[building] We go to school and live in a state where women rule (if not in the all-encompassing sense, then at least in the literal way.) We’ve got Lou Anna K. Simon as our prez, Jennifer Granholm (D – Mich.) as our governor and Debbie Stabenow (D – Mich.) as one-half of a kickin’ Senate duo. Plus, women all over the state rose arms with family members in only a way that politicians can (you know, the awkward two-armed victory response.) Gretchen Whitmer (D – Mich.) and Terri Lynn Land (R – Mich.) are two examples that a change in the political tide might be getting closer and closer, at least in Michigan. And throughout the nation, women are gaining more leadership roles. Political fireball Nancy Pelosi (D – Calif.) is now Speaker of the House – the first woman to hold the position. But does the U.S. have what it takes to really nominate a woman for president and is the world ready for the most powerful leader of the free world to be a-gasp!-woman?
If our current leader, George W. Bush, is any indication of a male perspective regarding women in high positions, then we should all cringe. In response to Nancy Pelosi’s impending approval as Speaker of the House, he said, “I shared with her the names of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the new drapes in her new office.” All kidding aside (and really, Dubya, you’re not that funny), the appointment of a female Speaker is a big gain for women – and society, in general – everywhere. Not only is she the first Speaker of the minority gender, but if either Bush or vice president Dick Cheney were unable to fulfill presidential duties, then Pelosi would become the first female president in the U.S. (Similar to Gerald Ford’s appointment in 1973 after Richard Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew’s resignation with Watergate scandals.) How’s that for girl, nay, woman power?
Currently, there are 86 women represented in Congress: 70 in the House, and 16 in the Senate. But still, that means only 16 percent of our representatives are female (there are 535 total members in both branches) in a country where over 50 percent of the population is female. The first woman in Congress was Jeanette Rankin in 1917, three years before the 19th Amendment allowing women the right to vote. Coincidentally Rankin was from Montana, where women had been voting for a few years already.
So, is this a sudden surge of female representatives, or are we still a long way off? You won’t hear many people complaining that there are too many women being elected, but one of the biggest media focuses in this year’s midterm elections was the gender of many of our candidates. “I think it’s awesome, not just for women, but when anyone gets active and involved in social issues,” English sophomore Julia Allen said. “Everyone complains, but what do they do about it?”
However, some question whether it really should be about women or not. Jon James, an English and creative writing sophomore, said that gender shouldn’t matter in this situation, and it should be mainly focused on whether or not the candidate is good. James said he didn\’t think someone should be elected to the presidency just because of her gender. “I would hate to see someone nominated for race or gender,” he said.
The Other Clinton in ‘08
And then there\’s the excitement surrounding Hillary Clinton and her supposed bid for the 2008 presidential election. Will she or won’t she? If she does, who will support her? Should we vote because she’s a woman or because she’s the best there is?
Penny Gardner, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of women, gender and social justice studies, said that it’s about time a woman was talked about for the highest political position in the United States. “I think a viable candidate that is female for president is really important to the women movement and for those who fought for equality for all,” Gardner said.
Although much of the speculation is focused on Clinton, most agree that any chance for a woman to be in office is a step in a good direction. Both Allen and James said they wouldn’t vote for a candidate because of his or her gender. James thinks Clinton’s political stances are too fragile for the Democrat party to stand on, and thinks she is getting a biased fanbase. [jon]“The main appeal of Hillary [Clinton] is because she’s a woman,” James said.
But Allen said she would support Clinton if she were to run, “I wouldn’t want to vote for anyone based on gender. But I think I would back Hillary personally because she would take more liberal stands, that I agree with.”
Lydia Weiss, the director of Women’s Council and a sociology junior, with a specialization in women, gender and social justice, also said she’d vote for Clinton, but thinks that her gender makes her even more appealing.
“It’s a really tricky position, running a woman – it’s the most powerful and symbolic thing that the Democrat party can do,” Weiss said. “I don’t know a lot about the stances of her, but I’ll vote for her either way. I think she will do well.”
Weiss finds it more of an issue that having women in office – and top offices, at that – is the most important thing to bring awareness of the unbalanced genders to the forefront. “They wouldn’t have her running if she wasn’t the best – she won’t be used as a token, but as a good politician,” Weiss said.
Others, however, think that a woman in 2008 might not even happen.
“I think we’ll see a woman president in our lifetime, but maybe not in ’08,” Marissa Yardley, an English and creative writing junior, said. Yardley is optimistic about the idea of a female leader, but isn’t sure the country has changed quite enough to do so.
“People just want to get Bush out, so they might stick closer to what we’re used to,” Yardley said. In other words, they\’d vote for a male leader.
Weiss is not as optimistic, either, and said that the next election will really show whether or not the tides are changing toward a more balanced ticket. “It’s hard to tell [about women becoming less of a minority],” Weiss said. “2008 will really determine if this was a fluke happening.”
Is Talking About Women a Moot Point By Now?
Some argue that there shouldn’t be such a big discussion about having women in power because it goes against the equality that women are striving for. Others say that we still don’t live in a gender-less (nor race-less, religion-less, sexual orientation-less) society, so it’s consequential to talk about.
[lydia4]“It should not be a big deal that it’s a woman, and shouldn’t be emphasized that someone should be elected for gender,” James said. “I think women could be better at certain positions, and men are better at others. Like, Secretary of Defense [seems like more of a male job.]”
Yardley, thinks, though, that announcing the gender of a candidate and talking about women in these higher positions is fine. “I think it’s very important to talk about,” Yardley said. “Everything can be a feminist issue. That’s how we think. You can’t hide it [that she’s a woman]. You automatically start making judgments about it.”
Gardner agrees that it needs to be talked about. “I think it needs to be discussed,\” she said. \”If we don’t acknowledge our success [as women], no one will.” She said it’s “important for those in the non-dominate culture to recognize and be informed of all our successes.”
Weiss said she wishes that discussion about a candidate’s gender could be gone, and that we could just focus on the key issues, but until we live in a classless, sexless, raceless society, these points will still matter. “I’m getting sick of hearing ‘the first woman to …’,” Weiss said. “Women are seen as having a gender and men aren’t. [Talking about women] also shows progress, and it’s important to realize women are making advances and if you ignore it, then advances are ignored, too. I wish it was a moot point – we don’t say ‘the first man to stay home…’ we still live in this world with discrimination.”
Furthering a More Gender-Equal Education
[penny]What also is important is fueling an education, starting in elementary school, that shows more of female power in history, Gardner said. “There’s no place for women who aren’t stellar, but there are for men,” Gardner said in response to top female leaders like Granholm, MSU president Simon and U of M president Mary Sue Coleman as being the best of the best. “We have to work twice as hard, for half as much.”
Gardner also said that the role of women in learning history is pretty much non-existent. “I definitely believe that we are written out of history,” she said.
And most agree that much of the education we receive, especially in our formative years, cater to a male perspective. “Kids growing up hear about kings, male presidents, but you’ll spend two minutes talking about suffrage,” Yardley said.
Weiss said that the issue of women as role models is so important because it helps to foster good ideals for both genders at a young age. “We should start acknowledging what women have done for the world,” she said. She went on to say that the literature students read at an early age focuses mainly on the male perspective and doesn\’t cater to a more equal world. “You don’t learn about that because history books are in the patriarchal system,\” Weiss said. \”Showing women are strong and capable will be encouraging girls to do this. Everything is so engrained in society and there are many fronts and battles that need to be re-fought to encourage women.”
[girl]But James said he doesn’t agree with the idea of trying to incorporate more female events in teaching history and other subjects in school. “That creates more of a problem – it says that there’s a separate history if you just put women there [in history books],” he said. James also said that \”focusing on differences only makes it worse.”
So, what kind of headway have we really made? Although much of America can agree that we are at the point when women in these types of roles are becoming more common, it is still a hot topic for the country to discuss.
Hillary in ’08? Don’t count on it just yet… let’s get through these next two years and then take a look at the candidates. While many say they’ll vote for her because she’s a strong female candidate, there are still a large number of people with qualms about her actual politics and the fact that since she’s a woman, she’s garnering a lot of attention.
Regardless of your political stance, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that women have been a minority throughout our entire history, and still remain as such. Once we learn how to incorporate women into the majority and leave the minority, women will finally have something to cheer about.