A Wrinkle Of Hope In N.H.

By LENORE SKENAZY January 9, 2008

Rush Limbaugh put it best. Contemplating a photo of Senator Clinton looking wrinkled and weary a few weeks back, he asked, “Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”

Iowa said no way. New Hampshire seems to have said: Maybe. That’s a ray of hope (and good old change), considering the ranks of wrinkled ladies are pretty thin in public life. They’ve been hard to find on post-“Golden Girls” TV, and almost invisible at the Cineplex. So seeing one of them in the Oval Office would be more revolutionary than any of the other prospects.

After all, Will Smith is box office gold.

Maggie Smith is not.

Oh, now, now. I know it’s not just the wrinkles that made Iowans spurn Mrs. Clinton, and New Hampshire voters temper their original enthusiasm. I’m sure they all had their reasons, from her vote on the Iraq war to her way of answering questions with sub-paragraphs and footnotes. Certainly Senator Obama seems just as smart and a whole lot sunnier.

But as a Supreme Court justice, Potter Stewart, once said about pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Well, I know sexism when I see it, and ageism, and I know how they work together like death and taxes. And I see Mrs. Clinton battling both.

Just look at the visceral, vicious reactions to her misting up at a New Hampshire diner on Monday. (And by the way, is there anything in New Hampshire besides diners?)

Her dampness was immediately denounced as either way too female (getting teary), or too connivingly female (she was just pretending to get teary), or way too male (Why wasn’t she teary before, when Bill and Monica hooked up? She has no womanly feelings and this just proves it).

Her defenders appeared to be mostly middle-aged ladies who recognized the emotion as a real and familiar one: frustration.

Well it must be darn frustrating to keep facing the kind of sexism everyone says has evaporated. Look at Martha Stewart. And Katie Couric.

Yeah. Look at them. Look how America has treated them.

“Please,” a Boston University journalism professor, Elizabeth Mehren, says. “Note that in the final days of the Iowa and New Hampshire primary races, so-called media analysts from major news outlets actually remarked on the fact that Senator Clinton was wearing more somber colors than she had earlier. Did anyone write or remark about Mitt Romney’s sudden penchant for crew-necked sweaters and plaid shirts? I’ve covered Romney since he ran against Ted Kennedy in 1994. The man was born in a blue blazer!”

Then there was that flap about whether Mrs. Clinton was wearing a daringly low shirt at one point. Here the ageism and sexism converged: If she was exposing her cleavage, she’s a shameless hussy. But if she thinks anyone wants to see it at her age I refer you back to Mr. Limbaugh.

The ageism/sexism nexis reared its head again with the deconstruction of Mrs. Clinton’s laugh, now known as, “The Clinton Cackle.” What other creatures cackle? Only witches. And we’re not talking cute, young, mole-free witches, either.

Meantime, of course, no one bothers to deconstruct Rudy Guiliani’s laugh (assuming he has one). And Senator McCain’s white hair served him well in New Hampshire.

“Listen women in our culture are perceived to be older than comparably-aged men,” Jack Tuckner, co-founder of a law firm specializing in women’s workplace rights, Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser, said. “George Bush is the same age as Clinton, but he’s perceived to be central-casting perfect for power: The salt-and-pepper-haired, 60- to 65-year-old male.”

When women reach that same age and hair color, power rarely beckons. A study by the group Catalyst found only eight of the Fortune 500 companies were headed by women in 2005. A study by any schoolchild today finds that, over the course of 200-plus years, only zero of our presidents have been female.

True, we have never had an African-American president either. And in a way, Faye Wattleton, president of the Center for the Advancement of Women, says, “Mr. Obama is giving people an excuse not to vote for” Mrs. Clinton.

Yes, they’re voting for change. But Hillary Clinton’s voters are voting to change the isms America loves to ignore. Ageism. Sexism. Anti-older-womenism.

It still might work. The realization makes one teary. [email protected]