Hey, if you don’t like the answer, folks, it’s time for a little soul searching.
In her article, The Glass Ceiling Holds Strong, the always en pointe WaPo writer Marie Cocco tells us:
It is time to stop kidding ourselves. This wasn’t a breakthrough year for American women in politics. It was a brutal one.
The glass ceiling remains firmly in place — not cracked, as Hillary Clinton insisted as she tried to claim rhetorical victory after her defeat in the Democratic nominating contest. It wasn’t even scratched with the candidacy of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee — unless you consider becoming an object of national ridicule to be a symbol of advancement. As divergent as these two women are ideologically and temperamentally, as different as are their resumes, they both banged their heads — hard — against the ceiling. Both were bruised. So was the goal of advancing women in political leadership.
Clearly, Senator Clinton is the first woman ever to win a primary and she also won 18,000,000 votes, more than any primary candidate in history. But even as the winner of all the big states, save Illinois, all the battleground states and the majority of the Democratic base, the prize was still denied her by cowardly super delegates. If Barack Obama were likewise a woman, or a white male, running against Hillary with his resume, he would have been laughed off the stage.
Even if President-elect Barack Obama chooses Clinton as secretary of state, no ground will be broken. Clinton would be the third woman to hold the post. And there is no longer anything extraordinary in a president naming women to his Cabinet. Franklin D. Roosevelt did it first, when he appointed Frances Perkins as labor secretary in 1933. Since then, every president but Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy has named women to the Cabinet or to Cabinet-level posts, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Bill Clinton holds the record: He appointed 16 women overall, and at one point about half of those serving in Clinton’s Cabinet were female.
Thank you, President Clinton.
But, we are invariably told, surely there are enough women moving through the “pipeline” of lower offices so that someday, some woman from somewhere will win the presidency or the vice presidency.
Uh, how exactly? We are so focused on a woman’s pantsuits or clothing allowance, or how dare she run for the office in the first place and “What does she want anyway” and what kind of a mother is she and why didn’t she leave her husband and why does she talk like that and why does she laugh like that? This kind of insulting nonsense would never be leveled at a man. Did anyone bother Joe Biden about his obvious eye lift? Did anyone ask what kind of a father Obama is? No? *Crickets*?
Barack Obama is one of the most inexperienced candidates ever, with no governing experience, no executive experience and barely any legislative experience, and what he has is exaggerated by mentors padding his resume. Did anyone ask him if he is qualified for the job? Did anyone ponder: How he dare run for this office, particularly at this most difficult and challenging time in our nation’s history? Never mind what he dared to do – no one would dare ask him. Charges of racism would certainly have ensued.
The markets are tanking horribly. While it is not a constant that the markets rebound after an election, it is certainly more the norm. Gee, maybe business is terrified because they have no idea how this man is going to govern or what his fiscal policy will be going forward. It would have been nice if our press had bothered to ask. They certainly asked Senator Clinton. And they actually got a concrete and well thought out answer.
…Eight women will serve as governors in 2009, the same as this year. The proportion of women serving in statewide elective office actually has dropped since it reached a high of about 28 percent in 2000; it is now about 24 percent, according to the center.
The Senate will add one woman next year, bringing the number of female senators to 17. Ten newly elected House members are female. This means that as the class of 2008 enters the Capitol’s marble halls, it will include less than half the number of women who first won office in 1992 — the so-called “year of the woman.”
Including incumbents and newcomers, a record number of women will be serving in Congress, but still only 17 percent of its members will be female. This is where that record places us: on a par with the legislative representation women have achieved in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. The United Nations, which tracks women’s global political advancement, says that at this rate, it will take women in the developing world 40 years to reach parity with men.
17%? We are 52% of the population. I’m not even asking for parity, but surely, a slightly more accurate representation of the electorate wouldn’t hurt.
Those who watched the media’s sexist hazing of both Clinton and Palin often rationalize this treatment as the result of these two candidates’ particular personalities and the legitimacy — or presumed illegitimacy — of their campaigns. But Barbara Lee, whose Boston-based family foundation has conducted extensive research of gubernatorial races involving women, routinely identifies the same undercurrents in state campaigns. Voters demand more experience of a woman candidate, and judge her competence separately from whether she is sufficiently “likable.” Male candidates typically must clear only the competence bar to be judged — as Obama indelicately put it during a primary debate — “likable enough.”
That is always the excuse. Hillary got a snoot full of that nonsense this year: it isn’t that she’s woman, it’s just THIS woman. Right? The most brilliant, prepared politician to come along in ages who has forever raised the bar and that was not good enough, or likeable enough, apparently. Obama clearly didn’t even need to clear the competence bar. As his supporters were fond of telling me throughout the year, “oh, it will be fine, he’ll surround himself with really good people.”
Apparently so. He is surrounding himself with lots of Clintonistas. That’s really good. And now he’s trying to “surround” himself with Senator Clinton as his Secretary of State. Well, Obama’s supporters should be glad to know he took their advice to heart. But I guess the electorate just couldn’t make enough of a leap to put the real thing at the head of the line. Rather they would rather have a male figurehead, with Hillary pulling the strings.
“We heard that over and over again — that no woman is ever right,” Lee says of her focus groups. “They like the concept of it but when it comes to a real, live, breathing candidate, they don’t.”
It was fine for Obama’s campaign to put 30 lawyers on the ground in Alaska to go rummaging through Sarah Palin’s garbage. Palin’s education was ridiculed regularly, but we still can’t see any of President-elect Obama’s college records, state senate records, articles, medical records or birth certificate. Surely, if this information were anything to be proud of, it would be plastered across the front page of the NY Times.
Some have said we need to let bygones be bygones and stop “rehashing the political arguments of this last year.” How convenient. It is very kind of those who got what they wanted in this ridiculous election to tell the rest of us to “get over it.” No dice.
Lee summarizes the disparate assessment this way: “There are no female Arnold Schwarzeneggers.” That is, no woman will ever burst into politics, capture the voters’ imagination and be catapulted into high public office without a lick of experience.
Schwarzenegger was an action star, arguably a good businessman when it came to securing his own fortune, but otherwise had no qualifications for elected office. He won handily, despite his inexperience and reported sexual harassment of women over the years. He is now in his second term as Governor of California, the fifth largest economy in the world. By all accounts he is not doing a great job, to put it mildly. But he’s still here. Never mind why men would vote for him, why would women vote for him?
Lawrence Summers is under consideration for Treasury Secretary. This man was forced to resign from Harvard for his sexist attitudes towards women. A 50-ish single working mom said to me – “well, if he’s good otherwise, so he has a problem with women, so what?” Well, my dear, if you are the go-to girl and the bottom line for the support of your family and have been for many years, and you’ve got no problem with a man who says you are ‘less than,’ I really don’t have a response for that. This is a woman whom I respect and her resigned “that’s just the way life works and what can we do about it” attitude was painful. Why should people not be held accountable for sexist behavior?
…American women are a majority of the population and a majority of the electorate. They earn more than half the bachelor’s and master’s degrees, a level of educational achievement far exceeding that of women in developing countries. There must be some reason we don’t do any better than women in impoverished, rural regions of the world where cultural norms oppress women.
Maybe it is because our culture isn’t so different after all.
Why do we judge women more harshly? That is a question most do not want to answer. It makes us uncomfortable. We know there is a double standard for women sexually in this country. No, we are still not over that one either, believe it or not. The madonna/whore complex still exists. There is obviously a double standard in business and certainly in politics. Religion plays a part as many religions have assigned subservient roles to women. Those habits die hard.
I still maintain that if the male ego cannot tolerate a woman having the last word in any circumstance, he will not vote for a woman. Men who are comfortable with themselves don’t seem to have this problem. And if a woman does not trust herself, I doubt she is going to trust another woman to be the final word, either. I do not want to “rehash” but frankly, if we are ever to have competent female leadership then we need to stop trashing competent women. How do we do that?
Forewarned is forearmed. It requires not only vigilance towards the media, but punishment of the guilty parties. It requires calling them out from the highest hill for the biased fools they are. I could give a damn if any of these reporters were lying-in-wait for Hillary because of their past experiences with the Clintons in the 90s. That is no excuse. It’s 2008. If you can’t do your job objectively as a journalist – a job for which you are paid – then retire. Get out. Period.
It also requires a willingness to speak out against any male candidate who uses sexist attacks to defeat women. Holding candidates’ feet to the fire to campaign without shenanigans of other sorts would help, too. If the electorate sends the message it will not be tolerated, guess what – it might stop. Or these guys will get voted down.
Most important, it requires us examining our own private biases and preconceived notions.
As Hillary once said, she only wanted to be judged on the merits. I would never ask for anyone to vote for a woman simply on the basis of gender just as I would never expect anyone to vote for a candidate simply on the basis of race. I mean, we don’t do that in our country, do we?
We have the president-elect we have. Got it. But that does not mean the debate about women in politics is going to stop; nor should it. Unless we want the travesty of woman-bashing we witnessed this year to continue.
Keeping this debate front and center, demanding parity for women in terms of pay, civil rights, reproductive rights, and enforcing a zero tolerance policy for violence against women are the only ways we are ever going to be able to answer “yes” to the title question.