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Woman of My Year

Woman of My Year

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They called us Senator, Madame Speaker, and nappy-headed ho. Whatever. We rocked!

Coming out for Hillary Clinton is like coming out as a lesbian. (I'm the lesbian, not Hillary, despite the sledgehammered innuendos of Ann Coulter.) In conversations with friends, family, and random airline seatmates, before I declare my orientation for Hillary, I think, Do I have the energy or interest to deal with the inevitable Hillar-phobic blowback? Frankly, not always, but I do it. Just as I come out as a lesbian to smash homophobia, I come out for Hillary to challenge sexism.

At the gym, I've been listening to the audiobook of Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream, about how 9/11 has been seized as a way to restore "traditional" heterosexual manhood, marriage, and maternity. While my gym mates crunch along to "We Are the Champions," my reps sound like "1, 2, 3--Oh, for fuck's sake!" I'm sure the guys working out at the gym are puzzled by my glowering at them in the mirror.

No matter what you think of her, Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has restarted our national conversation about gender, which had stalled out again in 2001. And boi, do we ever need to keep talking. I try to do my part to keep the conversation from being reduced to little more than a dismissive crack about "playing the gender card."

In 2007 gender was at the heart of all kinds of seemingly unrelated events. Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi was maligned for not reaching political benchmarks -- the implication being that she fell short because she's a woman. But I like to point out that doing things constitutionally in the bright light of day takes longer than doing them unconstitutionally in the dark of night. I wish Pelosi had had thought bubbles over her head during Bush's State of the Union (a.k.a. the "If I Did It") address.

When Don Imus referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed ho's," it was not a proud moment for people holding the white race cards. But the women's real offense was that they were playing like boys. Actually, better.

The Imus mess did give us a chance to read about women in sports, or at least near sports. Perhaps because The New York Times is an inch and a half narrower and New York sports teams are so good, the sports section is unable to cover more -- or any -- women's sports. It's not limited to sports. If you were to read the obits every morning to your girlfriend, as I do, you'd be able to announce after a quick scan, "Great news, honey, absolutely no women died today."

In other women's sort-of-sports news, the New York Knicks' coach, Isaiah Thomas -- spiritual son of Justice Clarence Uncle Thomas, who's still ripped and resentful from back in 1991 about Anita Hill -- maintained his petulance after the elegant Anucha Browne Sanders won her sexual harassment case against Thomas and Madison Square Garden. Sprinter Marion Jones apologized for her juice use with a statement that should be a template to everyone who thinks "I'm sorry" means "I'm sorry you found out."

In television, suits are still confining talent by gender, whether or not they admit it. When Katie Couric was allowed to break the testosterone ceiling and sit solo as nightly news reader, prime-time news was of course past its prime. Still, her impudence was noted by Mr. Bitter, Dan Rather. Rosie O'Donnell, fresh from being fresh on The View, was unable to make a deal to do a talk show on MSNBC. Ellen DeGeneres, who seems less comfortable with the lesbian card she was dealt than do her straight guests, was allowed humanity by playing the canine card.

Can a woman handle the presidency? Oh, come on. But America is pretty much the last of the Western nations to get it. Our big democratic United States seems even more preposterous with its sexist doubts now that Ireland, New Zealand, Finland, Switzerland, the Philippines, Liberia, Germany, Norway, Chile, and Argentina have elected women heads of state. And don't forget the queens! In England, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the Village.

In the Middle East gender is still a conversation nobody wants to have. After our friend and ally Saudi Arabia sentenced a 19-year-old woman, gang-raped 14 times, to 90 lashes for violating Saudi segregation laws forbidding men and women from associating, I waited for our international image ambassador Mr. Karen Hughes to say something. Naturally, Hughes did nada. On appeal, the Saudi woman's punishment was increased to 200 lashes and six months in prison for trying to influence the judiciary through the media. Somebody get her Paris Hilton's number.

Here's something worth talking about: Gender multiplied in 2007. At least that's how it seems to Middle America. A lot of us knew it all along. When the transgender card is played and the T is dropped from LGBT in an amended ENDA, I like to point out that no matter how straight-acting we try to be, we are gender outlaws. Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, after some hard lobbying by the state's LGBT groups, did the right thing and issued an executive order barring discrimination against transgender state employees. The Michigan Citizens for Traditional Values vowed a fatwa. On Fox News, Sean Hannity's tiny head blew up.

Having upped the gender ante in the presidential race, Hillary is taking hits on prejudices we hardly know we have. Do we really respect her choices as a woman? Do we have to? When the American people shrugged that they didn't care what Hillary's husband did sexually in private as long he did his job, it was exactly what gay people have been saying for years. But that whole episode still frosts women. Recently, my friend Juan, the big African-American queen and doctor of sociology, tried his gay-male best to explain it to me at dinner.

"Married women have a pact," said Juan, leaning in, power-pointing with a forkful. "If their husbands cheat on them, they vow they'll leave, especially if the husband embarrasses them publicly. But in fact the women rarely leave, and they hate themselves for their inaction. So there's Hillary, a powerful woman, whose husband cheats on her, gets caught, goes on TV, denies it and gets impeached. By standing by her man, Hillary is an affront to married women, a reminder of their weakness, a hologram of their self-hatred."

I'm not convinced self-hatred is so gendered, but when an older woman in South Carolina stood and asked John McCain, "How do we beat the bitch?" I did find myself shaking my head, muttering, "Why do you hate yourself so much?" McCain's uncomfortable chuckle suggested that he's thought, heard, or said worse.

Of course, I support Hillary not just as a gender lens and barometric-pressure reader of sexism but also as an actual woman with a big laugh, big brain, and cleavage, for God's sake. I was the first in my neighborhood to sport a bumper sticker that says hillary's first day: 01.21.09.

Don't think for a moment that I am not taking all manner of flak for my Hillary endorsement at home. My dear partner loves to out me as a Hillary supporter to friends, family, and elevator guys. She is appalled by Hillary's hawkishness, her equivocation on gay marriage, and her three-day delay in rebutting Gen. Peter Pace's claim that homosexuality is immoral.

I agree. Then I paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld right back to her, "You go to the polls with the candidate you have, not the one you wish to have." Hillary is my guy.

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