Now is so then

Posted: Dec 20, 2002 12:00 AM
Several days after Sen. Trent Lott seemed to replace Saddam Hussein as public enemy No. 1 among all decent and heaven-bound human beings, the National Organization for Women (stop laughing) jumped into the fray. Several days after Trent Lott's self-immolation, NOW suddenly remembered that not only is Trent Lott a racist but -thank Gaia! -he's a sexist, too. Apparently, during the same birthday farewell to Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott made some jokes about Britney Spears and the restaurant chain Hooters, which features comely waitresses who often appear to have natural flotation devices under their extra-tight T-shirts. Lott said of Hooters, "What is Hooters, if it's not about breasts, if it's not about the women's physiques?" I don't know if this observation is sexist or not, since it's almost precisely what NOW has been saying about Hooters for years. Hooters is about ogling women. I know, I know, Hooters defenders -and I've known a few -claim the restaurant's buffalo wings are great. Of course, they say this in exactly the same way some men say the articles in Playboy are fascinating. Regardless, let's stipulate that Lott's comments were sexist or, worse, not funny. "Lott not only insulted millions of African-Americans last week, but he also offended women," NOW's President Kim Gandy declared in a prepared, yet tardy, statement. "The Thurmond birthday celebration sounds like a toast to the `good old white boys.' Lott clearly yearns for a time before women and people of color crashed the party." I'm not sure this assessment was entirely true when Lott made his stupid comments, but it's probably true now that his career needs to be picked off the side of the road with tweezers. Regardless, NOW's tantrum is a perfect example of why feminists have lost so much clout -except on the narrow but politically charged issue of abortion, which still has serious heft and would if even if NOW closed its doors. Take note: Nobody but NOW seems to care about Lott's Hooters jokes. He's not on the covers of Time and Newsweek for making a snide remark about Britney Spears. And, if he hadn't made his pro-Dixiecrat comments, he'd be in absolutely zero hot water for a few sexual bon mots. NOW's me-tooism is more than a case of a leftwing group piling on an easy victim. NOW-feminists truly believe that sexism and racism are morally equivalent. "The racism and sexism of Trent Lott are all of a piece. His racism, his sexism, his homophobia. That's what we need to draw attention to," exclaimed NOW Vice President Terry O'Neill on Fox's "Hannity &Colmes." This perspective explains why feminists believe that the Augusta National Golf Club's exclusion of women is morally indistinguishable from a policy excluding blacks. With the help of The New York Times, feminist groups have been demanding that Tiger Woods boycott the Masters golf tournament because a black man must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his sisters in the Coalition of the Oppressed. This point of view also explains why feminists believe that the integration of blacks into the military provides a direct parallel for the integration of gays and women as well. But the comparison between women and blacks falls apart on close inspection. Sexism may indeed be bad, but it's different from racism in degree and in kind. Gender roles endure across time and cultures because, ultimately, they are rooted in certain immutable biological facts. The differences between whites and blacks are, literally, skin deep. The differences between men and women go to the bone. Women make babies. Men don't. Look it up. Keeping women in metaphorical bondage -barefoot and pregnant, as the saying goes -was obviously unjust for some women, but it's simply different from keeping generations of blacks in literal bondage. I don't mean to be overly glib (though just plain glib suits me fine). I have no reservations about women being whatever they want to be, with the notable exception of combat infantry. Doctors, lawyers, "firepeople," whatever. But you simply cannot discuss gender roles with the same vocabulary reserved for race. Feminist economists, for example, cite wage disparities between men and women as if they're as morally loaded as disparities between white and blacks. As if paying white ditch diggers $5 per hour and black ones $4 is as unfair as paying female ditch diggers less than male ditch diggers. But the disparities between men and women have to do with the fact that women leave the workforce to be the primary caregivers for their children. Of course, this illustrates that women face different challenges from blacks, not that they don't face any challenges at all. Unfortunately, NOW's desperation to be part of the anti-Lott bandwagon shows why it's not equipped to deal with those challenges.