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Take Back the Night

Has anyone else noticed that we seldom ever hear the time-defying slogan, Take Back the Night, being chanted on college campuses these days? Is that because I have simply tuned it out, or is it because feminism has long since moved on to other things?

Either way, if one listened closely earlier this week, one could hear Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff whispering the slogan after a debate in which their candidate suffered what they evidently regard as a violent assault by a gang of male competitors who had “piled on.”

A number of conservative commentators have pointed out that this whispering was nothing more than an old-fashioned and extremely convenient feminist maneuver to play the victim card. But Paul Mirengoff of powerline speculates interestingly that it might be part of a deliberate strategy of garnering sympathy and votes from “disaffected women” among whom such “whining will resonate.”

Paul might well be right that the whining will bring in votes. But I have my doubts that any of this is part of a deliberate strategy. Playing the female victim card seems to be something of an automatic reflex in Clintonian circles.

Back when she was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright repeatedly engaged in this same kind of maneuver–at least, as we learn from her memoir, Madame Secretary, she engaged in this same kind of maneuver inside of her own head. 

Even as she took great pride in being our country’s first female Secretary of State, Albright seemed to see herself less as a Margaret Thatcher or a Golda Meir–that is, a woman who made it to the top based upon her own smarts and strengths–than as a somewhat undeserving beneficiary of affirmative action who had to be perpetually on guard for sexual slights.

At one juncture fighting battles inside the Clinton White House, Albright recounted how she “found it hard to argue” with Colin Powell at Cabinet meetings, especially because of his imposing medals. At another juncture, she caught herself wondering “whether gender played any role” in causing National Security Advisor Anthony Lake to drum his fingers impatiently on the table as she spoke.” These were not isolated incidents of male chauvinist needling. As she, too, whined, “I had to deal with the problem of operating in a predominantly man’s world.”

Hillary Clinton’s situation is very different from Madeleine Albright’s. The former needs votes and is seeking sympathy to get them. The latter didn’t need votes; she was merely telling her tale and seeking sympathy en route. But in both cases, and no matter what other compelling factors might explain why critics are “piling on,” gender is being cited nstead.

This may be a good way to win primaries: we will find out this coming winter and spring. But as an explanation for what happened to Hillary Clinton in this week’s debate, it makes about as much sense as the nonsensical slogan: Take Back the Night.



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