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Erica Jong Headshot

Misogyny, Momism and Militarism

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Elton John recently expressed surprise at the misogyny of the American media as it relates to Hillary Clinton. I have been stunned by it -- especially the random physical put-downs that are everywhere. Matt Taibbi* refers to "flabby arms" in his latest Hillary obit. Who cares? I want to ask. But apparently Mr. Taibbi does. (And how would he know? Hillary is always encased in a blazer).

Physical mockery ended in seventh grade, I thought -- but apparently not where women pols are concerned. I find it bizarre that a grown man would invoke a physical put-down in an opinion piece. It smacks of a complex of some sort.

Disturbing enough that magazines like Star show telephoto close-ups of women's stretch marks (Cindy Crawford is the latest victim) -- but what is the meaning of this mockery of age-related or even genetic (chubby ankles) flaws? We know that ankles have no impact on the ability to do a job well. (Katie Couric has great ankles and is not getting the ratings CBS wants). And HRC is not auditioning for American Idol or a modeling contract or even gazillions as a news reader.

Look at a room of middle-aged male politicians -- paunches and liver spots abound. Pathetic comb-overs that turn to greasy streamers in a high wind. Skin cancers turning to melanomas, flat feet, bursitic elbows and shoulders -- who cares? Ronald Reagan got elected with a wandering mind. And that does impact performance. So this is more than a double standard. It's a kind of obsession with female youth and perfection -- which, of course, would disqualify a candidate too.

Do we want to live in a country where women's brains are judged by their arm flesh and the trimness of their ankles? I don't. I am writing from Rome where the men are just as sexist as they are in America yet there is no physical mockery of female candidates. The Italian elections are on Sunday and Monday and most of the women candidates are between forty and sixty plus. Yet no one makes fun of their looks. They are not movie stars. They wear glasses and don't all have facelifts. Nobody expects them to look like Sophia Loren. And nobody mentions their physical attributes one way or another.

So what is wrong with American men? Particularly male journalists. I think it was discovered long ago and labeled "Momism" by Philip Wylie in a virulently sexist book 1942 book called Generation of Vipers. The book went through many, many printings in the forties and fifties. It apparently struck many nerves. Momism is a kind of Oedipal obsession with the bad mother -- to counter a boy's attraction to his good mother.

Wylie's book is as livid as the Malleus Malificarum -- that textbook for witch hunters. No one could hate so much without having loved. And love is the problem, of course. You cannot fuck your mother so you must revile her.

A few months after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, I found in the bathroom of my Connecticut house a New York magazine I had not read when it appeared. It contained an article of advice from Benazir Bhutto to Hillary Clinton.

Bhutto, of course, came from a society where western educated women leaders were not uncommon -- their tribal credentials being more important than their gender. Benazir Bhutto suggested to HRC that she evoke the strength and caring of a mother in proceeding with her campaign. Perhaps this is possible in Pakistan and India with their myriad female deities who embody the mother as creator and as destroyer. But in uptight American Christianity, the only role for the mother is as puritanical disciplinarian who eschews sexuality in favor of punishment. Punishment evokes rebellion. And tender little boys grow up to be Momists. When a powerful woman comes along -- whether Hillary or Eleanor Roosevelt or Gloria Steinem, the reaction is kneejerk. The rage against her spills over into idiotic name-calling, which only reflects badly on the name-caller. And we are all the losers. We get mediocre male politicians with comb-overs and drinking problems rather than acknowledging that women have brains that might be put to use to save us. Goddess help the U S of A.

* Corrected to reflect that Matt Taibbi, not Mike Taibbi, made the reference, in a Rolling Stone story that can be found here.

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