The dearth of women in the Republican Party shows us how those male elephants on the far right have allowed themselves to function a good half-century behind the rest of the nation, where women are increasingly occupying leadership positions and finding themselves less and less bound to the antiquated roles you see on TV shows such as “Mad Men.”
The liberation of women has not been easy, and it has not happened overnight — we did not get from Peggy Olson to Rachel Maddow in the blink of an eye. But it has been impressive to witness, from the rise of Oprah Winfrey from a talk-show host into an actual media mogul worth billions of dollars, to the selection of Marissa Mayer as the head of Yahoo!, making her one of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley.
There are now 20 female senators on Capitol Hill — the most ever in our nation’s history. Meanwhile, supposedly old-school New Hampshire has an all-female congressional delegation, as well as a female governor. That also is a first.
Yes, some of these female politicians are Republicans, but they got elected despite their party’s ideology, not because of it. After all, how can you claim that you are a party friendly to women when you have Rush Limbaugh calling a Georgetown law student a “slut” and Missouri Rep. Todd Akin and Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock musing idiotically about women’s bodies?
Just listen to Karen Hughes, the straight-talking Texan who served as an adviser to President George W. Bush. After the Republicans got trounced in November, she wrote in Politico: “If another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue. The college-age daughters of many of my friends voted for Obama because they were completely turned off by Neanderthal comments” about female issues.
We are lucky to have a first lady like Michelle Obama, who has a rare capacity for toughness, intelligence and grace. Republicans have long tried to paint her as some sort of closeted Black Panther who secretly loathes whites, but it has never worked — not when she’s constantly seen reading to school kids or talking about the need to support veterans. In fact, she reminds me of no one as much as Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams, who was never at all afraid to give her husband counsel.
And then there’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, often talked about as a candidate for the White House in 2016. Though she lost to Barack Obama back in 2008, you can bet that butting heads with world leaders has only made her tougher and ready for the presidency. The jokes about her pantsuits will not seem so funny if and when her campaign kicks into high gear.
There are some core issues that the Republicans will have to come to terms with if they hope to stave off her or, for that matter, any other serious Democrat: equal pay, contraception, abortion. Until they do, they will continue to lose voters much as Mitt Romney did on his way to the dustbin of history.
But there is something deeper, too, something that Democrats are better at recognizing. It has to do with what a woman once told me she felt after reading Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” She was white, and her experience was very different from that of Ellison’s nameless narrator. But she, too, knew what it was like to feel invisible and ignored, not taken for what she was really worth.
Until the Republicans understand how that woman felt, they will have a problem on their hands. And it will not be a problem of politics, but a deeper problem of humanity.
Stanley Crouch can be reached by email at email@example.com.