Maureen Dowd, Please Don't Shut Up

07/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Beth Arnold Author & Founder, an Exile Returned From Paris

When I read New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt's dressing down of columnist Maureen Dowd, I was appalled. What a sterling example of how not to stand behind your man -- or woman, in this Times star columnist's case. This wussy editorial behavior came after some Hillary Clinton supporters complained about Ms. Dowd's columns. Oh, no. The gall of Maureen Dowd for doing what she does best. She dished out her opinion and wit, which is exactly what The New York Times pays her to do.

As Mrs. Clinton herself said during her recent campaign, invoking Harry Truman: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Mrs. Clinton knew what she was getting into when she entered the race. I have a sneaking suspicion she'd also read Ms. Dowd and other national columnists like her, so it wasn't a big surprise to Hillary that they'd be writing spirited commentary on her and the other candidates. In fact, the Clinton campaign managed the press like lap dogs most of the time. When Hillary's handlers threw a bone, the traditional media couldn't run any faster to pick it up -- including, yes, I'm going to say it, the bone of sexism.

Yes, there was sexism and racism and any other "ism" you can think of being batted about in this campaign, but Hillary and her gang of attack boys found that "sexism" played well on the street to a certain group of women, and so the claims were exaggerated and used as a hammer to try and beat down her opponent. The Clinton campaign played on female victimhood and whipped their supporters into a frenzy about it. They galvanized them with a "sexism" battle cry. But some was real, and some was spin.

So Ms. Dowd's colleague took the bait and criticized her for merely doing the same job she's done for years, when most of the candidates about whom she's written have been male. Was it Hillary or her supporters who wanted Hillary to be treated with kid gloves? Had she been male, the Democratic contingent of presidential candidates would have been much harder on her from the get-go. But she was a lady, and you don't beat up on ladies. She was also the wife of a (once) beloved Democratic president. Deference was shown.

For the last decade or so, I've been an on-and-off reader of Maureen Dowd. During some periods I've thought she was right on the money, and other times I've thought she was way off the mark -- just to show her cleverness. Before this political season began, my feeling was that Dowd had lost her touch. That she'd had a good run, but it might be time for someone else to freshen up the pages of The Times. But then, thanks to the human material she had in this race, Dowd hit her stride again.

Obviously, the Clinton cohort was unhappy that their candidate lost, and the victimized frenzy Hillary had whipped them into was about a decade too late. My question is, Why do we still want to be victims, of all things?

It's true that there have been times that most of us have accepted that role. I, personally, have found it doesn't help. Feeling like/being a victim has held me back. I know there are extenuating circumstances, and most have to do with economic pressures, children, and holding a family together. But if we women have learned anything, it ought to be that we should do what we need to do for ourselves--period. Being a victim isn't a progressive or empowering position for feminists to take. We are beyond this. In my vision, we're now smack in the middle of "I'm through whining, but I'll sure kick your ass." And I see Mr. Hoyt's attack of Ms. Dowd as, basically, "That woman should have held her tongue."

Where are these feminists who kicked up the ruckus about Hillary now?

I was happy to see Gail Collins, who herself writes an astute and entertaining column in The New York Times, defend Ms. Dowd in their own paper's pages. I was glad somebody at that venerable newspaper showed they had some balls in these sad days of over-the-top political correctness.

There's no question that sexism still exists. It probably always will, at least until some basic tenents, child-rearing practices, and infrastructures of our society are reconceived, reinterpreted, or taught in a more enlightened way (and one of the major sources of this conflict between the sexes is, no doubt, some versions of Christianity that are used to control the female sex). But sexism is not why Hillary lost. The buck has to stop somewhere (speaking of Harry Truman), and I say that's with the candidate herself. Besides the fact that she and her campaign made lots of mistakes, her timing was off. Our country and the world's consciousness had changed. Frankly, Hillary and Bill hadn't kept up. This was a sea change, and they were left in the wake.

Woe to us -- the public -- when we get the political spin the first time from the candidate and the second time from the press covering the candidate -- but who have now internalized the spin as real news and reported it back to us as such. If politicians would just be accountable for their actions, everyone would be better served.

In the meantime, Maureen Dowd was inducted into the National Organization of Women's Hall of Shame. Well, shame on NOW. Molly Ivins must be rolling in her grave. Ms. Ivins herself never pulled any punches, and she made it clear before she died that she wouldn't vote for Hillary--and it had nothing to do with sexism. But Ms. Dowd wasn't "nice" to Hillary, and some of Hillary's supporters cried foul, and the mighty New York Times sacrificed one of its own.

Where are Ab Fab's Patsy and Edina when you need them? Not in the USA. We're too dull and prudish. We have no sense of humor. We are Puritans.

There is the political correctness that means one is for all the right causes, and then there's the political correctness that allows only milquetoast. Among the many celebrations of this Independence Day, I have one additional to offer: Maureen Dowd, please don't shut up!

Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, check out