04/05/2012 03:17 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2012

What the Masters Flap Can Teach Us About Politics

Nearly every morning I try to wake up, be grateful for a new day, put my feet on the floor slowly, have a cup of tea, be as Zen as possible, and ease into the day as best as I can. As I say, "feet floor, tea, door!" Today in New York City, that process got disrupted in the restaurant of the hotel where I am staying. Big time. And it was all over the definition of sexism -- a topic that has been in the news and will unfold a good bit more in politics over the coming months.

First, a little background on my upbringing. I was raised by a very strong and independent mom. She was top of her class in high school in Detroit and at the Jesuit University of Detroit. She read voraciously, loved debate, and was smart as a whip. She began her career as a public school teacher in the Motor City, then had her first of 11 children. After that, the trajectory of her life changed dramatically, as well as the perception of her by many people she encountered.
She would go to the grocery store with many of us, we would haul around two huge, fully-loaded carts, and you could see the dirty looks she was given for having so many children. You would hear the not-so-subtle remarks about her being ignorant or uneducated or even dumb because of all the kids, and of course because she wasn't dressed to the nines. It taught me a lot about not assuming you know someone's story by what you see or by your own prejudices.

I think women should be treated completely as equals, that they can do most everything as well as a man, and that this country would probably be a lot better off if a woman was president, or running most of the corporations in America. But I also believe in opening a door for a woman, helping a woman with her bag on the plane, standing up when she comes to the table, and if she is being accosted on the street, stepping in to help.

So as I walked into the café with a baseball cap on (I am follically challenged) to grab a piece of toast and tea, I overheard an older man in a golf shirt talking about the Masters controversy. This is the ridiculous situation in which the golf club refuses to admit any woman as a member -- including the current head of IBM (Ginni Rometty), whose company is sponsoring the tournament. Every other head of IBM has gotten a green jacket when it has sponsored, but not Rometty.

So this blowhard in the restaurant was spouting off to a buddy about how ridiculous it was for "women" (he was using this in a pejorative way) to force the Masters to do this. And then he said there was a controversy at his golf club because women wanted equal tee times to men on Saturday mornings, and his club "unfortunately" finally relented and let women get tee times even though "women" didn't work like men. I was just passively listening to this and trying to ignore it.

Then, as he was leaving, he walked up to me at my table and said, "You should take off your baseball cap because there was a woman in the restaurant." I answered, "Really?" And he said, "Really." I was blown away by the incredible irony and hypocrisy, and said, "Are those your rules?" He mumbled something, I called him a bore, and as I walked out into the hustle and bustle I was shaking my head.

I am quite sure women are faced with worse every day of their lives just as my Mom was -- whether they are full-time mothers, full-time workers, or a mix of both, as most are. It does raise a fundamental question about what it means to be a gentleman and which is more important -- the surface or appearances, or something deeper and more fundamental.

Yes, I think Ann Romney is a great surrogate for her husband on issues related to women, but don't we really want to know Mitt Romney's values related to women not only at home, but in the workplace? Don't we want to know if Romney thinks the CEO of IBM should be allowed in as a member at the Masters? (President Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said on Friday that women should be permitted at the club.) Don't we want to know how Romney or Obama is going to create a better environment where women can have the choice -- to stay at home and raise a family and not worry about health insurance, or go to work full-time and not be judged on whether they are a good mom, or be given more flex time to do both?

I hope we can have this discussion without both sides in the debate devolving into slogans and talking points, with the Left accusing the Right of waging a war on women or the Right saying the Left is waging a war on family values. And maybe we can learn to treat each other as ladies and gentlemen -- but I still will probably wear my cap over my bald head at breakfast.

Cross-posted from National Journal.