As many of my fellow citizens know, men have been running this pop stand we call the United States since 1776. I fully expect we’ll have a lady President in my life time and it won’t be when I’m an old lady dribbling into my Depends.
However, I can’t help but wonder, “Why haven’t we had a female President? Other countries have been led by women, including Great Britain, India, the Philippines, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Chile, Germany, Liberia and Pakistan. What is taking the good old USA to get with the program?”
Marianne Schnall, writer and founder of the website Feminist.com, wonders this herself and now she’s asking other noteworthy people on why we haven’t had a woman President and what will it take to make this happen in her book, What Will It Take to Make A Woman President?-Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power.
Schnall’s quest started innocently enough. Shortly after President Obama was elected in 2008, Schnall’s then 10-year-old daughter asked, “Why haven’t we had a woman President?”
This simple inquiry put Schnall on a quest to find out why America has never had a woman President and she found some pretty big guns to ask them this very thought-provoking question.
Not surprisingly, many of the people Schnall interviews are women who have spent time in the political trenches. These people include Republicans like former US senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Olympia Snowe, GOP political strategist Ana Navarro, and the Governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin. On the Democratic side, we have current US Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill, former Speaker of the House and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile.
Other notables interviewed by Schnall include feminists both young (Jessica Valenti) and not so young (Gloria Steinem). Journalists, broadcasters and writers include Soledad O’Brien, Pat Mitchell, Maya Angelou and Melissa Harris Perry. The world of business and academics is covered by Sheryl Sandberg, and Anita Hill. Celebs like Joy Behar, Kathy Najimy and Melissa Etheridge also give us their two cents worth.
And don’t worry; this book isn’t a total estrogen fest. Schnall also includes the men by interviewing Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom, and former member of the NFL and social activist Don McPherson.
Now just why haven’t we had a women president? Answers vary, but many agree that sexism still plays a major part every time women dip their toes into politics. Don’t agree with me? Well, people have actually questioned whether Hillary Clinton can be a grandmother and President at the same time. Seriously, did anybody ever question George H.W. Bush or Jimmy Carter if they could be grandfathers and President at the same time? ::Crickets chirping::
And let’s not forget that because of sexism women are often judged on their looks and their outfits, or are seen as too emotional who can’t handle the rough and tumble world of politics. Or if they can handle the rough and tumble world of politics they’re branded as cold, bitchy or bossy.
What else could be keeping a woman from becoming president? Until recently, there was a dearth of strong female political role models. Often women are not encouraged to get involved in politics, whether it’s running for office or running a campaign. Women sometimes don’t have access to the huge amount of money that men do (running for office ain’t cheap, kids). And speaking of kids, undoubtedly a majority of childcare falls on women and a lot of them may eschew politics until their children are grown.
Furthermore, our media can be brutal when covering female political candidates. The mainstream media may be considered liberal (it’s not), but it can be downright reactionary or irritatingly condescending. Years ago the New York Times did a piece on women in politics, specifically the chance of having a woman in the Oval Office. This piece was published in the Times’ “Style” section (as opposed to the news or opinion section) and was illustrated with a fancy pink purse emblazoned with the Presidential seal because we all know ladies love pink and purses!
However, at the same time we are dealing with sexism, lack of role models and political leaders, family challenges and the media, women also put up their own personal barriers. Some of us don’t believe we have what it takes to run for office. We still see power, leadership, self-promotion and ambition as unfeminine and unattractive. Hopefully, as more women gain access to higher positions in politics, business, academics, media and entertainment, these antiquated ideas will dissipate. Or as Senator Claire McCaskill puts it, “Women have to be taught that ambition is ladylike.”
We know the reasons why we haven’t had a lady President. Now what can we do about it?
Answers vary, but the interviewees offer several ideas on how to get women to run for office. They include women demanding more access, increasing our confidence and willingness to put ourselves on the line politically, and promoting women as ideal political candidates who can bring a fresh perspective to governing.
And just what are these fresh perspectives women can bring to governing? According to the interviewees women bring new perspectives and are willing to reach across the aisle to build consensus. Women are collaborative and acknowledge the importance of relationships. Now this may sound like stereotypes (I’ve worked with women who exhibited none of these traits), but don’t they sound like things desperately needed in the world of politics?
I enjoyed reading What Will It Take To Make a Woman President, and I appreciated everyone’s thoughts, ideas and opinions. I would have appreciated Schnall interviewing the average woman and man off the streets to get their input, but I also understand the importance of people who have actually been there and done that political-wise.
The year 2016 may seem a long time from now but it is a Presidential election year. And not surprisingly Hillary Clinton’s name is mentioned a lot as a potential candidate. But there are countless other women who can run for President. Is the United States ready for a President with lady parts asks What Will Take To Make a Woman President? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” And it’s only a question of when this will happen and what action steps we can take to make this a reality.