"Why can't a woman be more like a man?" is the question that Professor Henry Higgins famously asks in Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's "My Fair Lady."
"Why is thinking something women never do?" he sings despairingly. "And why is logic never even tried?/Straightening up their hair is all they ever do/Why don't they straighten up the mess that's inside?"
You'd think this kind of conventional thinking had gone out of fashion in the days of George Bernard Shaw, or at least in the days of Betty Friedan. But certainly not when Americans are thinking about a woman president.
These are the times that try women's souls. Those of us who were lucky enough to experience the heady days of Seventies feminism are torn between our desire to see a woman lead the country and our utter despair that that woman might be Hillary Clinton.
Back in the day, women were credited with having "nurturing souls" which would make them better leaders. They wouldn't posture over whose weapons were bigger than whose; they wouldn't start wars. Instead, they would fight for social justice. They would reach out a hand to the poor and needy, help educate children to the highest standards, and work to insure that everyone has the medical care they need. In other words, they would act like Democrats.
Now we have a candidate who is a Democrat, and she's acting like the worst Republican on the block.
Of course, the myth of the "nurturing" female leader exploded almost instantly, or doesn't the name Margaret Thatcher mean anything to you? We had the dynasty-building Indira Gandhi in India, the corrupt Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan (and welcome home, Benazir!) and a host of others. We've also had wonderful female leaders, especially in Asia and Africa.
To no one's great surprise, good leadership turned out to be a trait defined by character, not by gender.
The Professor Higgins characters among us, however, are livid over Clinton. As they march lockstep to a richly deserved apoplexy, we hear their cries of "lesbian" echo in the land.
This label has never made sense when it comes to Clinton, who would have been - at the very least - a U.S. Supreme Court justice in her own right. But she ditched her politics (she was a proud Goldwater Girl), her baseball team, her urban identity and her Ivy League career path to follow a very hot young dude named Bill Clinton down to Arkansas. This is not a life choice that a lesbian would normally make.
The cry of "lesbian!" is supposed to make us quake in our beds (those of us who are not lesbians, I suppose), but the right-wingers are going to be disappointed when their scare tactics fail. The image of lesbians has changed. The concept once frightened members of the white male ruling class because lesbians - as well as older women - are not dependent on male approval, and therefore, live outside of men's control.
But it is hard to be afraid of lesbians now when they are corporate power players, fabulously successful entertainers and rock stars as well as nurturing moms. Just as it is hard to be afraid of older women now that the concept of the "cougar," or older-woman-younger-man mating, has been let loose in the land.
When the label of "lesbian" doesn't work, the wingnuts will cry "corruption." This will be hard to do with a straight face, given the current makeup of Congress and the White House. There are so many corrupt and sleazy hypocrites in Washington today that you might well ask, what are a few more?
"Men are so honest, so thoroughly square," sings Professor Higgins, and we all know how that turned out in Iraq. "Eternally noble, historically fair/Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat/Why can't a woman be like that?"
Clinton's past has been thoroughly vetted - there's hardly an inch of her that hasn't been under the microscope. But a few weeks ago the The New York Times, Adam Liptak wrote a piece called, "Attorneys at Politics: Would You Hire One to Represent You?" In it, he told a remarkable story that, I believe, illustrates the dangers of Hillary Clinton more than anything I've ever read.
"The first jury trial Mrs. Clinton handled on her own, for instance, concerned the rear end of a rat in a can of pork and beans," Liptak wrote - and if here you're thinking, "Go get 'em, Hillary! Evil corporations are trying to poison us!" you are sadly misled. She represented the corporation, and "she argued that there had been no real harm, as the plaintiff did not actually eat the rat. 'Besides,' she wrote in her autobiography, describing her client's position, 'the rodent parts which had been sterilized might be considered edible in certain parts of the world.'"
So there's your warm, caring, nurturing female political leader for you. Hungry? Eat a rat!
As the professor sings, "Can't a woman learn to use her head?/ Why do they do everything their mothers do?/Why don't they grow up, well, like their father instead?"
Sadly, Professor Higgins, it seems that they do.