"Mommy," asks seven-year-old Carter, "how come there has never been a boy president?" He peers earnestly at an online photo of group of all-female officials and lawmakers, standing in the Oval Office, watching proudly while the 45th President (also a woman) signs an Executive Order on her first day in office.
"Why, I don't know, Carter. I suppose it's just an accident of history," answers Mommy. And really, I think that things are pretty good now that 20 per cent of our political representatives are men. Men have made amazing progress in the last hundred years since they convinced women to allow them to vote!"
Carter persists: "But there was a really smart man running in the last election! Why didn't he win?"
"Oh, Harold Clinton! He didn't lose the election because he was a man, Carter. It was because he had just been around too long, and was married to that horrid woman; and besides, there was that e-mail scandal, and the terrorist attack on an embassy on his watch! He had no honesty; no integrity. It had nothing to do with him being a man."
It's unimaginable, isn't it?
In our world, boys take for granted that the world is their oyster. They assume that they can fill any position, aspire to any vocation. They see role models in action every single day of their lives. From the kings and conquerors of history to modern presidents, boys see no inherent obstacles to obtaining high public office.
But by the time a girl -- let's call her Clara -- is six or seven years old, she begins to see that it is not the case for her. Clara starts to hear phrases like "throws like a girl," "don't act like a girl," and "girls don't do those kinds of jobs" -- and then, bit by bit, she starts to see for herself that the people calling the shots -- the people with power and authority, the CEOs, the bosses -- are rarely female.
As that seven-year-old grows into a pre-teen, then a teen, and then a woman, Clara's dawning awareness of the world makes her understand just how much harder she will have to work. That if she is to make it in business, or in politics, that it will be an uphill battle; that she will not only need to be the alpha female, that she will need to be on her A game all the time, that she will need to grow a tough skin; of course, those things are all true of men as well. But she will need to do much, much more.
In addition to these things, Clara will need to ignore sexual harassment; she will need to confront chauvinism and sexist jokes; she will have to come to terms with the fact that her appearance, her voice, and her demeanour will be relentlessly critiqued; she will have to tolerate insinuations that she was promoted because of her looks (and if she is not considered attractive, because of whom she slept with). She will be told to smile when she is being "too serious" and she will be told to be more serious when she is laughing.
She will have to show up -- consistently -- on time and on budget, to demand that her presence be taken seriously, and act like she belongs in the room and at the table, even when that table is full of men.
When my nine-year-old daughter recently asked, "Mommy, why hasn't there been a woman president yet?" I paused; and paused, and paused again, before answering. simply that it has just taken a long time for women to be considered equal to men. I left it at that; she doesn't need to know so soon how much work there is still to be done. She doesn't need to start limiting herself already, in her own mind
Nearly 100 years after obtaining the vote, yes, women are less unequal than before. We now represent the majority in many previously all-male professions such as law and medicine. And the pay is also less unequal, although nowhere close to perfect (ask any female actor in Hollywood). Yet in the corridors of business and power, the levers of control are still almost exclusively in male hands.
And for anyone who says that sexism did not play a part in the last election, I would ask them this: can you imagine a woman named Donna Trump becoming the Republican presidential nominee; someone who does not read and does not understand or care about history, someone who has praised murderous dictators and attacked her own country's judiciary, someone who has used a false moral equivalency to put an oppressive regime such as Russia on par with America's liberal democracy, someone with five children from three different marriages, facing a long string of sexual assault and rape accusations, and who has, among other outrageous lies, used her celebrity status to perpetuate a conspiracy theory that a the first black president was not born in the U.S. Can we all just agree that this could never have happened?
What does it take to be a woman elected to be president in the most powerful nation on earth?
She must have both an academic and a social education, and an extensive experience in law or business, or both; successful, but not so much so that she can be labelled "elite,"; she must have only ever dated the man she is currently married to (her character and her past must be, like Caesar's wife, above reproach), she must have some experience in government, but not too much, lest she be considered to have "too much baggage." She must be well-spoken, well-read, impeccably briefed, not too mercenary or ambitious (but at the same time sufficiently motivated to do what it takes to win), and must not show emotion. Oh yes, and a great deal of money, the sources of which must be similarly unimpeachable.
At present we have a man whose own supporters often agree is uniquely unqualified to be in the White House. Out of half the population, if this is the best we can get, surely we cannot do worse from the other side, when the public standards and expectations for female politicians are so much higher.
For the sake of all our daughters, can we just elect a woman already? It is, after all, 2017.
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