Maher waltzes onto "The View" and delivers a prepared line that is obviously structured to reach out to the female daytime-TV audience. Joy Behar prompts him to talk about Sandusky, and Maher begins:
You'd like this...(Because you're a woman.)
... Any institution where there's no women around — like The Church, like football, like the Middle East, like fraternities — it just goes to hell. You do need women as a moderating influence.You? There's a feminist faux pas right in the middle of his effort at feminism. The audience is female, and he's saying "you" to them, but they are not the "you." Worse than that, seemingly without realizing it, he's dishing out old-fashioned male chauvinism: Women exist to moderate men. Men are the primary force in the world, but too much of that roiling, spewing masculine energy, and there's trouble. Come in, ladies, ground us, soothe us, care for us, tone us down, so our intensity doesn't boil over into destruction.
But Maher assumed — "You'd like this" — that female TV audience would feel flattered and not notice the message of subordination. And he assumed they'd enjoy hearing an insult to men. Quite aside from whether women appreciate negative stereotypes about men, underneath the insult was great pride in male achievements. Some men go too far, but maleness is central, even as femaleness is needed for moderation.
Nevertheless, Maher intended to appeal to women, to embed himself in the context of feminist values. He failed, even before Hasselbeck lit into him, but he did not realize that. He was perched in the center of the curved turquoise sofa, pleased at having presented himself as an admirer of women.
Hasselbeck begins: "That sounded very supportive of women." That is, she could see what he was doing, trying to seem feminist, though she doesn't say that it really was supportive: it sounded supportive.
"And I just want to go back to a time that bothered me... not for my own personal reasons... Forgive this idiotic Republican for bringing this to your brilliant mind..."Talk about a moderating influence! She's stirring things up.
"In February of last year, Laura Logan was in Egypt and she was brutally attack by a mob there. She came back and said: 'There were hands raping me over and over again, tearing my body in every direction, trying to tear off chunks of my skull. I was in no doubt in the process of dying.'Hasselbeck sums up: "That wasn't that funny."
"Now, prior to her coming back, Bill, you on your show said: 'Now that Hosni Mubarak has released Lara Logan, he must put her intrepid hotness on a plane immediately. In exchange, we will send Elisabeth Hasselbeck.'"
I'm virtually positive that Maher wasn't ambushed here. I think it was planned that Hasselbeck would read that indignant bit — it's all on paper, with 2 verbatim quotes — and sum up with an attack on the comedian's funniness. She did not cut more deeply. She could have said: You made a joke out of rape and you specifically thought it was funny to say that I should be raped. Is rape funny when it happens to a woman whose ideas you object to? You stood there on TV and named me as a person you'd want to hand over to a mob to be raped to death? That's your show, Bill?!
But she had it on paper, and it had her ending with a simple that's not funny. There's a female stereotype for you! It's the punchline to the old how many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? joke. The "ambush" was gentle, and Maher was prepared:
"We do a comedy show for an audience that's perhaps different than your audience. You are a public figure. It was not aimed at you personally, but when you are a public figure, you are out there and you're fodder for comedians to make comments on."Asked "Do you draw the line ever?" he responds, elegantly, "I do draw the line, but I also live on the line." He's a male, bursting with creativity and cutting recklessly, unmoderated by females, late at night, on HBO. "You have to be out on the edge to know where that edge is."
Hasselbeck scoffs, "Thanks for being the hero." That is: You're bragging about yourself. She's playing that moderating role assigned to women, dragging him down to earth. She demands an apology. The others on the sofa frame her complaint as a personal affront, because she was named, not a more general attack on Maher for making a joke out throwing a woman to a brutal mob to be raped to death.
If you had it to do over again, would you used that joke, Hasselbeck asks, "if you're so supportive of women"?, and Maher deflects her glibly, but still without acknowledging the gravity of wishing rape on his political opponent. He says: "If I had a crystal ball and knew I was coming here and had to spend my whole segment talking about it, no, I wouldn't. It really wouldn't be worth it."
That is, he still likes his joke, but it's such a pain having to fritter away his book-pimping spot dealing with her that it's not worth it. He brushes her off: "Worse things have happened to people." Worse than hands raping me over and over again, tearing my body in every direction, trying to tear off chunks of my skull? Yeah, it is true. Worse things have happened to people. Thanks for the info, Bill. And here you are, talking to the women daytime TV has been explaining feminist issues to for decades!
Barbara Walters butts in to talk about herself. "I went through years of Baba Wawa. I survived." What a survivor! The message from Walters — who promotes feminism on most occasions, I think — is that Hasselbeck shouldn't take herself so seriously. She needs to learn to take a joke. Gilda Radner's delightfully charming imitation of Walters's speech defect is pretty much the same as Maher snarking about throwing Hasselbeck into a gang rape. Yeah. It's all comedy!
Hasselbeck claims some dignity in the end. She clarifies that it's not about her personal feelings, that she's "speaking on behalf of women," and that accountability is important. It's what she teaches her kids. Yeah, she's a mom. She's nice. She's folded back into the group, properly in place as one of the women on the turquoise sofa, arrayed sweetly around the man... moderating him.