As NASA prepared to launch the Pioneer 10 deep space probe in 1972, Carl Sagan (among others) convinced them to send along a little Earth tutorial for whomever ... whatever ... might come across the lonely machine out there in the void. They attached a plaque to the outer surface on which was a symbol for hydrogen (the most common element in the universe), a map of where Sol is in relation to 14 cosmic landmarks, and a rendering of our solar system indicating the third planet from the sun as the launch pad. Standing to the side are a man and woman, naked. The right hand of the man is raised (we can only hope in a gesture of greeting or friendship and not in what some species might take as a universal "Yo' Momma ... !"), and the woman is just standing there, arms placidly at her side. To alien eyes and alien intellects, she could as easily be the man's favorite pet, or his preferred food source, as his mate.
Sagan himself sketched the original design. Were he still alive, I would love to ask why he didn't depict both the man and the woman with their arms raised in that hopeful gesture. "Carl, what harm would it have done to draw those two humans as equals?"
I'm not criticizing him. Sagan was too good a human to be intentionally dismissive by showing this first woman to leave the solar system as a docile bystander to the accomplishments of her companion. Besides, this was 1971. Feminism was to most people a new phenomenon, and we had yet to learn just how insecure and frightened and belligerent so many men would become over the prospect of having to share in full the credit for civilization with their mothers and sisters, wives and daughters.
As the subtitle suggests, I'm pulling for Hillary Clinton. Until very recently, I had intended to avoid endorsing any one of the Democratic hopefuls over the rest. I like them all, from Hillary and Obama down the slope to Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, and I am content that any one of them would make a better president than any of the Republicans running, let alone that disgrace to all humanity we've endured for the last seven years.
But something came up. It started back when that woman in New Hampshire asked of John McCain, "How do we beat the bitch?" and McCain—who sells himself as being brave and honorable—only laughed.
Then last month, Bill Moyers interviewed two academics who have followed closely not only the deluge of hateful filth that mad dogs on the Internet are spewing at Hillary, but also the subtle bias of the major news mouths as they harp on her pantsuits, her laugh, her hair or the hint of cleavage. Hillary's critics will swear like guilty children that their objections to her have nothing to do with her sex. Yet even if that were true, the attacks on her almost invariably have more to do with personal mannerisms than policy substance, and no other candidate—not in this election or any in my lifetime—has been singled out more for personal mannerisms than Hillary.
We can expect nothing better from stunted assholes like Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson when they warn to "put your testicles in a lockbox" (the former), or "she makes me feel castrated" (the latter). But I admit I had made the mistake of once thinking MSNBC's Chris Matthews was an adult. How wrong I was. When Hillary behaves exactly like any other politician running for office, Matthews calls her petty and strident and manipulating. He seems more concerned with her "cackle" than he does her plans for health care. When she was unclear in her response about driver's licenses for illegal aliens, he pounced as though she was the only politician to ever equivocate on an answer, and when Obama rolled even with her in the polls, Matthews took it as proof that her personality is unpalatable to the American heart and soul.
Matthews isn't the only notable news personality to treat Hillary differently than the other candidates, of course, but he has come to typify (for me) the faux-alpha male smugness that says, implicitly, "Who the hell does she think she is!" And then, when accused of assaulting her for either her femininity, or lack of it, they wail, "What's wrong? Can't she take it like a maaaaan?"
That's why America needs a woman president—to once and for all move this country beyond the puerile prejudice that women, by virtue of being women, don't qualify. And Hillary is the only woman running.
There is no question that attitudes have matured in 35 years, since NASA sent that picture of man and his less-significant other into eternity. But even while most American men have come to accept women as co-equals in everything from the shop floor to the boardroom—from boot camp to the Pentagon and from the school board to the U.S. Senate—there festers in too many men a terror of ambitious, independent women. Of women who can get along just fine, thank you very much, without them.
I doubt these men will ever grow up. Their primordial instincts will dictate that they behave like huffing, puffing baboon kings until they die, and the methods they use to assert their delusions will be around as long as they live: derision, demeaning names, domestic battery, rape, murder, racism, violence—everything bigger beasts do to smaller beasts.
But America cannot afford not to grow up. For too long, our nation has been behaving like a testosterone-drunken Bubba-boy, pissing indiscriminately on the terrain to mark his territory. If I am right—if my sense that so much of our current malaise stems from the illusion that acting tough is the same as being strong—then the path to redemption must include rubbing Bubba's nose in his own fear and loathing.
I will not say whether Hillary is the absolute best choice for president. I can't, nor can anyone else, know that. But for America at this juncture in our history, at this critical point in our growth, she is the best gender. Being an abusive father has gotten us nowhere. Time to try the strong mother.
And if I am right, only women can prove my point. Democrat women, Republican women, independent women, American women—ladies, you can join Limbaugh and Matthews, harp on Hillary's personality and wait for a more "palatable" woman to run—but only if you don't mind too much that your daughters and granddaughters are the next to be laughed at as "bitches." If these fearful men get away with doing what they're doing to Hillary, it will be at least another generation before a woman dares try it again.