What do women want? That was Sigmund Freud's endearing, if naive, question, asked when "Freudian" still meant a deep look into the unconscious. But the good Viennese doctor, as we've learned since, had not a clue to what he was talking about. He posed various notions, like envy of you-know-what, that anatomy is destiny. Some were cute, but no cigar.
Waves of women were willing to listen to their feminine intuition to find out for themselves the answer to Freud's question. Many succeeded, and some of them are turning our politics upside-down. They had lots of obstacles to overcome in asserting themselves, but they eventually learned that what they wanted was opportunity and possibility.
Like a lot of other people (some of them at a tea party), they don't want their possibilities limited to what somebody else wants for them. Biology and culture are strong determinants, but it's the individual female who wants to decide for herself what she could become -- and she proved that she wants to vote for somebody who understands not just her, but the question.
We haven't heard much this year about "the Gender Gap," now grown rank with weeds and trash, though before Nov. 2 we can expect that no cliche will be left unturned. Western women in general have been liberated from the disparaging descriptions of themselves as "man haters" and "bra burners." Such descriptions are mostly relegated to amusing (or bemusing) footnotes to the history of the first stages of feminism.
Many of these descriptions -- they were never real enough to become actual stereotypes -- were inventions in the media, focusing on women on the fringes of the women's movement. Eventually, women wore down the ersatz stereotypes, leaving them only to the vulgar and the uncouth. They no longer hold anyone back. Political power accelerates.
Hillary Clinton didn't lose her run for the presidency because she was a woman. She lost fairly and squarely to the man who ran a smarter, better campaign against her. She could have played the feminist victim, as some of her embittered supporters wanted her to, but she didn't. She moved on, without the dot-com.
In her meetings with the negotiators in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the secretary of state, even in a colorful pant suit surrounded by men in black, her sex -- or "gender," for the linguistically squeamish -- is incidental to power and poise. Nobody seems to care about her hair.
Sarah Palin, as John McCain's running mate, didn't lose the presidency for the senator. She just wasn't ready and was plucked prematurely. But she's showing herself to be a fast learner and a quick study. Agree with her or not, she knows what she's talking about today. She turns out to be a natural.