More than a century and a half ago, when early suffragettes fought to win the vote, they campaigned for equality as a source of independence and dignity, a means for a woman to stand equally with a man. The vote would uphold a woman's capacity to be fully human under the law, and from the law the culture would change. The early feminists assumed a moral superiority over men, which is why so many were active in the temperance movement.
Others muted the differences between men and women and were satisfied to preach absolute equality. But they all reckoned that women could clean up the culture if they were just freed to pursue their goals.
Fast-forward to the 21st century. The suffragettes would be dizzy with the changes in the culture, achieved beyond their wildest dreams. Women not only got the vote, but we've had three women as secretary of state, two who were candidates for vice president on a major party ticket, and a woman who almost won the Democratic Party nomination for president. Women who are CEOs of major corporations number almost two dozen. Women in the aggregate still don't earn as much money as men, but accounting for choices of hours and kinds of work, they're equal. Women have gone ahead of men with earning high school diplomas and college degrees. More women than men are studying in medical and law schools.
As always, that busy devil is in the details. With success comes disappointment and unintended consequences, what some characterize as "sexual politics" gone too far. Educated women now appropriate the word "slut" like homosexuals have embraced "queer," taking it with pride of ownership. Hookups, as in sexual quickies, are pushed as "gender"-neutral in male-female relationships. The idea of female superiority, of women able to civilize the brutish instincts of men, is quaint indeed.
The 19th-century feminist would be shocked with the television commercial for President Obama characterizing a young woman's first vote for the president as the equivalent of giving up her virginity. For those who were too busy watching Hurricane Sandy tear up the Atlantic coast, the star of HBO's hit sitcom "Girls" looks coquettishly into the camera, her hip tattoo clearly visible, and says: "Your first time shouldn't be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy. . . . Someone who really cares about and understands women." That guy, she goes on to say with an innocent's leer, is Barack Obama. By now, she's clearly talking about a young girl's first vote and the president's promise of free condoms.
This from a woman who plays a character in "Girls" who has sex with a not-so-great guy who is abusive and spins sexual fantasies about younger girls while "in the act" with her. However, we're not supposed to confuse the actress who plays a masochist with the edgy writer-star, who just earned a $3 million advance for a book to be about the real-life loss of her virginity.
From little acorns great oaks do grow. It hasn't been all that long since a young woman at a town hall asked President Clinton whether he wore boxers or briefs. He grinned and answered, "Usually briefs." Can anyone imagine Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan dignifying the young woman's question with an answer?
Not wanting to be outdone by the younger generation's vulgarity, liberal filmmaker Michael Moore of MoveOn.org has created another TV commercial on behalf of the president, featuring potty-mouthed seniors. Says 97-year-old "Marie" to the video camera: "And I want the Republican Party to know, if your voter suppression throughout this beautiful country enables Romney to oust Barack Obama, we will burn this mother---- down." A World War II veteran raises her raunchy rhetoric. "John," age 85, warns the next generation against Democratic losses: "If you let the Republicans do this to you again, after we die, we are going to look down on you from heaven, and we're going to make a point of watching you have sex, every time. No matter how kinky." (Voyeurism in heaven. Who knew?)
Taste over sexual issues has never been the operative word in presidential campaigns, but only recently have women vulgarized themselves in the debate.
Cartoonist Michael Ramirez draws in the Weekly Standard magazine an attempted pickup in a bar. A fictional Barack Obama, leering, tries to tempt a young woman with a package of condoms: "Hey Baby. I've got free contraceptives." Asks the girl to herself, between sips of a martini: "Seriously. Does that actually work on anyone?"
In desperation mode, the Obama campaign clearly thinks it does.
Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.
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