No, We Don’t Really Want a Female President
The vote is in — Americans can’t get behind female leadership
I still remember Wednesday, November 9, 2016 like it was yesterday. The decision was already clear the night before. But there was something of a nightmarish quality to the previous evening — something surreal. I thought maybe I would wake to a miracle.
I didn’t put on any makeup that morning, because I was crying so much. Not sobbing cries, but lots of leaky, streaming tears. Everything still seemed so surreal.
I was, as always, the first one at the office. I sat there working on spreadsheets and grant reports for an hour until my boss arrived. It was quiet and dark in the office. I still remember that so clearly.
She and I had a contentious relationship, but we both had the same end game: to empower the disempowered. We stared at each other for a moment, then she walked across the room and put her arms around me and we sat like that for a while.
It was probably the only tender, vulnerable moment we shared in the four years we worked together, and neither of us had to say a word. We had not only had our dreams dashed, but were horrified to discover how much of a choke-hold the patriarchy still had on America.
You would never have heard me or any young woman I knew say we wanted to be president someday. Because that wasn’t even an option in our minds.
My mom, a Baby Boomer, loves to brag about how much her generation changed the lives of women in this country. And to some extent, that’s true. Yes, the feminists of the 60s made huge strides toward equality and I’ll be forever grateful to them.
And yet, growing up in the 80s, I never aspired to be a doctor, an athlete, or a politician. You would never have heard me or any young woman I knew say we wanted to be president someday. Because that wasn’t even an option in our minds. It was a job for an older, white man. That’s all that the country had ever seen, and that’s all we would ever see.
In fact, in my childhood, it was still widely acceptable to laugh about the idea of a female president, if anyone dared to bring it up. I still remember hearing men joke, time and again, “Can you imagine giving a woman our nuclear codes? They’d want to blow up Russia every time they got their periods!”
I would laugh, too, because I didn’t know any better. I was a kid and I was taught that women were irrational, dumb, and emotionally unstable. “Yeah, guys, you’re right. Someday, I’m gonna grow up and be crazy like that, too. Thank god you all are running the country and keeping us alive!”
It makes me sick to think of this now. To understand that my life was largely shaped by the sexist beliefs that permeate American culture. What would I have been without that? What might I have done?
I don’t know what to say about my experiences as a woman in this culture. What part of my story would really matter to people? What would actually make an impact?
I often feel that I can talk about my anger and pain over the many times males were enabled and allowed to do whatever they wanted to my body, but does it really matter? Does anyone really hear this, and more importantly, does it change anything? Or how about how many times I was demeaned, belittled, criticized, or publicly humiliated because I demonstrated feminine qualities at work instead of masculine? Or how about the many times that I was paid less than my male coworkers, even when I had more experience and education? Or…
There are countless stories like this. Countless times I have felt powerless, afraid, and unheard. How can I express what that feels like? And to white, Christian, hetero, cisgender men, really, how can I impart the weight of this?
It seems so simple, but I only long for a world in which we value the feminine as much as we value the masculine. Where women aren’t constantly judged for their sexuality. Where we make as much money as our male counterparts. Where our leadership is valued.
One of the ways we see this equality (or lack thereof) expressed is in law and political representation. Do our laws protect a woman’s voice? Do we, as a culture, respect and support female politicians?
Before you try to answer that, let me ask a few other questions:
- Why did it take 144 years — 72 of those in which suffragettes were actively fighting for change — for women to be allowed to vote?
- Explain to me why, in 2020, the Equal Rights Amendment has still not passed.
- And how on earth is it possible that the U.S. doesn’t even meet the global average of female governmental representation (a mere 24.1%)?
Many people argue that we’ve recently seen a huge turning point, with so many women — and many of them women of color (finally!) — being elected in the 2018 midterm elections. But I want to emphasize again that the insurgence of women into the House only pushed up female Congressional representation to 23.5% — below the global average mentioned above. It’s 2020 and less than a quarter of U.S. Congressional seats are held by women despite the fact that we make up 50.6% of the population.
And let’s not forget that female representatives are treated very differently than males. Their appearance is constantly criticized. They are subjected to sexist comments on a regular basis. Many are mistaken for reporters or staffers, because of the sexist stereotypes about who belongs in Congress (men, not women).
Explain to me why, in 2020, the Equal Rights Amendment has still not passed.
Further, these women are consistently judged as bad leaders because while we accept any style of traditional masculine leadership from men (the more aggressive, the better), women are damned if they are too strong and damned if they are too receptive. Women are too soft on the difficult issues, they’re too bossy, they’re bitches, they’re too aggressive, they talk too much, they don’t talk enough…
For instance, Elizabeth Warren was criticized for being “mean and angry,” by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin (yes, a woman), and that those expressions of emotion were “not a good look for Warren.” Later, Rubin doubled down on her criticism with, “Get angry and hit where deserved.” Notably, male politicians are not criticized for being angry or hitting anyone or anything, whether deserved, or not.
The bottom line is, we simply do not respect or support female leadership in this country. Period.
Honestly, I was thrilled when Former Secretary of State Clinton (I refuse to call her Hillary when it’s very rare that we call male politicians by their first names) announced her candidacy for the 2016 presidential run. Could we really be so lucky as to have the best president we’d ever had (Obama) followed immediately by our first female president? I guess in the wake of Obama’s tenure, anything seemed possible to me.
It helped that the Republican candidate was someone who made the entire campaign feel like an absurdist, dystopian, black comedy. Overt racism, sexism, misogyny, and just plain bad manners… Clinton had this in the bag, I thought.
I suspect that’s why her loss hurt so much. Not just the disappointment of still feeling like we would never break that glass ceiling. No, it was so much worse than that. Too many people in America had just voted for the patriarchy. For rape culture. How was it possible that bragging about sexual assault was acceptable to so many people?
My one hope, though, was that after four years of this administration, surely, surely, we’d have a female president. Surely, both parties would be flooded with female candidates and we’d break that damn glass ceiling once and for all.
Too many people in America had just voted for the patriarchy. For rape culture.
I should’ve guessed that there would be reluctance from the Republicans to go up against 45. And perhaps no woman is masochistic enough to lock horns with him in what would surely be a losing battle (not because a woman isn’t strong enough, but because our cultural climate would perpetuate her disempowerment).
And though the Democratic party made history with its six female candidates (Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tulsi Gabbard, and Marianne Williamson), most did not make it to the primaries and only one is still standing, though likely will not secure the Democratic nomination.
But what bothers me the most is that older, white males stepped into the ring. Men who have already run for president and didn’t make it. Men who were already in office and had their moment.
I don’t really believe people who say they stand behind female leadership and then step in and make a bid against it. I don’t really believe people who say they are progressive but then fail to hold space for women and minorities to step into leadership opportunities.
I’m still shocked (though perhaps naively so) that both parties didn’t take a stand and empower all their female and minority candidates. Not a few people of color, a few women, a few members of the LGBTQ community, and then a bunch of the usual older white men. No. Now was the time for those men to step back and make a space for other voices.
These women — Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and all the others — are like the early suffragettes. These are the women who are enduring hunger strikes in prison because they are so dedicated to the cause — because they believe so fervently that not only did we always deserve the vote, but we deserve representation, too.
These women have to work harder than the male candidates just to be seen as equals, thanks to our culture’s deeply ingrained sexism and misogyny. And the women of color must fight even harder against the ingrained white supremacy of this culture (and the further entrenchment of white supremacy supported by the current administration).
These women have to work harder than the male candidates just to be seen as equals, thanks to our culture’s deeply ingrained sexism and misogyny.
Working the presidential trail is grueling, unforgiving, uncompromising. And throughout it all, their sartorial choices are picked to pieces, their intelligence and competence are questioned, and their leadership style is constantly criticized. All because they are women.
And when it comes time to reap the rewards of their thankless labor…nothing comes. They don’t get the votes.
What are the older, white males in our government doing to change this tide? To make space for other voices? To support women and minorities in leadership?
And what are we, the people, doing?
From where I’m standing, it seems, even after all these years, like far too little.
© Yael Wolfe 2020
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