In my guise as editor in chief of WAG magazine, I had a pleasure of sharing a moment with Ashley Judd on the red carpet of the Greenwich International Film Festival (GIFF) in Connecticut Friday night. She is an exquisite-looking woman who is, more important, exquisite in her manners and manner. I began by thanking her for her work as one of the leaders of #MeToo and asked her if she thought that this time, the response to the sexual harassment women have suffered would really be different.
It already is, she said, and the result will be an improvement not only in the lives of women but of men as well.
That GIFF, which runs through Sunday, has chosen to honor her this year is telling. Roughly half of its long- and short-format features and documentaries this year are by women. The festival organizers – founding director of programming Colleen deVeer, founding chairman of the board Wendy Stapleton, and executive director/COO Ginger Stickel – are women. GIFF, built on “Film, Finance and Philanthropy,” supports a dozen charities, including Take A Stand Against Domestic Violence. It’s just one example of what women can do and have done – together. (Look at breast cancer and AIDS research, two causes that would be nothing without women’s early leadership.)
Yet this week some of the headlines were dominated by women going for other women’s jugulars. Roseanne Barr compared President Barack Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to an ape. And Samantha Bee used the c-word to describe Ivanka Trump. Why?
Racism and sexism are both about a lack of respect. They are encouraged in the digital age by people who hide behind nicknames or handles to attack one another on social media. These people think they are wits. They think they are funny. And they think they are going to score points by savaging one another. How wrong they are. (As the presidential character says in my upcoming novel, “Burying the Dead,” “Remember that the word ‘Twitter’ contains the word ‘twit.’”)
As a professional writer of almost 40 years, I can tell you that great writing, like great comedy, is subtle. One of the qualities that made “Seinfeld” such an effective comedy of manners is that it found metaphors for subjects like sex. It didn’t Lenny Bruce you. But nowadays, people have to hit you over the head to show off. So we get Michelle Wolf’s tasteless remarks on Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
We cannot, however, blame the coarsening of behavior and language entirely on social media. America has a long history of violent penmanship. (See Alexander Hamilton’s correspondence with Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.”) And it has a long history of xenophobia. (See “American Experience’s” new documentary on “The Chinese Exclusion Act,” which prevented Chinese immigrants from becoming American citizens in the 19th century.)
There’s no doubt that this xenophobia has been exaggerated in the era of President Donald J. Trump and his supporters. One of Barr’s beefs with Jarrett was that she supposedly sold the country down the river by given hundreds of millions of dollars (in unfrozen assets) to the Iranians in the Iran nuclear arms deal. But riddle me, this, Roseanne: How much money do you think the U.S. is going to have to give to North Korea to get Kim Jong-un to give up his nuclear weapons? It’s the same thing: Trading cash for security. Iran and North Korea have acted murderously – as have other countries throughout history. In both cases, it’s a kind of diplomatic extortion. But that is often the price of peace.
Yet it’s OK when Trump does it but not Obama. The hatred of Obama and his administration has been visceral – and it has produced equally visceral blowback. So we have dueling comedians trading vicious insults and whom do they attack? Women, because they are traditionally less powerful than men in our society. And when they attain power, they are seen as suspect – by men and by women.
This does not mean that just because women are running for office – and they will in record numbers this year – that you as a woman have to vote for or agree with them. But as syndicated columnist Mark Shields pointed out in the “Shields and Brooks” segment of Friday’s “PBS NewsHour,” it’s hypocritical to say you as a woman or a liberal are part of #MeToo and then go out and attack women verbally.
Earlier that day, I was at the Westchester Fairfield Go Red for Women Luncheon at the Hilton Westchester in Rye Brook, New York, which was sponsored by the American Heart Association and co-sponsored by WAG. The heart-healthy lunch included a relatively healthy desert of fruit tarts and chocolate-dipped strawberries, but my table was short on fruit tarts. I really wanted a fruit tart. So what did we ladies do? We traded strawberries and tarts until everyone had what she wanted. (Our lovely waiter found us more tarts later, but that’s another story.)
As one woman said to me, “This is what women do. They cooperate to find a solution.”
Yes, this is what women do. But, as we have seen recently, not all they time.
We women need to remember that as a group, we have been oppressed, brutalized, raped, mutilated, ridiculed, disenfranchised, violated and held down and back – for millennia.
We need to remember civility, compromise and cooperation.
Or rather, other c-words.