in the White House?
hope [a woman president] will only become a reality when she is elected as an
individual because of her capacity and the trust which the majority of the people
have in her integrity and ability as a person."
Eleanor Roosevelt, 1934
the ABC series Commander-in-Chief, Gina Davis played Mackenzie Mac
Allen, the first woman president of the United States. She was tough and compassionate,
brainy and powerful. The blatant chauvinism of her opponents fueled her indignation
and ours, and many women hailed the show as a daring breakthrough. ABC decided,
after just a few runs, to take the series off the air in a move that mirrored
what TV executives and advertisers, maybe even some viewers, were comfortable
with (also read Bob Herbert's column,
published in the New York Times on May 18, 2006 ("Hillary Can Run,
But Can She Win?"), for more on that.)
Regardless, many women rather
watch TV than do something in the real world to advance female leadership. The
United States is in 63rd place in the world in terms of elected female representation
in government behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But somehow, more
than 90 percent of Americans said they could envision a female president in 2008
according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, and many millions enthusiastically
voted for Hillary Clinton in the democratic primaries this year.
percent of the members of Congress are male, in the Senate 77 percent.
The number of women representatives in Congress has risen from 11.7 percent in
1997 to 16.8 percent in 2008. Not a major leap compared to the percentage of women
in Rwanda, for example, which went from 17.1 percent in 1997 to 48.8 percent in
2008! But then again, the US does not offer any quotas whatsoever for women politicians.
Only six of the 50 states have women governors; of the top 100 US cities, only
15 have female mayors. And according to a 2008 report
by U.N. Development Fund for
Women (UNIFEM), only 23.8 percent of ministerial positions in the United States
are held by women (read the chapter on women in politics in the world here: (http://www.unifem.org/progress/2008/media/POWW08_chap02_politics.pdf)
that has changed slightly after the 2008 presidential election: The number of
women in the House of Representatives reached a record high of 74, or 16%; still
short of the 20% considered minimal to exert any voting-bloc pressure. "We
have to do a great deal more if we're going to reach parity in government",
says Marie C. Wilson, president and founder of The
White House Project. The majority of women representatives are Democrats,
according to Susan Carroll, a scholar at the Center
for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, New Jersey.
might argue that on some level, mainly in the business world, we're making progress;
but in fact over the past five years, womens representation has stayed constant.
Yes, there were (and are) strong women in politics and beyond in America. But
so far, a female intern and her stained dress have triggered the most buzz in
the White House.
What a contrast with where I grew up. Europeans didnt
need a TV show to get their act together. Germanys last government was 43.6
percent female, and the country just elected a female chancellor. Since 1988,
no Norwegian government has been formed with less than 40 percent women. In 1999,
Sweden had more female ministers than male, and conservative Spain has eight women
and nine men running its government. In contrast, the Bush Administration has
a sad showing of three women versus 17 men.
the First Husband (a wuss in the eyes of his son) had to decide whether
he wanted to accept a job outside the White House. He felt undervalued and under
appreciated. No law denies the spouse of a president a career outside the White
House. Who knew?
in reality, half of the American public believes it inappropriate for a First
Lady to hold a paying job outside the White House, while two-thirds think that
it would be acceptable for a Presidents husband to do the same (according
to a USAToday/MacNeil-Lehrer Productions/Gallup Poll conducted in 2004.)
What does that say about Americans and how they see women leadership? American
women are different from European women, because they have become complacent.
They take their rights and opportunities for granted without aggressively debating
the larger issues that affect them.
women may think of themselves as progressive feminists, but in truth, they, compared
to their European sisters, are mostly followers not leaders.
Europe, politicians spouses continue with their professional lives because
they were not elected into office, and no one cares what they do. No loud howl
is heard when a woman is elected into higher office in Europe not even
a proud collective self-congratulating shoulder slapping.
To be sure,
European women havent broken every gender barrier especially not
the glass ceilings in the corporate world and in business.
behind their self-imposed veil of feel-good feminism, American women should take
a cue from Europe and demand real representation in politics.
one thing I do not want to be called is First Lady, Jacqueline
Kennedy once said. It sounds like a saddle horse.
my blog-entry on a related subject, Hillary Clinton's primary race for the presidential
The blog is featured on the New York Women in Communications Web site, www.nywici.org.
Voices Electing Women
White House Project -
a nonprofit organization for advancing women's leadership
- National Organization for Women
Guide to Women in Leadership:
Ministers and Woman heads of Government
of Maryland's Women's
Women's Democracy Center
Rulers and Leaders
Wall Street Journal's Special Section:
Women's Media Center
Women's Political Caucus
A Student's Guide to Women's Suffrage
Articles in English > A
Woman President in the White House?