Britain 3, America 0
Perhaps you didn’t notice, but back in November, Kamala Harris made history by becoming the first woman to hold presidential power.
OK, it was only for an hour and a half. But still.
Joe Biden temporarily — very temporarily — transferred executive power to his vice president when he was preparing for a colonoscopy. That involved being under anesthesia, and you do not want the country being run by a guy whose brain is asleep, even if we experienced four years of that in the very recent past.
But really, people. This should at least be a reminder of how far we haven’t come. Our country is 246 years old, and that translates into something like 2,160,000 hours. One and a half of which have been under a woman’s direction.
It’s a little embarrassing when we hear the news from London that Liz Truss just became the new prime minister. She’s the third woman chosen to run the government in Britain. In the United States the number is:
A. One — Hillary really won! Really, she won!
B. Two — I am counting that day with Kamala Harris, plus I think we could throw in that time in Salem when the head witches took over.
C. Gee, guess we’re still waiting.
The country doesn’t even seem all that comfortable with women governors. Right now, only nine of our states are headed by a female executive, and four of the women first stepped into the job after the guy who was elected resigned, for reasons ranging from an ambassadorship to, well, Andrew Cuomo.
We’re not doing terrific on the legislative side, either: A quarter of our senators are women, and about 28 percent of the members of the House are. After the midterms that could get worse. “It looks like under most likely scenarios we’ll have fewer women in the House and Senate next year,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who’s been a hurricane of fund-raising action for Democratic candidates, told me.
Still, American voters find it much easier to imagine a female member of Congress than a female chief executive. “The stereotypes about women’s leadership are more in line with legislatures,” said Debbie Walsh of the Center for American Women in Politics. The problem, Walsh suggested, is that women are seen as good at getting along with other people but not necessarily at running things.
In Britain, where the prime minister is typically the leader of the majority party, the getting-along part is perhaps more valued. The two previous women in the job, like Truss, were Tories: Margaret Thatcher for 11 years, beginning in 1979, and Theresa May, who led the government from 2016 to 2019.
Thatcher was known as “the Iron Lady” and remembered, among other things, for the conflict in the Falkland Islands, a lesson to all other heads of state that the best possible way to win a war is in less than 10 weeks.
We do not dwell on May’s regime much, but it did include a campaign against illegal immigrants with ads warning them to “go home or face arrest” and an image of handcuffs.
She also once wore a T-shirt that read, “This is what a feminist looks like.” Hmmm.
Of course, nobody wants to see just any woman running the United States. But there are plenty of female politicians with just as much leadership potential as any man. And the fight for equality has to go on until they have an equal shot at the presidency.
Breathe deep and let’s see what’s happened in our history so far. And ignore the fact that there are chapters in even the most stirring story that aren’t inspiring. “Ma” Ferguson of Texas was one of the first American women to be elected governor — in 1924 after her husband was impeached. She went on to make her mark by pardoning an average of 100 criminals a month during her first term, in what appeared to be a freedom-for-a-fee system.
OK, back to the plus side: How about Margaret Chase Smith, who valiantly stood up to the crazed red-baiting of Joe McCarthy in the Senate when all her colleagues were quivering under their desks? In 1964 Smith held the very reasonable opinion that she’d make a better president than the likely Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater. She also thought it was time to “break the barrier against women being seriously considered for the presidency.”
Yeah, that was 58 years ago. Still waiting.
Smith’s battle wasn’t a real test of how well a woman candidate could do, unless you presume said candidate could overcome minimal campaign funds, along with an unfortunate tendency to stress her recipe for blueberry muffins. But she’s definitely someone you’d like to think of as leading the way.
And Hillary Clinton, who got the most votes in 2016, but was thwarted by our, um, unique Electoral College system, which presumes that every 193,000 people in Wyoming deserve the same clout as around 715,000 people in California.
Gillibrand, who once made a brief try for the presidential nomination herself, is confident she’s going to see a woman in the White House during her lifetime. “There’d better be — I’m hoping in the next 10 years.”
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