Sunday, June 11, 2006

Mother Theresa for President!

Now wouldn't that be fun? I can't think of any other woman who'd be closer to the female ideal than Mother Theresa, and if she ran for the president of the United States surely she would win hands down (assuming she wasn't dead, of course)? Nah. Not gonna happen. She's too wimpy, and she would let the terrorist trample all over us.

Well, how about Ann Coulter then? She's not wimpy. She advocates violence most of the time. If she wasn't such a nutcase surely she could run this country? Nah. She's too bitchy, too mean, too vicious.

It reminds me a little of the old fairy tale about Goldilocks and the three bears. The first porridge is too hot, the second porridge is too cold, but the third porridge is just right and so on. The third porridge was probably man-porridge.

These ruminations, delightful as they are, didn't grow out of emptiness. An article in the New York Times entitled "The Ascent of A Woman" by Anne E. Kornblut was the impetus for them. She writes:

Those who study the larger trend, however, say there are concrete reasons no woman has ever come close to winning the American presidency. There are fewer political dynasties here of the sort that have given women the stamp of authority elsewhere, like the Bhuttos in Pakistan or the Ghandis in India. (Mrs. Clinton, of course, is a product of a mini-dynasty).

The electoral system here is more challenging than a parliamentary one, in which a woman (Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Golda Meir in Israel) is elected only by members of her own party, not the entire electorate.

Then there is the political pipeline in the United States, which now, with 8 female governors out of 50, and 14 female senators of 100, still offers a limited number of experienced candidates for the presidency.

"There are very few women in the pool when you think about it," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. "The pool that candidates tend to come from in this country are U.S. senators and governors, and until recently we've had very few women in those positions. That's something that's really held us back. It's the whole pipeline that's been problematic, and frankly, our pipeline hasn't been doing that well lately."

Yet such statistics, long the foundation for conventional wisdom about the plight of women in politics, may not fully explain the resistance. Experts who scratch their heads over how many women are elected as chief executives elsewhere — including Ms. Bachelet, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia and Angela Merkel in Germany — point to sociological and cultural reasons why Mrs. Clinton is one of only a few women to have been viewed seriously as a presidential candidate. Ms. Walsh said American society has "not yet raised a generation of girls growing up and thinking, 'I can be president of the United States someday.' "

Do you know in what section of the Times this article appeared? The Style Section! That says a lot more about the whole question than anything else I can say in just one sentence. In the Style Section!

I'm going to write a long and erudite post on the topic of the absent female president of the United States in the near future, because I know much of the relevant literature and because I have wonderful and incisive theories about this, as I have on everything else in this world. And that's one of the reasons, by the way, why I'm not the president of any country. Nothing is as horrifying as a woman-know-it-all, said Tom deLay. But a goddess-know-it-all beats even that in horridness.

If you can't wait for my long post, check out this take on the Daily Kos and this one by archy. They both offer fodder for thought. What I'd like to write about this very minute is something I found in the comments of the Daily Kos post, something, that I've heard many, many times before, and something that deserves to be taken apart right now. This comment is a good example:

In any case, I'd love to vote for a female if she had the best qualifications.

Some other comments give long lists of all the qualifications a female candidate for presidency should have. Very long lists.

You might ask what is wrong with this statement. Doesn't everybody want to vote for the candidate who has the best qualifications? Well, if that were true, how did George Bush get in, assuming that he was elected? Surely he lacks almost all of the qualifications that the long lists tell a woman candidate must have, perhaps even all of them. Clearly we don't always vote for the candidate for the best qualifications. The history of politics makes that absolutely clear.

But what I really mean when I want to analyze this comment is the way "best qualifications" really means that the woman in question must be a superwoman, about ten times better than any other candidate we have ever heard about. She must be a perfect woman, with children, yet somehow never neglecting them while learning about politics. She must be happily married, yet somehow the husband must not look henpecked when she goes out and runs for the presidency. She must be bold and ready to attack any country that bothers us, yet somehow she must not let any of her female hormones swamp her cool and level head, and she should have been a fighter pilot at the same time as she was bringing up her children while staying at home.

She must not be attractive as it would distract from her presidentialness, but she must be the president everybody would like to fuck, too. She must not be shrill. She must not be weak and meek. And so on.

I made up that list, not the commenters on the Daily Kos, but I made it because it pretty much reflects reality. The standards to which women are held are not only higher but impossible, if we are to find "the best qualified" candidate.

Then there is the fact that saying something like this can also serve to hide the real reasons why a person might never want to vote for a woman: It's not sexism, it's just that there are no well-qualified women out there. Too sad, but that's how it is. And all the time we have George Bush running this country to ground.

Note that I'm not saying the Daily Kos comment I quoted was by someone who is a sexist, probably far from it, and it's also true that there is a pipeline problem for women in American politics. But these kinds of comments are exactly what a sexist would use in a public debate, and it behooves us to be wary of them for the reasons I mentioned. Just think of all the male politicians we have and how many of them have "the best qualifications" for the job.