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October 17, 2012

A sublime sexual revolution

Two winners emerged from last Thursday’s vice presidential debate in Danville: Centre College and moderator Martha Raddatz. It was a bright and shining milestone for Kentucky — and for women.

The great debate — one of the most riveting and defining in our political history — duly drew rave reviews for our premier private college and ABC’s senior foreign affairs correspondent. Some conservatives, disappointed that Republican Paul Ryan didn’t make mincemeat of Democrat Joe Biden (as our junior U.S. senator, Rand Paul, had predicted), blamed Raddatz. But the consensus is that she held both men’s feet to the fire.

The stage was set for a disaster for the Democrats. If Biden didn’t deliver in the wake of President Barack Obama’s lackluster performance in the first presidential debate the previous week, the election might be lost. Thus amid high-stakes, she gave the gaffe-prone vice president a nuclear option: to downplay the catastrophe of the deadly terrorist attack at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

“Wasn’t this a massive intelligence failure?” she asked.

Biden agreed “it was a tragedy.”

She posed a similarly loaded question to Ryan, with regard to running mate Mitt Romney’s knee-jerk attempt to exploit the tragedy: “Was that really appropriate right in the middle of a crisis?”

Via tough queries and interjections to “be specific” and “move on,” Raddatz admirably controlled the candidates.

Midway through the debate, the symbolism of her sharing a table with them overwhelmed me. There sat a woman, qualified by her foreign-policy experience, credibility, savvy and gravitas to be on a presidential ticket.

Before debate season, on the Sept. 2 edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Tom Brokaw said, “I think this is the century of women. I really do believe that there’s going to be more gains made by more women across every part of our lives — cultural, political and economic. And I think that there is even among some Republican women out there, (the sense) that that party doesn’t quite buy into that yet. I mean, there are extraordinary achievements made by Nikki Haley and Condi Rice and everyone else. But the real issue on this campaign for women will be the social issues or economic issues. Will one trump the other? Because the social issues are very important to women. It’s their bodies, their lives; they feel that it’s not entirely embraced by the Republican Party.”

Pollsters agree that women may play a decisive role in next month’s election. Perhaps the momentum of women has been somewhat eclipsed by parallel landmarks for minority rights.

Equality movements gain strength from the disintegration of traditional roles and stereotypes, which confine or undermine us.

Their restrictions loom large in the political arena. Much has been written about Obama’s unwillingness to show the face of the stereotypical angry black man — a plausible explanation for his passive performance in the first debate.

Likewise, women leaders might be inclined to be as hawkish as men to negate a stereotype of relative weakness. At a recent appearance at the Louisville Free Public Library, Hanna Rosin, author of “The End of Men and the Rise of Women,” said, “History has not proven to us that women are not warlike and that they create peace.” Hillary Clinton “has been wonderful as a negotiator … but she’s taken the standard American line on dictators.”

The good news, according to Rosin, is that “We are radically transforming our notion of what makes a good leader such that we’re now incorporating lots more traditionally feminine qualities,” including encouragement, coaxing and teamwork. “The risky, testosterone mode of decision-making” is a fading folly.

And perhaps the best news is that we’re moving toward more gender-neutral identities where women can assert themselves without being disparaged as “bitchy” and men can feel emancipated rather than emasculated by greater participation in careers and domestic roles historically held by women. “I think we are just starting to work out how to portray images of a man who’s competent at home but still sexy and attractive to his wife,” Rosin said.

All of society benefits when citizens are free to follow their bliss, apply their strengths, cooperate and compete as equals. Which brings us to Rosin’s conclusion: “The good thing to come out of this is if we relaxed some of these roles, if we used our imagination a little bit to give both men and women a little more room to breathe in this world.”

Its like you read my mind

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