An Argument For Sexism (Just This Once)

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My very first job – dressing as Droopy Dog for a Cartoon Network promotion – happened because I was exactly the right height for the costume (5’3”).

When I was 16, I won then lost the lead in Our Town because the community theatre decided to go literal and cast an actor from their town.

After being denied early acceptance, my eventual admission to Harvard resulted from an unusual dearth of French horn players that year – a hole I could fortunately fill.

In any situation where one candidate is chosen from a pool, said pool inevitably winnows down to a few (or two) evenly qualified finalists, of whom only one gets the prize. The deciding factor – the thing that tips the scales – is often an arbitrary asset no applicant could have anticipated or even controlled. Height. Home address. A musical instrument chosen in grade five.

Heck, I once lost a teaching assistant job via coin toss.

But sometimes, we have an opportunity to make that deciding factor say something important. Like that diversity matters, or that we value female voices. This is the very idea behind affirmative action; every school or hiring business gets more qualified applicants than needed, so if the final selections are going to be based on “other”, why not pick someone because they do NOT reflect what is familiar instead of because they do?

There has been a lot of talk lately from liberals about how Bernie Sanders deserves more serious attention and should be celebrated as the righteous alternative to Hillary. Does this worry me? A little. Does it disappoint me? More than a little. But mostly it pisses me off.

For the record, I love them both. Hillary’s husband was the first President I was old enough to vote for, and due to my super high-school nerdiness I actually got to meet and hear both Clintons speak at the White House. I am also from New Hampshire, and while our states do indulge in occasional sibling rivalry, Bernie has long been a major source of my fervent New England pride.

While it is impossible to directly compare their histories – because being a First Lady and Secretary of State is different than being a long-time Senator, and running for election in large state and national races requires different means than getting elected by 600,000 Vermonters – both unquestionably arrive at this moment as formidable candidates. Both fight for liberal social values and champion the causes of education and economic justice; both are highly intelligent; both are experienced leaders; both are more than qualified to be considered for President.

I probably even agree with Bernie more in places where they differ on policy, but for me there is no hard choice – Hillary should win the party’s nomination, and yes, she should win because she is a woman.

Because it matters. It absolutely matters that given this choice between two great candidates we Democrats jump on the rare opportunity to tip the scales in favor of diversity. To tell our daughters and sisters and wives that we see them as equals and believe they not just can lead but should lead.

Bernie’s voice is important! But he doesn’t need any help to be heard. Sure, we laugh at his accent and hair (we laugh at Donald Trump for the same reasons), but we also respect him because he is intelligent, effective, and dedicated to positive change (The Donald… not so much). We laugh at Joe Biden, too, but still elected him VP. Because Biden and Bernie are men – and a man can have both crazy white hair and our respect (hello, Einstein).

Hillary, on the other hand, has her intelligence and past work downplayed because history has made her wealthy, her successes qualified with references to her “calculated power marriage”, and her eloquent advocacy for women’s (and human) rights diminished by discussion of her awkward wardrobe and demeanor. She belongs to a group repeatedly dismissed over minor transgressions that don’t even raise eyebrows when committed by male counterparts – and you can tell yourself the objections are regardless of gender, but really they aren’t.

No candidate is perfect; it is time for us to finally choose the imperfect woman over the imperfect man.

Is it fair? No. There is no fair – but there is balance. Not long ago, a male relative asked me, “I understand the need for affirmative action, but what do I say to my son who lost a job to a woman just because he is the wrong gender?” My first thought was, “Tough shit? Welcome to the club,” but I like my relatives so I try not to swear at them.

The real answer is that his son didn’t lose the job (it wasn’t “supposed to be” his); he just didn’t win that time. But as a white man in a world where white men make most decisions, he has ten chances to win a job for every one chance she has. As Hillary herself said in her launch speech, “while talent is universal, opportunity is not.” In our current system, the Hillary’s of the world don’t get this far very often. When they do, it is important that we give them the job.

Sure, there is a danger we could overcorrect… but let’s have that conversation when we’ve elected 44 women in a row.

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Rock, Paper, Sisyphus, Shoot (Me)

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I imagine if Sisyphus were alive today he would be a New Hampshire-ite. (New Hampshirino?) He would at least be a New Englander. Heck, he may already be Bernie Sanders. And I don’t just say this because of the futility that is shoveling in the midst of a New England winter.

Everyone thinks of endless futility when Sisyphus is invoked, but rarely do we remember why he was sentenced to such a fate. In life, King Sisyphus was a practical leader who placed his own judgment and passion above silly customs and superstitions like “the gods”.

Zeus steals the river god’s daughter for his own version of Fifty Shades of a Rape Fantasy and no one dares to speak up? Not Sisyphus – he’s all, “I’ll tell you where your daughter is, river god, if you promise to give my people water.” That’s good leadership. Angry Zeus sends Death to chain Sisyphus up in punishment? Clever boy says, “Hey, Death, you mind showing me how those chains work first, so I’m less nervous?” BAM. Death in chains, King S back on Earth – Live Free or Die, baby. Literally.

Even when he eventually did die, Sisyphus refused to stop living. He talked Persephone into letting him back up “just to haunt the wife a little”, then simply refused to leave until he’d had his fun. Sure, his lust for life and complete disregard for what is “supposed to” happen made his ultimate torment inevitable, but I’m pretty sure Sisyphus would have done it all anyway. You only live twice; what is an eternity of monotonous labor in exchange for greatness?

Great victories are always balanced by great struggle somehow, whether it be before or after. Call it Newton’s Third Law of Emotion. The problem is that in the midst of those darkest moments – as our strength is on the verge of giving out – it is impossible to know if we are about to be victorious over Death or about to watch that damn rock roll back down the hill for the umpteenth time.

There is a moment near the end of The Two Towers that is one of my favorites because it perfectly captures this uncertainty. Frodo, after months of mental torment and in the middle of a seemingly endless upward climb into Mordor, is feeling understandably desperate. To distract his friend from complete surrender, Sam starts talking about adventures:

“I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for… But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered… Folk seem to have been just landed in them… But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end.”

Sam then asks the magic question: “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”

“I wonder,” says Frodo, “but I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale…the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”

Frodo is convinced at this point that he is pushing a ring up a hill in complete futility, but of course we know that he will end up victorious over death. I like to re-read this part of Tolkien’s masterpiece in the midst of my darker moments. True, Frodo is attempting to destroy the source of pure evil and I am merely trying to bring some respectful and multi-dimensional portrayals of women to our modern mythology, but a struggle doesn’t have to be epic to completely suck sometimes.

Hollywood may not be Mordor, but can come close. The need to write is my ring/rock, and the patriarchal, nepotistic power structure is my uphill battle.

Lately, I have been feeling more like Sisyphus on the hill than Frodo in the midst of a dark tunnel leading eventually to light. If we’re lucky, in these darkest times we find ourselves in the company of a Samwise Gamgee – someone to give a little perspective, or at the very least a distraction for a moment or two. I am thus blessed, and so am prepared to keep pushing this rock no matter how many times it rolls back down the hill.

Life could always be worse, after all. As my own Samwise put it recently, “Sisyphus is better than syphilis.” Truer words have never been spoken.