Lindsay Weir [played by Linda Cardellini]: “Dad, give me one good reason why there can't be a woman president.”
Harold Weir [played by Joe Flaherty, pictured]: “It's called three irrational days per month. Now, I would have no issue with the other twenty-seven, but we're talking about the atomic bomb here.”— Freaks and Geeks, “Smooching and Mooching,” Season 1, Episode 16, original air date July 8, 2000, teleplay by Steve Bannos, directed by Jake Kasdan
I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use this quote for a few months now. It shot out at me unexpectedly when I was watching a DVD of that cult classic sitcom, Freaks and Geeks. The sheer surprise of the line made me guffaw. For a long time, I pondered why matters, electorally speaking, have not changed in this country over the years concerning electing a female President, long after other nations have beaten us to the punch.
The news last night that Hillary Clinton is, with her latest primary victories, the first woman to become the presumptive Presidential nominee of a major party puts these issues in bold relief.
It’s been a long, tough climb for her, one that, eight years ago, in her speech conceding the race to Barack Obama, she appears not to have anticipated: “Although we were not able to shatter that highest and hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it has 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.”
If it was “a little easier” this time, it was only by a centimeter. Given her intelligence, her long experience in government, voters’ familiarity with her record, and the Socialist Bernie Sanders’ longtime position on the fringes of a more centrist Democratic Party, it is astounding that she could not put away the Vermont Senator sooner. She couldn’t even catch a break all the time from a group that should have naturally gravitated toward her: professional, college-educated women.
Zoe Heller seemed to speak for many in this group in a New York Review of Books article two months ago, in which she observed: “Clinton has certainly been pushed during this campaign to take what are, for her, unusually bold, feminist positions on women’s issues and, if elected, she may well feel obliged to carry some of that boldness with her into her administration. But it is dishonest to pretend that her prior record offers any sort of guarantee of a ‘pro-women’ presidency.”
Some of this hostility can be traced to Hillary’s paranoia and tendency toward unethical actions—and her husband’s remarkable political instincts and equally astonishing appetites of all kinds. (The late Patty Duke starred in a short-lived mid-‘80s sitcom, Hail to the Chief, in which she played the first female American President. In the quickly canceled show, Ms. Duke’s First Hubby fessed up to multiple affairs. It’s a measure of the weird reality of the Clintons that Bill did so when he was President—and now the First Lady has a strong chance of occupying the Oval Office herself.)
All this past history means that not all opposition to Ms. Clinton is gender-based. But there is a solid substratum that is.
Freaks and Geeks inadvertently sheds some comic light on this. In this cult comedy, Harold Weir is depicted as caring and loving, making him a quirky, square doofus of a dad. Roughly 35 years after the time in which the series is set, however, there are more than a few people who share his belief about female candidates—and that view is not endearing but retrograde.
Three months ago, in a piece for Ms. Magazine, Melanye Price, assistant professor of Africana studies and political science at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, offered “3 Ways to Tell if Your Distaste For Hillary Clinton is Sexist.” The beauty of this test is that you don’t even have to agree with the magazine’s feminist viewpoint to nod in agreement that any of these are tell-tale signs:
* “If you dislike Hillary Clinton because of the policies and problems of the Clinton years but still love Bill Clinton”;
* “If you decided you hated Hillary Clinton first and then collected substantive policy reasons as justification”; or
* “If you’re holding things against Hillary Clinton for which you have forgiven other politicians, particularly men.”
Mr. Weir’s stated justification for not voting for a woman President is, on the face of it, ridiculous. But in this year when the entire political world has been turned upside down, it actually offers Ms. Clinton the best hope that she can finally break through the glass ceiling for herself and for all political women.
Take a look at Mr. Weir’s quote: Any woman (including, by implication, Ms. Clinton) can be expected to act irrationally three days per month. The behavior of Donald Trump, however, since consolidating his delegate lead in the Indiana primary, cannot match even this minimal standard.
Instead of giving his campaign a breather and letting voters grow more comfortable with the idea of him as a nominee, Trump has acted up daily. In other words, instead of the 27 days of the month that Mr. Weir believes a woman may be rational, Mr. Trump cannot even point to a single day. The idea of Trump—the testerone-fueled, objectifying one —with access to the atomic bomb at any time, any day may finally set American sexism in politics back on its heels.