Note: This is an update to a post originally published in October 2016.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a lot of different things: a doctor, a lawyer, a ballerina, a singer, and on my days off, a worker at McDonald’s. Clearly I also harbored a secret desire to be a Time Lord, since I imagined I could do all of these things at once. Throughout this election season, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Big One, that one job I wanted more than any other. I wanted to be the first female President of the United States.
As a child, I didn’t see the deeper, frustrating implications of that statement. I recognized that we only ever had male Presidents, and so I decided that I would be President and that I’d be the first female to do so. Beginning and end of story. It wasn’t until I was in high school, and starting to understand politics and elections, that I began to grasp how unfortunate my dream was. The dream itself isn’t so bad, as long as one has the right reasons for seeking the presidency. The unfortunate part is that we are 244 years into our democratic republic. Only in the last four years did we finally field a female major party nominee for President. She was so close to the White House, only to lose because of the combined forces of racism and sexism (to put it simply).
When I first reflected on this, it was 2016, and I would be eligible to run within 8 years. It fit within a 10-year plan. Now, I will be eligible in the next cycle. I could start building campaign infrastructure today. And this week, the final viable female candidate for President withdrew from the race. (They tell me Tulsi Gabbard is still “in,” but her campaign’s been dead in the water for months.)
Ladies in the club
That’s well worth repeating. We have had one woman become a major party nominee for President in 244 years. To see just how far we lag behind in the female head of state/government department, I consulted the thoroughly unacademic yet still informative Wikipedia. Here are just a few of the countries that are ahead of us on this particular leadership development:
- Ceylon/Sri Lanka: Sirimavo Bandaranaike, 1960
- India: Indira Gandhi, 1966
- Israel: Golda Meir, 1969
- Argentina Isabel Martinez de Peron, 1974
- Central African Republic: Elisabeth Domitien, 1975
- Portugal: Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo, 1979
- United Kingdom: Margaret Thatcher, 1979
- Dominica: Eugenia Charles, 1980
- Iceland: President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, 1980
- Norway: Gro Harlem Brundtland, 1981
- Malta: Agatha Barbara, 1982
- Philippines: Corazon Aquino, 1986
- Pakistan: Benazir Bhutto, 1988
And that’s only before 1990! Some female heads of state (not counting monarchs who inherited their crown) go back even further. And there are many countries that are still not represented on the full list, where women have even fewer rights. However, there are many countries that are supposedly “less advanced” than the U.S. on that list. For all our claimed values and advancement, it’s highly problematic that our politics have evolved enough to accept a female candidate for the highest office in our nation only in the last decade. Worse, that principle only lasts until a woman actually tries to put it into practice.
Dear younger me…
When I first wrote this piece, I mostly wanted to give my inner child some comfort. Little Me, I wrote, you had no way of knowing when you made your audacious claim to be the first woman President that the premise itself was so sad. You couldn’t know that you would almost be eligible when someone else would claim the title. Or that, as a 30-year-old mother of a daughter, you would only be sad that it took us so long to get here. Take comfort that we cast our ballot for the actual hopeful First Female President(TM). Be hopeful about the polls that show that dream is within reach. Get excited for the massive ice cream sundae we’ll have as we watch the results come in on November 8th.
I don’t know what to say to younger me this time. I don’t know what to say to my daughter about how this country, this culture, sees her. I don’t have the hope I did in late 2019 with a field full of competent, dynamic women. I don’t have the hope I did on Monday, before Super Tuesday voters rejected the most competent of them all. I am angry, and I am sad.
And I guess I’ll have to run for President in 2024 after all.