Victimization or Courage?

Posted: Apr 16, 2007 12:00 AM
Victimization or Courage?

When Bill Clinton first ran for President back in 1992, America learned that he and Hillary had attempted to prepare their daughter, Chelsea, for the ugliness of previous campaigns by repeating all the horrible charges that were likely to be made against her father. No doubt six years of age was a bit young for Chelsea to have to become acquainted with the varied, colorful allegations that dogged Bill Clinton, but her parents’ aim was clear: To strengthen Chelsea Clinton and to inoculate her from the countless hurtful comments that she would inevitably confront.

Contrast that treatment with the bathetic outpouring of pity directed at the Rutgers women’s basketball team in the wake of Don Imus’ bigoted slur. NOW President Kim Gandy whined to the Los Angeles Times that Imus’ comments “were not mere words, that they had an impact and changed people's lives.” So it’s worth asking: Is that really the right reaction to the smear?

What we should be communicating to the young of all genders and all races is that, as vile and wrong as Imus’ statement may have been, it has no power other than what they choose to give it. Contrary to Kim Gandy’s assertion, it needn’t change anyone’s life – because it does nothing to alter the fact of who these young women are, where they’re headed, and what they’ve achieved. Rather than imbuing the Rutgers team members with an aggrieved sense that they’ve been deeply injured and hopelessly humiliated, women like Gandy should be encouraging them to react with a disgusted shrug of the shoulders that dismisses Imus' comment with the contempt it so richly deserves.

In fact, the outrage that Imus elicited properly springs not from the sense that any young woman has been irretrievably victimized or personally damaged, but rather from a collective sense that community standards have been unacceptably violated. The ugliness and wrongness of the remark lies not from its capacity to hurt someone’s feelings or change anyone’s life, but rather from the judgment that it is simply intolerable for a shock jock to make cruel and disparaging race- and gender-related comments about young women far outside the public eye, whether it impacts them or not.

The problem, of course, for those on the left is that feelings have long been given primacy over the traditional standards of behavior – and old-fashioned concepts like chivalry -- that so many of them have worked diligently to undermine. After all, it’s hard to appeal to standards that have long been held up to scorn as relics of a patriarchal past.

And so, for some, it’s simply easier to cater to the sense of victimization that far too many race-panderers are eager to cultivate, rather than reminding the wronged young women that Don Imus really isn’t worth their time. But that doesn’t make the easy approach right.

In an interview late last week with USA Today, Hillary Clinton responded to a question about the political attacks that awaited her with a hearty laugh, responding, “So what, people are going to say something bad about me?" That’s the kind of attitude that Bill and Hillary Clinton wanted to inculcate in their own child, and the kind of attitude most women hope their daughters will develop – a sense of confidence and self-worth that isn’t dependent on the opinions of others.

Hillary Clinton is speaking today at Rutgers’ Eagleton Center for American Women and Politics. Will she have the courage to urge the young women to develop the kind of resilience she obviously has, and which she tried to instill in her own daughter -- or, a la Kim Gandy, will she succumb to the temptation to condescend to young women of another race, thereby burying them ever deeper in a self-defeating pit of victimization?