In the last century, conventional thinking was that women were unsuited for political leadership because they were overly emotional and prone to hysteria, a word that derives from the Greek “hutera” meaning uterus. You see the connection - hormones, pms, pre-partum, post-partum - women were a minefield of volatility and therefore not as rational and clear-thinking as men. Our hands had to be kept away from that red button in the White House and our national role models were strong Teddy Roosevelt/John Wayne types or feisty little fighters like Harry Truman and James Cagney. Marlon Brando changed the image of masculinity in this country; his body was sculpted, his face was chiseled but he was an emotional firecracker, capable of breaking down unpredictably and that was an androgynous conceit.
Our first president to represent that type was Bill Clinton, a handsome rake who could “feel our pain” and not have qualms about expressing such thoughts. He was also the initiator of the acceptable mawkish, tearful apology about adultery which has now become de rigeur for a repetitive, boring troop of men behaving badly. Can we start a movement to ban these guys from having access to the media? The notion that a public confessional is admirable is totally misguided. It’s a by-product of talk shows and the type of vocal owning up promoted by twelve-step programs. It is necessary to take responsibility for one’s actions but that has nothing to do with blathering on about how much pain and hurt you’ve caused to others and yourself - all superficial mutterings that detract from the honesty of atonement and reparation. Tears are easy but good behavior is what counts.
Governor Sanford should have begun his press conference by handing a check to the people of South Carolina, reimbursing them for stealing their money for his private escapade. He should have apologized for being out of contact while he was otherwise engaged. He should have spared us the embarrassment of the rest of his self-indulgence. Feminism has wrought some excellent changes in the notion of American masculinity - most notably in sharing the domestic roles of parenthood from pregnancy on. One of its unfortunate side-effects has been the feminization of public male apologies which come with halting voice breaks and eyes brimming with tears. There’s a proverbial joke about a woman who brings her husband to a slew of psychiatrists because he won’t stop up tearing up little pieces of paper. The punchline is that the last psychiatrist succeeds by yelling at the man “Just top doing that!” If we can’t stop human nature from its predilection for sexual variety, can we at least demand that we stop hearing the lurid confessionals? The place for that is in the home or in church, not on the public soapbox.
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