When I was an adolescent growing up in wild West Texas back in the Stone Age 1950’s, I matured early, as they used to say. It wasn’t unusual for the boys to make public jokes about my physique. All in good humor of course. They probably thought it was a compliment. Commentary about breast size, what was under your skirt, or how you might fare in a wet t-shirt contest was just the way things were: that era’s version of cowboy chic. A woman had to grin and bear it if a man objectified her this way or she’d risk losing her friends, her job, her popularity at school. The term “sexual harassment” hadn’t been coined, let alone become the subject of laws to prevent the various abusive behaviors that fall into its rubric.
But, thanks to the courageous action of women and men who had the good sense to recognize such abuse of power for what it is, there are laws now to protect people from that kind of humiliation.
Laws that apparently don’t faze one man running for president of the United States. John McCain’s disrespect for women was captured by this video. I was in pain watching Cindy McCain. She looked like she’d swallowed a lemon when at a South Dakota biker rally, Senator(!) McCain suggested that Cindy enter the notoriously raunchy and frequently topless Miss Buffalo Chip contest. Instead of swallowing and laughing like I did in my pre-consciousness-raised youth, she should have called him on it and walked off the stage. I’ll bet she would have been cheered.
That same fundamental disrespect for women shows in McCain’s opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (verbally; he didn’t show up to vote on it), 100% anti-choice ranking from NARAL, intent–if president–to appoint Supreme Court justices who will violate women’s human rights to make their own childbearing decisions by overturning Roe v Wade, while voting against family planning programs that could prevent abortions, to point out just a few of the most obvious examples. (Update: see The New Republic piece by Sarah Blustain, “Life Sentence” for more documentation.)
McCain looks in this video like he thinks publicly offering up his wife to participate in a sexist “beauty” contest was all in good humor, even complimentary, just like those boys in my high school. And it’s possible he’s equally oblivious. But isn’t that part of the problem: a man so out of touch he doesn’t know social mores have changed since the 1950’s and doesn’t get that a man isn’t entitled to run roughshod over a woman’s bodily integrity any more, not even his wife’s? Is anybody going to send him the memo and tell him to come into the 21st century?
GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead. People has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”
As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.