WASHINGTON — With The New York Times’ sudden dismissal of Executive Editor Jill Abramson and Karl Rove’s suggestion that Hillary Clinton might have brain damage, the curtain opened on a new theater in an old war.
The targeting of these two powerful, accomplished women, albeit under different circumstances, may prove more predictive of the presidential election (assuming Clinton runs) than any other single factor. This is because women, who vote in greater numbers than men, have been reminded of how their sex is treated in a world that still favors men.
This is rare currency for me. I wrote a book called “Save the Males,” after all. But my argument in the book and elsewhere wasn’t about favoring men. It was a case for fairness toward boys and young men lest they grow up to become lesser men. Most mothers of boys know what I mean.
Fairness doesn’t always mean absolute equality, nor can it be measured only by numbers. Reality is what it is — finally, a useful application of this annoying expression — and confirms century after century that most men and most women excel at different things. Although, let’s be honest, women excel at pretty much everything. Just ask any wise husband.
Certainly, leadership is not the exclusive domain of men. Nevertheless, Abramson, the first woman to lead the masthead of the nation’s most prominent newspaper, was ousted amid stories of her “brusque” leadership style and, horrors, her gall in pursuing equal pay to her male predecessor.
We are left to infer two lessons: Women at the top should be sweet and nurturing at all times; and a woman who faints and falls, hitting her head, as Clinton did, can’t be trusted to lead the nation. This would be because she is ... a woman and, cut to the chase, she probably has something wrong with her brain.
One can understand why Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger found Abramson a tad too tough. Recall that when he held a newsroom meeting to discuss then-reporter Jayson Blair’s serial fabrications, Sulzberger brought along his stuffed moose.
As for Rove, well, he’s Bush’s brain. (Kidding guys.) But Rove is ruthless and never without intent. When he protested that he was merely pointing out that Clinton’s concussion might have caused brain damage, he might as well have said, “I didn’t mean she’s demented and this is probably why she can’t remember what she did the night four Americans died in Benghazi, including our ambassador. Just sayin’ it’s possible.”
Obviously, Clinton will have to reveal her health record if she intends to seek the presidency. Meanwhile, everyone knows what’s up. A woman’s “brain damage” is a man’s “accused rape.” Though cleared of illness or crime, there’s always lingering doubt. He might have raped her. She might be ... damaged goods.
A plethora of other connotations and associations attach to the brain-injured woman. Emotionally unstable, mentally incompetent, the fainting woman who can’t unscramble her busy little head. Not long ago, women were “put away” for a “nervous breakdown.” It’s all there but the straitjacket.
Even if one thinks the country doesn’t need another Clinton White House, a sentiment shared by many Democrats — or if you’re of the BenghaziBenghaziBenghazi persuasion — the overarching impression is that Clinton was attacked unfairly. Ditto Abramson, who was fired effective immediately, which usually means shown the door without so much as a pit stop.
Fairness, in other words, is the whole kit and caboodle, and women are especially sensitive to its applications. Is it fair to suggest that one man’s attack on one woman — or one woman’s firing for being brusque — somehow reflects poorly on all men?
No, it’s not fair, but we’re talking politics, where perception is reality. Plus, we’re talking about a particular woman (Clinton) and a particular man (Rove) with all the attendant history and baggage.
Obviously, all women don’t think the same and many will disagree with me here. But there’s a commonality among women that defies simple political categorization. Call it secrets of the powder room. You’ve always wondered what they were doing in there? Plotting.
Finally, a word about brusqueness. Having cut my teeth in the old, male-dominated newsroom, allow me to clue you in. Editors were chain-smoking, ink-stained, fact-obsessed derriere-kickers, to put it politely. They’d chew you up and spit you out over a dangling participle. Three factual errors in a year and you were out.
And Abramson is too “brusque”?
These were already tricky times for male candidates running against women. But this latest confluence of events just made them trickier. An impression of unfairness has made an imprint on the collective female brain and, well, you know how women can be.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.