Watching the Olympics, you cannot help but be mesmerized by the world-class female athletes who are killing it in their events and showing the world how to take absolutely no shit. Like 19-year-old Lilly King, who matched her outrage over Russian doping with an outrageously-fast, winning swim. Or Simone Biles, who may be the best female gymnast ever and whose performances in Rio drew cheers from teammates and competitors alike. And then there is Simone Manuel, the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming.
Maybe their domination presages what could be America’s Year of The Woman. After all, in less than 100 days we choose between Cheeto-wrought, worldwide mayhem and electing the first female president.
As we did after electing the first black president, will we declare that sending the first woman to the White House signals a profound, bedrock change in American society — this time, how we view women? Will Hillary Clinton’s election prove that we have entered a post-gender society, in which people will be judged by skills and actions, not by the character of their genitalia or where they pee?
Will we become gender-blind?
It is easy to imagine what that would be like. Women would get equal pay for equal work. Women would no longer be discriminated against on the job when they decide to have a baby or two and then take time off. Because you know that happens. They would no longer be subjected to snide remarks about what they wear, or described with loaded words (shrill and hysterical?). They would no longer be defined by the man they marry or date. Like when The Chicago Tribune broke the news about trap-shooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein by tweeting: “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.” Or when The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers used a photo of Bill Clinton to illustrate a story about Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic nomination for president.
There is precedence here for presidential election as societal turning point. Certainly, Barack Obama’s election ushered us into a post-racial society.
Obama’s election proved that enough Americans did not care, or they cared a lot, about his race when they elected him. Specifically, it is the caring-about-race part that underscores why we are not in a post-racial society. Some people voted for him because of his race. And some people voted against him because of his race. This division brought forth wave after wave of craven, racist recriminations muttered about Obama and his family in the backwaters of this country, including on Faceplant and the online comment sections of newspapers. Not to mention the more overt, public attacks on Obama from the GOP and right-wing ideologues, including the email sent by a Republican Party central committee member and Tea Party activist that depicted Obama as a chimpanzee.
Who would have thought that electing the first black president would reveal just how racially divided we are as a nation, instead of exemplifying our evolution as a society?
But perhaps this bubbling, backed up sewer of racism also has helped focus new attention on the vast numbers of blacks being shot by police officers. Such abuse has been allowed to happen for many decades. So now we seem to be entering a new Civil Rights Movement.
So, no — when Clinton is elected, we will not enter a post-gender society. Instead, we will face another convulsion of bigotry from the defeated foes.
It is happening already. The Cheeto declared that Clinton was playing the “woman card,” but our own U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell was first when he told the Bullitt County Chamber of Commerce in July 2015 that “the gender card alone isn’t enough” for her to win an election.
Clinton’s reply in a Facebook question-and-answer session: “There is a gender card being played in this campaign. It’s played every time Republicans vote against giving women equal pay, deny families access to affordable child care or family leave, refuse to let women make decisions about their health or have access to free contraception. These aren’t just women’s issues, they are economic issues that drive growth and affect all Americans.”
Sadly, Clinton’s election will intensify and illuminate divisions over gender. But maybe this pain is what we need to make it right.