Monday, December 04, 2006

Running As Woman In Politics

Tony Blair's fourth child was born while he was already Britain's Prime Minister. To get by, he did what some other dads in high-pressure jobs do: He tucked his kids in to bed at night, then went back to the office.

The above quote is not a real one. I did a reversal on an actual quote about Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate for the presidency of France:

Segolene Royal gave birth to her fourth child while she was France's environment minister. To get by, she did what some other moms in high-pressure jobs do: She tucked her kids in to bed at night, then went back to the office.

Royal, the Socialist candidate in this spring's presidential elections, has become a symbol of modern French womanhood. Well-spoken, smart and stylish, the 53-year-old lawmaker is a mother of four who balanced her family life with a career as one of France's most powerful women.

Why bother to do such a reversal? Perhaps because it's always good to look at the barriers women face in the public sector, especially given the large number of misogynists who believe that women are just not smart enough or interested enough to get involved in politics. Or perhaps I still hope to cause a few "Aha!" experiences among some unsuspecting readers. Such as the realization that nobody wonders if Tony Blair has "balanced" his life with his career, so he doesnt't have to spend any energy on proving that he is, after all, a proper man, and that saved energy is available for his work.

Women such as Segolene Royal or Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi have to pass a test before they can be taken seriously as politicians, a test which I shall call the Fear Of Insufficient Womanliness Test. This is where the woman must prove that she is still a conventional woman in all the important ways, that the children she has will not suffer if she runs, that her husband won't have to eat frozen dinners, that she will still try to look and act feminine. That doing all this AND being a president or the Speaker or a senator is necessary suggests one reason why so few women bother with politics.

Add to the first test I just discussed the second test these same women must pass, one which I shall call the Fear of Excessive Womanliness Test, and it's no wonder that the number of viable women candidates starts shrinking rapidly. In the second test the woman must prove that she is not at all like any of the worst stereotypes about women, not at all. She is not catty, nosir. She is not overly emotional, nope. She is not weak, a pushover or unable to call for people to be killed if needed. Just imagine if men like Tony Blair or George Bush would have to pass a similar Excessive Manliness Test where they'd have to prove that they won't suddenly go all red-faced and bulgy-eyed with anger, that they won't get carried away with penis-comparisons, that they won't fail to see social cues in the behavior of VIPs from other countries. Just imagine what that would do to the number of men representing Americans in the Congress.

It's hard to imagine, because we see men, especially white men in the U.S., as individuals, not as icons of their sex and/or race, and individuals carry a lot less weight on their shoulders than do walking representatives of a whole sex or race.