Hillary's "testicular fortitude"

Yet another person accuses Clinton of being like a man -- but he means it in a good way.

Published May 1, 2008 8:50PM (EDT)

There are plenty of people in the world who already think that Hillary Clinton may have testicles (and, for that matter, devil's horns) -- but Wednesday she heard a reference to her presumed cojones that was supposed to be a compliment: While introducing Clinton at a rally and giving his thoughts on the future of NAFTA, Paul Gipson, president of a steelworkers local, said, "I truly believe that that's going to take an individual that has testicular fortitude ... That's exactly right. That's what we gotta have."

The Huffington Post predicted that much like the previous day's "pansy" comment, this reference to Clinton's supposed balls would earn her criticism from feminists. I guess that's where I'm supposed to step in.

But really, that strikes me as silly. I doubt Clinton asked the guy to refer to her junk, so why blame her for it? And as for Gipson himself, I don't think he had any ill intent, either. Instead I almost want to thank the man. Because by saying that Clinton has the "testicular fortitude" necessary to lead the nation (or, in this particular context, to negotiate amendments to NAFTA), he provided a great example of why feminism still needs to exist.

To clarify: I've always thought that the term "feminism" was something of a misnomer. For me, at least, feminism isn't about trying to put men down, or to assert that women are superior creatures. It's about equality. I've always thought that a better term would be "humanism" -- the fight to establish a society in which both genders had equal rights and opportunities.

The problem, however, is that in many cases, our society is based upon a male standard. Things considered "female" are often considered inferior or a deviation from the norm (or embarrassing for men to be associated with -- that's why men in skirts are funnier than women in pants, and few guys own pink clothes). Looked at another way, you could also say that things that are weak are often associated with women, and powerful characteristics are thought of as male. I think that's what going on here. Instead of simply saying that we want a strong leader who can stay calm in a crisis, be assertive, bring people together, negotiate and evaluate issues rationally and intelligently (a description that, incidentally, includes both "masculine" and "feminine" traits), we say that we need someone with "testicular fortitude," because we associate leadership with masculinity. Historically, this makes sense; most of our leaders have been male. But I think that feminism will become irrelevant only when we reach a stage where we drop the genitalia from our conception of leadership and allow people's actual skills -- not their supposed masculinity or femininity -- to be the basis on which they are judged.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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