Here’s an indisputable fact: There will always be qualified men. Always.
There’s no shortage of them, they’ve been around for ages. Able, intelligent, wise men who know their way around a political campaign, who exude charm and charisma (or don’t), who have the skill set to stir the masses (or at least their fanbase), and who can surely lead the country with the verve of a bona fide, passionate leader. We all know men like that. A few have been our presidents. In fact, all our presidents have been men. It’s the norm. The tradition. The way we do things here in America.
Ah, I love the smell of patriarchy in the zeitgeist.
Now, that’s not an insult to the qualified men; it’s a statement about how patriarchy works. It makes the ascendency of men to positions of power seem the inarguable norm, the expected outcome, the “way it’s always been” reality. It demands our fealty to the notion, without second thought, that these qualified men are, have been, and will continue to be “what presidential is,” asking: “Why would you want anybody else?”
“Anybody else” being anybody who isn’t a man.
That exact question proved such a conundrum in 2016 that a huge faction of Americans were more comfortable voting for the male candidate with no experience, no integrity, a history of vile, sexist behavior, and well-documented criminal bent, than the hyper-qualified, profoundly experienced, and “most admired” public servant who, as the media and others made sure we believed, wasn’t likable enough, had a screechy voice, used a private email server, and, most notably, was a female.
We don’t do female in America’s White House.
Not behind the desk of the Oval Office. Not leading the American military. Not executing “executive orders” like so many PTA memos. Oh, they can be First Lady; they can change the drapes, handle the caterers, run interference between the male president and the media. But president?
Patriarchy is and always has been an exacting social mandate, one that repeatedly reminds us that all these qualified men floating around are perfectly capable of handling the job without intervention from any outside contingent: Women. Sticking with the guys is neater, it’s more palatable, it’s what we’ve always done, so “don’t you gals worry yourselves, we fellas got it covered. Just step aside and let men do men’s work.”
Sure. We’ve seen how well that’s gone over the last two+ years, a debacle that’s especially galling in light of the assault-and-battery of Hillary Clinton, but, hey, you guys go ahead and make America great again, right?
Putting aside quips and sarcasm, a real question emerges: Why is it that, out of over 70 nations around the world, some of which are less politically progressive than America, we have never elected a female president? Beyond the cultural umbrella of “patriarchy,” under which all anti-woman “isms” reside, what are the specific bugaboos for why we remain entrenched in such antiquated, sexist views of who gets to be POTUS?
I thought this was an interesting take from the New York Times in “Over 70 Nations Have Been Led by Women. So Why Not the U.S.?“:
Some scholars say that European democracies may view women as more suited to high political office because their governments are known for generous social-welfare programs, something that seems maternal. In contrast, the president of the United States is primarily seen as commander in chief, which is a frame more difficult for women to fit into.
“America is still seen as the policeman of the world, the guardian of the world and we still have a very gendered version of what leadership means,” said Laura A. Liswood, secretary general of the United Nations Foundation’s Council of Women World Leaders, a network of current and former female prime ministers and presidents. “Not only do we have to be liked, we also have to be tough.”
Sue Thomas, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Santa Cruz, Calif., said that unlike political leadership posts elsewhere, the American presidency “is seen as a very masculine institution that for historical reasons is extremely hard for a female to approach.” [emphasis added by me]
That last sentence there, the one I put in bold? That’s patriarchy. That’s sexism. And after the systemic, overwhelming catastrophe that has been the Trump administration, particularly in that “very masculine” role of Commander-in-Chief, the bottom falls out of that argument with the force of a landslide.
But let’s go back to my posit, “there will always be qualified men so we don’t really need women to run” meme. If you think I’m being overly harsh, let’s look, for a moment, at what’s currently happening in the Democratic primary:
Even after the 2018 Midterms, when a battalion of strong, diverse women not only stormed the castle but claimed historical victories in every region; even after the early declarations of brilliant, accomplished, experienced, and viable female candidates like Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand, even after all that, what is happening? A slew of very qualified men are slowly jumping in, one-by-one and after these women already declared, implicitly stating that they’re the best person for the job. Them, the qualified male.
And sure, why not? Why shouldn’t they jump in? The primary is a wide open field, everyone’s invited, and some of these are very appealing men. But, still, the message they convey by not getting behind one of the female candidates, by not endorsing and showing their support, is, quite simply, this: “You’re all great, and in another world I might get behind you and work like hell to get you elected, but even, and despite, my desire to change the gender gap so my daughter may one day run for president, I’m not going to coalesce around any of you because I think what I bring to the table is more viable.”
Because they’re a qualified man.
I don’t care about these qualified men. I mean, I care about them as people; I wish them well, thank them for their service (if that applies), look forward to their future endeavors, and hope they’ll use some of their political capital to change the archaic narrative in this country that says, “Women are not American presidents.”
But right now I don’t care about their charm, their platforms, ideas, experiences, and cult fandom. Not enough to negate and, once again, put aside what I believe is a much bigger, much more culturally relevant and urgent issue: the essential and unequivocal breaking of the glass ceiling for (very qualified) American women in regards to the presidency.
It should have happened last time. By all accounts it did happen last time, but patriarchy (and a few other noxious elements) swept in to tilt the playing field, and millions have suffered since.
Someone asked me recently: “Is it just a gender thing for you, a feminism thing? Doesn’t your single-minded focus on electing a female president almost scream of affirmative action?”
You know, it does… because it kind of is. But before Susan Sarandon comes at me squawking about how I’m voting with my vagina, let me assert my rationale. We’ll start with this, an excellent definition of affirmative action:
Affirmative Action is a program of positive action, undertaken with conviction and effort to overcome the present effects of past practices, policies, or barriers to equal employment opportunity and to achieve the full and fair participation of women, minorities and individuals with disabilities found to be underutilized in the workforce based on availability.
The purpose of affirmative action is to establish fair access to employment opportunities to create a workforce that is an accurate reflection of the demographics of the qualified available workforce in the relevant job market. Affirmative Action policies and programs are tools whereby additional efforts are made to recruit, hire and promote qualified women, minorities and individuals with disabilities. [emphasis added by me]
I could basically highlight and bold that entire thing.
Because there is not “fair access,” the presidency is not an “accurate reflection of the qualified available workforce in the relevant job market”; there is certainly not a level playing field for women running for public office.
We already see it in the way media is covering the current race; while they gush over Pete, get starry-eyed about Joe, and titter about Bernie’s fate, they’re castigating female candidates for how they eat, what they wear, how they manage their staff, who they marry, what their heritage is, what music they listen to and when. Sadly, I don’t expect that to change much as things ramp up. Patriarchy rules the media, too.
Another fact? An incredibly salient, pertinent, critical fact in this Trump era of caustically stupid leadership? Women are better managers, better leaders. That’s not just me saying that; it’s been documented.
During the 2016 campaign I wrote an article on the topic, You Say You Want a Revolution? I Do Too. It’s Why I Support Hillary Clinton, and since quoting oneself is unseemly, let me at least re-share this paragraph from the Harvard Business Review study that found, by a comprehensive list of metrics and significant percentages, that women were better leaders, better managers of staff:
“Specifically, at all levels, women are rated higher in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree — taking initiative and driving for results — have long been thought of as particularly male strengths.”
Yet, as of 2019, those strengths and competencies have been given short shrift in presidential politics. Time’s up.
Much like ethnic and racial minorities yearn to see themselves represented fully and fairly in every facet of culture, so do women, particularly in the arenas of business, academics, and, certainly, politics. The “old boys’ club” legacy found in the vaunted halls of political power is as dated and regressive as sexist attitudes and behaviors from the pre-#MeToo era. As cultural evolutions and a changing zeitgeist dismantle the tolerance around those issues, so do those influences change the acceptance of patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, and gender negation. Women have worked long and hard to take their rightful place on a level playing field, but until that field is, indeed, level—which it is not—a form of affirmative action must step in and demand it.
Which means, at this moment in time, that every man throwing his hat into the Democratic presidential ring must reconsider.
That every man who cares about uplifting society, who desires a world in which girls can aspire to the highest office without fear of personal evisceration and political annihilation; every man who wants to provide the world, the country, with the very best leaders, the very best managers, the most compassionate, empathetic, inspiring communicators, must pull their hat out of that ring, take a step back until another time; put their political egos in a lockbox (remember that?), and jump full-bore into supporting one of the supremely qualified women running for president. To help ensure that she wins and, in doing so, inexorably change the face of American culture.
Will you help us accomplish that, you progressive, thoughtful, qualified men? We’d appreciate it. And, hey, being VP of the very first female president in American history has a nice ring to it too.
Three women photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Girl with flag photo by Joe Pregadio on Unsplash
Lorraine’s third novel, The Alchemy of Noise, has an April 2019 pub date, with pre-orders currently available at Amazon and elsewhere.
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.