The annoyance seemed all the more poignant since CNN Anchorman Wolf Blitzer, a perennial Aspen summer attendee, had spoken the night before in an interview with Institute President Walter Isaacson about the election, and the perception of how much alleged sexist innuendo in reporting on Hillary Clinton's presidential run had influence the outcome.
This is how we started Day two of the three-day seminar, as another participant said successful women often felt they needed to tow a line between being frigid and being a slut - certainly an inglorious proposition.
Can Leaders be Sexy?
A conversation about sexuality and political leadership in the United States ensued, with the usual explorations of travails Clinton - both Bill and Hillary - as well as others such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who some felt was unfairly put down for acting as if she herself were 'wife of Bush' [referring to a gaffe she was once quoted as having said].
Hillary Clinton was contrasted to Maggie Thatcher, who when running to become UK prime minister depicted herself doing household chores to make herself more acceptable to British voters. One person criticized Hillary for sticking with the president, while another suggested running for president as a divorcee may not provide a strong candidacy. Others asked why we should care about personal, sexual lives, while an Aspen regular recounted a scene within recent years when Hillary was spotted at a local shoe store, and bill was lying on the floor putting shoes on her, in a very loving act.
One moderator asked why we should care about our leaders' personal lives - and some responded it was often a matter of personality, authenticity and trust. One female participant recounted President Clinton having given her an unusually intimate embrace on a rope line at one of his appearances in a recent year here in town, while another participant credited him with giving any person his undivided attention - a rare political skill. A third recounted some leaders even in campaigns that fall short, like Hillary Clinton this spring and Mike Dukakis in 1988, could develop an aura - a sense of charisma - without being overtly sexual.
President bush 43, argued one colleague, depicted an ideal family life, with the implication he held high moral values, yet in her mind he had totally violated them in many of his policies, especially by launching into war with Iraq. Another colleague held up the total public adoration of Princess Diana as an example of a public image of a woman which soared despite her difficult marriage and tragic death.
"It's not just what you do, but how you do," quoth one. Many of us agreed to the media's role, a subject for the final day, and a long-held cynicism born in part of the Watergate and Vietnam War era towards public office and government as playing a role in how sexuality and fidelity are viewed - in some ways a sign of character - though an underlying respect for machismo in some cultures could turn a blemish into an accolade.
The group spent quite a time discussing Marriage - monogamy, polygamy, gay marriage - as had been discussed on the first day, when one amongst us asked where the line is drawn - would one consider allowing a person to marry a goat [notwithstanding how one might determine whether the goat could enter such an agreement out of free will]. Beyond laughter, consensus pointed to the answer "no" to that one, though the point perhaps was well taken.
The topic then swiveled abruptly to sex workers - ranging from $4,000 a night resort ladies in Morocco observed by one participant to the description of prostitution in Madagascar, where sex workers perform their services in rice tents in filthy muddy streets, all for 30 cents for "a full sex act." Ashley Judd, the celebrity representative of Kate's organization had declared after visiting one such grimy tent, "I didn't feel God in there." Yet the workers say they continue because it's the only way they can afford to feed their children.
Other accounts from India describe four layers of brothels in which the top layer involves cages - young women and often children are caged in these places mostly run by madams, and in those cages service up to 50 men a day. They're only let out if they need to be treated for sexually transmitted diseases, so they can be brought back to work again. We're reminded that 70% of sex workers are female, but 30% are male, often young boys. And we're told also of more horrific circumstances, and of women who have no means of childcare who keep their children in a bassinet under the platform where they work.
Against all this, and chilling data on the sex slave trade and seven and eight year olds trained to shout to tourists "I do boom boom" "choose me", we are asked whether prostitution should be made legal. After all, would 10,000 sex workers in Bombay, for example, not receive better treatment and be in better health if the industry was regulated to some standard?
It is a question we discuss. No cheerful answers come to the front.
Later, in the afternoon and at the banquet and party in the evening, we gather and chortle a bit about some of the lighter side of our seminar in the presence of those attending others. No doubt, we are a bit glib about our topics of sexuality and power, and notice some envy from others. Yet this all becomes a bit more somber when we then augment the jovial moments with the atrocities also brought to bear to demonstrate power and control through use of sexuality to create cultural - and physical - barriers.
More to come.