The arrogance and shortsightedness of contemporary women commentators is both annoying and anger provoking. I cite as a case in point what happened yesterday morning on Morning Joe. Kathleen Parker, the Washington Post columnist, had been brought on the program to comment on the announcement by Eliot Spitzer that he was running for New York City Comptroller. She had briefly served as co-host with him on a public affairs program. The best she could do was to say that she wished him well, and she said that in a tone that indicated it was the best she could do. A few minutes later, perhaps having in mind some tweets she had received meantime, she said that it is no use telling the truth. I thought that very self serving. If she did not come to praise, she should not have agreed to come on the program. Perhaps the kind of loyalty I prefer is known only to men who, as Shaw says, are more straightforward than women. Straightforwardness means, among other things, that you don’t stab someone unless you really have a very good reason to do so and in that case Parker should have said what it was she held against him as a candidate even if that was the fact that he had consorted with upscale call girls. If the distastefulness of that fact was enough to sour her on his candidacy, have the forthrightness to say so. Maybe a straightforward announcement of a moral judgment is, as Carol Gilligan used to say, a feature of male rather than female reasoning, women given to thinking around problems until there is a compromise which offers itself. Maybe for some purposes being direct is the stronger moral position.
Lest raising gender politics seem irrelevant, consider what happened next on yesterday’s Morning Joe. Parker, Mika Brzezinski and another female panelist went on to compare the sexual transgressions of Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford. Which were illegal or just hypocritical, or a misuse of state power? The men on the panel sat silent. What an effrontery for women to deal in so cavalier a fashion with the ways men get rid of excess secretions so that they can reduce their testosterone levels so that they can get down to business! If that description of male sexuality leaves the romance out, treating sexuality as something of a health issue, I would remind you that issues of female sexuality including contraception and abortion are ordinarily treated as health issues.
Mika was trying to be tough this morning when she actually had Spitzer on the program as a guest, but she is too polite and gracious to offer more than a censorious look when asking him how he had changed so that he deserved the trust of the voters. All he said was a heartfelt “a lot”. That will either be enough or not. Was he supposed to sound like a penitent at a tent revival meeting? Spitzer went along with the idea of repentance but did not fess up to the details of what had happened in his soul. He knows that tact is essential in making his case and he is articulate enough so that he won’t be caught out sounding sorry for himself or going into details.
There was something very false about this morning’s performance. We have come a long way since Jesus asked who will throw the first stone. Mika said no one was perfect, so what is the point of the discussion other than what is clearly the collateral issue of whether his patronizing prostitutes was legal or not? What is there here other than the tabloid headlines which Joe and Mika chastise but display? But media people just don’t want to let go of the sinner who is struggling on the hook. The New York Daily News, which is one of the tabloids flouted on Morning Joe today, quoted Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal as calling Spitzer “damaged”. Those are fighting words. Women who were no longer virgins while still looking for a husband were known not too long ago as “damaged goods”. Was the assemblywoman not aware of that usage? I am afraid that the words a person uses tell you what they mean, which in this case is that someone with a soiled private life is not to be trusted. How the fickle finger of fate has turned.
Women are less censorious when it comes to what women do with their own bodies. Women are very protective of their prerogatives when it comes to abortion, which is far more serious a matter than prostitution or other matters of titillation. Feminists do not say that women should respect the law and so not have abortions where they are or when they were illegal, only that they should be made legal. Where is the respect for the law there? Abortion is more serious than prostitution, even though it should not be necessary to point out this difference, since abortion involves what some might, with some reason, consider the killing of a human being, and patronizing high price call girls is, at worst, an unsavory transaction. A late term abortion destroys a being much alike to what it would be when it emerged from the womb and I am not philosopher enough nor am I biologist enough to decide how far back in the process of human development that divide between more and less similar goes. To the time when the fetus is first implanted in the wall of the uterus? To the time when the fetus can first feel pain? These are considerations not to be dismissed with a cynical shrug, nor by invoking an arbitrary notion that a child becomes alive only when a bit of its head emerges out of the birth canal but not the second before that happens. But I have known Feminists who say that perhaps men should not be allowed to vote on abortion rights because it does not centrally concern them. If that is the case, then have the good grace to be silent when it comes to the biological peculiarities of men.
Lest this lapse into a front loaded case of feminist politics seem limited to Morning Joe, consult the Op Ed page in yesterday’s New York Times. It depicts the bravery of the writer’s mother who aborted a fetus before producing two daughters whom she each told what she had done as a parting gift when sending them off to college. It seems that the mother and father, who stayed together, had decided that they were just too young to deal with what might have been the first of their three children and were not willing to run the displeasure of their families for having conceived a child before marrying. Far from brave, I find this behavior appalling. These seem weak excuses to abort a fetus and that action, twenty years later, still hung heavy on the mother’s soul. But nowadays it seems that every abortion is an act of courage. As I have remarked before on these pages, I congratulate my mother on her own act of cowardice in not aborting me, the economic circumstances of my family worse than that of the woman in the memoir who did abort and thereafter created a successful family life. But there are no essays from abortion survivors in the New York Times, nor about those families that abort children for what the writer, and not just the reader, might conclude frivolous reason. The current discourse regards any reason as sufficient reason because any abortion is regarded, these days, as a sign of bravery.
The swing of the rhetorical pendulum with regard to gender issues has perhaps reached its limit before beginning to restore itself to some medium position. The height of anti-woman feeling was probably, as Virginia Woolf thinks, during the Victorian Period. I was reminded of this when recently rereading Wilke Collins’ Woman in White. It presents a very complex picture of a woman trying to cope with her position in society. She cannot shed herself of her view that she is a member of the weaker sex, however much she shows herself resolute and clear thinking. Any lapse is a failure of the gender rather than a personal lapse and her antagonists, however much they think woman to be incapable of clear thought, praise her for being the exception. Collins, like John Stuart Mill, was championing the cause of women at a time when were relegated to being inferior creatures. We have come a long way, baby, and so it is understandable if pro-Feminist rhetoric is a bit overboard.
But it is also possible that we are still just in the early stages of a much longer revolution rather than a pendulum swing. This revolution began in the early middle ages when chivalry came into flower and placed women on a pedestal so that they might be worshipped rather than disdained or merely used. This is a world wide revolution which is not yet complete. Women will make up most of the Senators and the professoriate and the medical and legal professions in the United States and will be entrepreneurs that drive underdeveloped economies into the modern world. Fine. That was the dream of first generation Feminists who thought that we could arrive at a world without men. My only complaint, aside from calling for affirmative action goals for the male sex, is that we are losing sight of the male virtues of which Wilke Collins reminded us. They consist of seeing things as they are rather than as we would wish them to be. Eliot Spitzer is a well informed and effective public servant who got caught up in a sexual scandal. There is nothing more and nothing less to it than that. Let us not turn his story into a morality play in which the forces of redemption war against the forces of righteous indignation.