At the debate last night, a young woman asked the presidential candidates a question about work equality, noting that women make less than men. Now, this isn't news, and hasn't been for a long time. For decades women have been challenging inequalities in the workplace, with slow and erratic success.
The candidates answered her question with varying degrees of success, depending on your philosophical and political bent. You can decide for yourself whose answer was better; that's why we have public debates. Their answers, while important in thier own right, are inconsequential compared to the attempt to discredit the young woman who asked the question.
Her name is Katherine Fenton. She's a 24 year old pre-K teacher, and her question was one that many women (still) want answered. She obviously was proud to be a part of the townhall meeting, telling the Long Island Newsday,
"It was an extraordinary experience at every moment. I felt incredibly lucky to be one of the chosen and to actually get to ask a question live," she said. "Up until this point, I felt disconnected to politics. For the first time ever, I felt like I was actually connected to the political process."
That's what we want, isn't it, in our citizenry? We encourage our youth to become involved, educated and engaged in the political process. We require civics classes and we often give our students recognition for being 'good citizens.' Movements have been devoted to getting out the youth vote. There are Young Republicans and Young Democrats organizations. We decry apathy and celebrate participation.
Until, that is, our younglings do or say something with which we disagree or disapprove. Or, to be more precise, until our young women do something we don't like.
Then, we crucify them. We call them names. We dig into their personal lives and call them out for any hint of perceived sexual impropriety. Heaven forbid our adult daughters should drink and have sex and, worse, talk about it in public. If they do? Fair game.
Young Miss Fenton is in the early states of learning this lesson. Already, there are snarky stories about her Twitter feed. Apparently, she isn't ladylike enough for some pundits.
Or quiet enough.
Miss Fenton is learning what woman after woman in our society has painfully learned: Speak out and you will be targeted. You. Personally. Your character. Your morals. Your beliefs. Everything.
I wish I could tell her that it will get better as she gets older. It won't. It doesn't. What happens instead is that we stop caring what others say -- or we just stop caring.
And that's the point of the attacks, to shut us up.