This month we celebrate the 100th anniversary of a woman’s right to vote which became official in August 1920 when Tennessee became the 36th state to approve the 19th Amendment more than a century after our Bill of Rights was ratified.
Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt worked day and night to secure a woman’s right to vote.
Other women influencers you may recognize are Abigail Adams, Eliza Pinckney, Mercy Otis Warren, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Betty Friedan, Hillary Clinton and many others.
So how long will it take for the U.S. to elect a woman president? Inevitable?
Perhaps the answer lies in the structure of American politics, the family dynamics in our decisions, the shifting attitudes of voters, and the women candidates themselves.
In a recent Pew survey, 58% of women are paying closer attention to politics since the outcome of the 2016 election, compared with 46% of men. Compound that with the current coronavirus which highlights more women are working and heads of households, many without paid sick leave, inadequate health insurance or none, and childcare issues. What happens to their families if they get sick?
Why is the world’s most powerful democracy still among the 60% of countries that have never been led by a woman?
Farida Jalalzai, professor of Political Science at Oklahoma State, has found that female leadership worldwide has been mainly “through appointment within a parliamentary system not popular election. Here in the U.S., our presidency is associated with masculine roles like Commander in Chief, tough talk, masculine body language, and NOT collaboration and compromise which are viewed as the “feminine” mode of governance.”
A cross-cultural study by Susan Fiske and Peter Glick, both of Princeton University, found universal gender prejudices. “Men almost universally have higher status than women. Peter Glick likens this tension in male-female relationships as a “protection racket.” Women who rebel – feminists, lesbians, and ambitious professional women – are punished. Women who cooperate with men and support that higher status are rewarded or protected. This “protection racket” maintains order in the family – peace and stability.”
The study also found “as society changes by becoming more inclusive, a racial, ethnic or religious group’s place in society can change without disrupting our family arrangements. But with gender, people can’t seem to change their assumptions about men’s and women’s roles without disrupting family life.”
Susan Bordo, Gender Studies professor at the University of Kentucky, has found that for centuries “women in politics have faced a classic double bind. For example, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) felt she had to convince her subjects that she had the ‘heart and stomach of a king’ AND promote herself as ‘a loving, maternal figure’ and treat all her English subjects as her children.”
Dr. Bordo continues, “History suggests that perhaps the biggest obstacle to a woman aspiring to the highest office in the land is simply that she is NOT a man. In every era, in every culture, as French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir has pointed out, a man is the norm, and women are defined by their differences to a man. This is accentuated by our visual images and expectations for our head of state.”
Marcia Chatelain, professor of African American studies at Georgetown University, weighs in. “By 2013, after the election of America’s 1st black president and selection of Francis to lead the Catholic Church, a Jesuit pope, I thought that Hillary would win because her opponent was so risky, so inept, so morally bankrupt that I expected the nation to suppress its sexism.” Obviously, that did not happen.
Until we make sexism – the prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination based on gender – a public issue as important as voter suppression, or Russian interference in our elections, we are unlikely to have the greeting, Madame/Mademoiselle President.
We have seen many countries overcome this “hard glass ceiling.” Bandaranaike in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Peron in Argentina, Finnbogadottir in Iceland, Ghandi in India, Meir in Israel, Thatcher and May in the United Kingdom, Aquino in the Philippines, Bhutto in Pakistan, Robinson of Ireland, and Merkel in Germany.
Inevitable in the U.S.?
Democrats think so – but with Warren dropping out, not this year.
Marshall Ward is a Murray resident who is a member of the Democratic Party. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. n