When I was ten years old, I decided I wanted to grow up and be the first woman president of the United States. My teachers encouraged girls with all the stories about how women, having finally achieved the vote, and having served in so
many capacities in World War II, were destined to be leaders just as men were. And we had great role models in Rosalind Russell and Katherine Hepburn who portrayed strong, capable women in the movies. Somehow my life didn’t turn out that way and neither did the life of any other woman of my generation. Now, more than half a century later, we are still waiting to see the first female president.
I remembered those optimistic feelings when I read Gail Collins’s thought-provoking column in today’s New York Times about “Hillary in History”. Collins goes through the list of women who have come close to the presidency or attempted to reach it, starting with Victoria Woodhull in 1872. who I have written about in this blog. There have been other contenders over the years, including Shirley Chisholm and
Margaret Chase Smith, but none was ever taken as seriously as Hillary Clinton. Millions of women will be cheered by her victory if she wins—cheered perhaps even if they don’t agree with all of her positions and policies. It’s wonderful to think that at last a woman is being taken very seriously as a potential threat to the old-boy network that has run the country, and the world, for so long.
An yet, nothing is perfect. When President Obama was elected in 2008, the media and many of us ordinary citizens engaged in an orgy of celebration. With an African American in the White House, we must surely have seen the end of racism in the country. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, has it? We still have to struggle with the everyday racism that affects so many Americans despite the great achievements of individuals members of minority groups.
No doubt it will be the same with women. If Hillary takes over the White House, we can expect she will have the successes and failures that all presidents have encountered. There will not be a sudden rise of women to executive positions in the top corporations; Silicon Valley firms will still hire more men than women; and media commentators will still believe it’s appropriate to critique a woman’s fashion choices instead of her policy statements when she gives a speech.
Golda Meir was one of the most powerful leaders of Israel and Margaret Thatcher one of the notable British leaders of recent years, but as we look at the pictures of powerful leaders in Israel and England today, the women are notably absent (except for Scotland, of course, which carries on its independent ways). The election of Hillary Clinton will not change the entire fabric of women’s position in society, but if it happens, it will be an important step toward the eventual goal of having every individual given a fair and equal place in the world.
Meanwhile be sure to read Gail Collins’s column!