11/01/2007 10:19 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Memo About Hillary Clinton: Guys, Get Over It

Sex educators (before the abstinence only people made them stop talking about sex at all, which is a whole other story), use a technique called "desensitization" to help people get to where they can talk sensibly about previously verboten facts such as the proper names for body parts. Secrecy creates mystery and imbues a word or object with powers it doesn't deserve. Because America's social discomfort about sex makes us so nervous about dealing with the facts of everyone's life, teachers sometimes have students say words like "penis" or "vagina" over and over until these words lose their mystical power and become simply the proper names for body parts. This allows learning about physical growth and development to proceed without twitters, just like learning about math, health, or social studies.

We're going through the same process in the presidential politics. Presidential elections in the U.S. have up till now been a totally male paradigm. Oh, there have been the occasional Donna Quixote candidacies, starting in 1872 when Victoria Woodhull ran on the Equal Rights Party ticket with abolitionist Frederick Douglass as the vice presidential candidate (harbinger of a Clinton-Obama ticket, perhaps?).

So it's no surprise that male politicians and media mucks so often pounce upon Hillary Clinton's gender-based physical characteristics with the same discomfort previously reserved for middle school sex education students:

* attire (as in John Edwards disparaging her pink jacket)
* aural cues (such as her laughter -- women do tend to laugh more in conversation and it seems to drive every male pundit from Bill Clinton's former sleazeball political consultant Dick Morris to fake news purveyor Jon Stewart into pure apoplexy)
* or gender distinctions in physique (heaven forefend, Hillary has breasts and therefore cleavage).

And when all of that razzing fails to topple Clinton's front runner position, they get really nasty, as witness Tucker Carlson's recent tete-a tete with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies :

... [H]ost Tucker Carlson said: "Gene, this is an amazing statistic: 94 percent of women say they'd be more likely to vote if a woman were on the ballot. I think of all the times I voted for people just because they're male. You know? The ballot comes up, and I'm like, 'Wow. He's a dude. I think I'll vote for him. We've got similar genitalia. I'm -- he's getting my vote.' " After asserting that "the Clinton campaign says: 'Hillary isn't running as a woman,' " Carlson stated: "Well, that's actually completely false, considering the Hillary campaign -- and I get their emails -- relentlessly pushes the glass ceiling argument. 'You should vote for her because she's a woman.' They say that all the time." May responded: "At least call her a Vaginal-American.".

...Carlson also asked: "Do you think that people who are voting on the basis of gender solidarity ought to be allowed to vote in a perfect world? Of course they shouldn't be allowed to vote on those grounds. That's like -- that's moronic. I'm sorry. I know I'm going to get bounced off the air for saying it, but that's true."

At first blush, it's May and Carlson who sound moronic. But really, we are dealing with hard-wired cognitive dissonance that affects all of us to some degree.

Leader = man in our collective primordial brains. Yet it has not always been thus, nor will it forever be. It simply falls to Hillary to be the paradigm shifter-in-chief.

Is the only difference genitalia? Obviously not, or Tucker and friend wouldn't have reacted so viciously. Are some men still uncomfortable with a public leader who has cleavage? Sure. Yet in how many baseball games have women quietly endured watching male athletic leaders adjust their crotch cups, and, quite frankly, watching the metaphorical equivalent in male talk show hosts as they preen their vaunted power to attack and control?

Get over it, guys. If you don't like Hillary's positions on issues, that's fair game. But stop the genderized insults, for they are not only irrelevant, they actually cause women like me and an increasing number of men to rise to her defense.

In his unsuccessful efforts to make Hillary's laugh look ridiculous, Jon Stewart said, "She'll be our first president you can't spill water on." I don't quite get Jon's point, but I do get that it has to do with his response to her uniqueness as the first viable woman presidential candidate.

Get used to whatever it is that jars your preserves here, fellows.

Some things will be different when we have a woman president. Every time I see Hillary Clinton's well rounded, brightly attired, obviously female body in front of a crowd, surrounded by all those angular dark suits, I think yeah, well, this breaks the mold quite nicely. And isn't it about time? How refreshing is that?

How long will it take for these distinctions to be irrelevant to our assessment of a person's leadership? How many times must we repeat the words "laughter, breasts, woman president" before we are sufficiently desensitized that we can focus instead on the substantive issues?

For now, perhaps what matters most is that no one disputes Hillary has what Stephen Colbert so sensitively calls "Lady Balls".

This is part one of a three, or maybe four, part series. Don't worry; I'll challenge the women too in future posts.