It was 1984, and it was a big deal that a woman was running for Vice President. We were all holding our breaths for her–how would she do? More to the point: what would they do to her?
I don\’t remember much about that campaign, except dreading that Reagan would win. And I remember the vice-presidential debate, in which Geraldine Ferraro stood opposite H.W. Bush. As we attempt to recover from his son\’s presidency, these days the elder Bush looks comparatively benign. But in the 1980s he was, along with Reagan, the enemy.
At one point in the debate, Geraldine Ferraro was asked a question–I believe it was about foreign policy–and when she finished speaking H.W. turned to her, smiled that lipless smile and said condescendingly, \”let me help you with that….\”
In front of their TV sets, millions of women gasped. This was the kind of attitude that we confronted every day at work, and here it was, at the highest possible level, in front of the entire nation. How would Geraldine handle it? What would happen next?
What happened next was that she said something like \”I resent your patronizing me.\” And then she teared up. And we all gasped again.
Oh Geraldine, how could you? Didn\’t you know that it\’s o.k. for football players and politicians caught in flagrante and repentant evangelists to weep hot tears in public. But not a woman, never a woman, and especially not in front of that smug, arrogant man.
I never got over that awful moment, but Geraldine seemed to, and went on to an illustrious career in politics despite the shadow cast over her ambitions by her husband\’s business dealings. For women watching the news that debate was merely a warm-up in the art of gasping. We did a lot more of it during the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas debacle, and by the time Hillary Clinton ran for the presidential nomination, we were gasping virtuosi.
Rest in peace, Geraldine. And may we all be around (somewhere) to cheer the day when women are allowed to weep, and win.