From Novelty to Reality: why is this so complicated?

On my most recent of many trips to the enormously wonderful Newseum in Washington, D.C., I spied this shirt in one of the gift shops. 

I want one, of course, but the biggest one is a girls size 10 and even if it would fit my daughter, she wouldn’t be caught dead in it, even though she is running for class president of her high school.    Is this tee-shirt  charming or a silly reminder that we are still “pretending” women can be president?  I still want the tee shirt, but seeing it hanging in the gift shop as a souvenir begs the question:   will we move from cute little token for little girls  to reality?  I don’t want my daughter to play “dress up” president.  I want her to really think she could be president. 

I’m working on a new book project, one that identifies women who could be president by virtue of their wealth, fame and political power. Though rhetorical style is a focus of the book, bad public speaking seems to have kept no one — male or female–out of the political fray.  Did you catch Harry Reid mocking Sarah Palin?  Neither one will go down in history for their eloquence.    This new project has me thinking  a lot about the question Dr. Ted Sheckels of Randolph Macon College posed to me at the National Communication Association Conference in November:  why don’t more women run?

This being Census season, I thought about the numbers:  According to the 2000 Census there are 137,916,186 men and  143,505,720 women in the United States and  more women than men vote.   Obviously women don’t just vote for women candidates, but it begs the question why more women aren’t able to be voted for, simply because there are more of them. 

I remember when I interviewed former Colorado congresswoman and 1988 presidential candidate Pat Schroeder she told me:  “the girls in my office just don’t want to get into the huddle.”  Is that it?  Only on a larger scale?  I mean, if you say to a man:  “you could be President” does he immediately go out and form an exploratory committee while most women respond if not vocally, internally, “who, me?”  Maybe women need more Presidential atty-tood?   Other possible reasons I’m sorting through include:  harsher media treatment than the men get; lack of role models–yes Hillary Clinton “almost won” but do women running for office see her as an outlier?  Do they silently think:  “I’m no Hillary Clinton?”  So much to think about.

 All around the world, but not in the United States. Why not Madam President?  I don’t know about you, but want more than just the novelty tee shirt.


1 Response to “From Novelty to Reality: why is this so complicated?”

  1. April 9, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    A wonderful new project and a knotty set of questions about why women don’t run. I can think of a lot of reasons I wouldn’t run: the merciless media scrutiny, the backroom deals that compromise the ability to make decisions on their real merit, the inability of influencers to address problems with a big picture and long term view, the partisanship and unwillingness to compromise, the self-servingness of politicians who just want to keep their jobs, the strong-arming…I think that’s enough. Running is one set of challenges that seem to lack much joy. Then what happens when you win and now you face the mess on another level? My hat’s off to those women commendable politicians who can swallow those bitter pills.

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