecticut basketball team’s two insanely long winning streaks in the past decade – a 90-game winning streak that went on from 2008-2011, and a 101-game winning streak that started in 2014 and is still going strong. The individuals listed above should be household names, but they’re not. And that, of course, is because those phenomenal athletes are women. Imagine a men’s team with two winning streaks totaling nearly 200 games, or even half that long. Somehow, I doubt its top players would be laboring in obscurity.
This was supposed to be the year of the woman. We were supposed to have the first female President in history by now. Remember her? There are a number of reasons why Hillary is in New York and Donald is in the White House, and much of the blame can surely be placed on Hillary and the DNC. But just as surely, Hillary was also the victim of pervasive sexism. Despite all of our hopes to the contrary, sexism in our society is still alive and well.
I’ve never forgotten that old Henry Kissinger line, “No one will ever win the battle of the sexes; there is too much fraternizing with the enemy.” It is partially correct. Most of us men do love women – both individual women and even the female gender taken in the abstract – so the last thing we want to do is wage a “battle” against them. But clearly, we don’t very much love watching them play basketball, or any other sport for that matter. And we don’t love watching them get on the stump and exclaim why their vision of governance is better than that of their opponent. We call such female politicians obnoxious, aggressive, off-putting . . .
I just call it sexism.
Just consider the two de facto leaders of the post-Hillary Clinton Democratic Party. I’m referring to those two unabashed progressives, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Bernie can yell all he wants on the stump and we’ll still call him avuncular or even lovable. Liz? When she yells, we call her shrill or a scold, or whatever other insult comes to mind for an “uppity” woman. No, that term uppity doesn’t get used any more, but honestly, it describes precisely the way many people feel about a woman who is righteously indignant and not afraid to explain why.
If you don’t agree, please explain to me what the analogue is of “avuncular” for a woman. Or more generally, what flattering adjectives we have for women when they get older. This isn’t just a problem with our vocabulary. It’s a problem with our culture.
It is one thing to dis an entire gender when they are young and athletic. It’s another to dis them when they are mature, wise, and passionate about how to uplift the world, especially when the other gender has done such a robust job of screwing things up.
We can no longer afford to ignore our biases. And believe me, the problem isn’t simply the way men think about women, for many women suffer from the same prejudice. For years, the “fairer sex” was thought of in a supporting role. That started changing a half-century ago. Back in the late 60s and 70s, it would have been reasonable to expect that by now, we’d be over this blind spot. But old prejudices die hard. It is incumbent on each of us to recognize those prejudices in ourselves and eradicate them from our behavior, at least where they are most important.
You have my permission to ignore the Connecticut women’s basketball team – or for that matter, the undefeated men’s basketball team from Gonzaga. But you don’t have my permission to ignore female statesmen who have the temerity to raise their voice at horrible injustice, gross inefficiency, or widespread apathy. Perhaps they’ll sound too “shrill” to be “avuncular,” but that’s fine – take it upon yourself to find some complimentary words that work for mature female leaders. Just consider what you love about your favorite aunt, or if you have no favorite aunt, use your mother. How would you describe her? What positive qualities most come to mind? And don’t we need more people with those qualities running this country? To ask the question is to answer it.