A few minutes ago, I was moved to again watch the video from the Women’s Resource Center that shows just how much vile and persistent sexism was on display during this year’s presidential primary campaign. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Here it is again.
It reminded me of one of the 20th century’s truly legendary commencement addresses. On October 29, 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Harrow School. The worst of the bombing of England by the Nazis had ended several months before. And these were virtually the only words Churchill spoke that day:
Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
These words came to mind in the context of the months-long clamoring for Senator Clinton to quit the race and make way for the inevitable. A great man urges stubborn adherence to principles and his words become immortal. A great woman, showing just this kind of stubborn courage, becomes the target of anger and ridicule.
Look, I have never been a fan of Senator Clinton for what I think are legitimate reasons. My candidate won the nomination. But I know sexism when I see it. And I will never forget the double-standard that was on display when, showing such stubborn grit and determination, even in the face of impossible odds, she was told by some that she should simply and gracefully get out of the way.
But you know the drill: Men who persist against impossible odds get medals. Women are obstructionists.
As I watched the video, I found myself yelling (all the plentiful expletives have been deleted): “Don’t these idiots have daughters, lovers, wives, or mothers or any other women whose future they care about? Is this the message they will send: Try hard, honey, but don’t be stubborn. Don’t be pushy.”
Jerks. Real jerks.
But then came one of those light bulb moments: I realized that my almost instinctive disgust with the idea of male privilege is overwhelmingly a function of the kind of man my father is. I am not sure I know a less sexist man. The idea that women should have complete and unfettered freedom to pursue their goals and aspirations is an absolutely fundamental part of who he is. Incredible as it may seem, my best guess is that he has never even had the idea that any unique or special advantage should accrue to him simply because he is a man. And not once have I ever heard him utter an either subtle or overtly sexist remark.
There is some history here. His mother, my grandmother Elizabeth, was one of the first women to graduate from Northwestern University. And she first enrolled before women were even guaranteed the right to vote. Her husband, my grandfather, was always proud that the first encouragement he ever received as a young immigrant to seek higher education came from Jane Addams, one of the 20th century’s greatest feminists and activists and founder of Chicago’s Hull House.
Later, when most of the mothers of baby boomers were staying home, my mom told my dad that she wanted to return to college. And as young as I was, I still vividly remember him assuring her that together they would do whatever they needed to do to make this a reality. He didn’t even slightly agonize about it. If those were her aspirations, he would be there for her.
I have never heard him utter a sexist remark (or racist or homophobic for that matter). I have never seen him minimize or ridicule the potential of any woman to accomplish anything. In fact, I have never even seen the kind of subtle, coded body language — a raised eyebrow, a snicker, a dismissive laugh, a puffed-up chest – that might have signaled some hidden well of macho posturing.
It just wasn’t there. And at 78 years of age, it still is nowhere to be seen.
And his son will never forget it.