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EQUAL = EQUAL
“I have the right to be president and mommy”
There’s much speculation that we’ll have a woman running for president of the United States as early as 2008. According to a Siena College Research Institute survey, 81 percent of voters across the country are ready to vote for a woman for president, 62 percent say the country is ready for a woman president, and 52 percent of voters feel that a president’s gender wouldn’t matter when it came to foreign affairs.
In the 86 years we’ve been able to vote, only one woman has been on a major party ticket: Geraldine Ferraro as running mate to Walter Mondale in 1984. “Even God herself couldn’t have changed that outcome with the Reagan ticket,” Ferraro says, reflecting on that election. “But I’ll tell you, if a woman were president today, we wouldn’t be at war in Iraq. And though the administration didn’t cause Hurricane Katrina, a woman would have responded differently—the response would have been immediate, with much more empathy, and the guys who screwed up would have been fired immediately.”
In her book Closing the Leadership Gap, White House Project founder Marie Wilson quotes the Rev. Patricia Kitchen: “For over 200 years, the United States has been steered by male leadership who tend to lead from a self-centered, self-preservation perspective. Women around the world are inclined to lead, their families and nations, from an other-centered perspective.”
“For the most part women are much more collaborative and inclusive,” Washington governor Christine Gregoire said. “Women won’t just announce a decision—it’s going to be done this way or that way. We have the attitude of ‘Let’s try to talk through the issues,’ which avoids confrontation and controversy. That’s my style and I’ve observed it in a lot of women.”
“Outsiders often bring clarity of vision, as well as a sense of discovery and innovation,” Anna Quindlen wrote in her “Last Word” column for Newsweek’s special report on how women lead. “Women are not the only ones capable of this. But the difficulties they’ve encountered while seeking representation and respect may provide the steel and strength needed to embrace change. You’re less wedded to the shape of the table if you haven’t been permitted to sit at it.”
At the table of leaders and decision makers, we remain outsiders. For every ten men in executive roles in this country there is only one woman, a number that has changed little in twenty years. As for those who sit in judgment of the cases that establish legal precedent in this country, there are 629 male federal judges, 199 female. And in the history of our country 98.25 percent of our senators have been men.
What has this male dominated leadership decided? That they’ll let us know what we can and can’t do. Instead of making it easier on women, the Bush administration has made decisions that have made
being a woman even harder. During this administration, child care programs have been underfunded and undermined, making such drastic cuts that only one out of seven children eligible for federal child care assistance receives help. By the Bush administration’s own estimates, this change will result in 300,000 children losing child care assistance by 2009. This isn’t helping children, this isn’t helping women, and this isn’t helping our society.
This administration’s tax cuts have also affected women and children. In addition to the drastic cuts in child care programs, programs such as housing subsidies, Pell grants to help pay for college, and aid to state and local governments have been slashed in order to pay for these cuts. The average tax cut for millionaires was about $113,000 in 2003, five times the income that a typical single mother with children lives on for an entire year.
Think that’s bad? According to the National Women’s Law Center, it gets worse:
• The administration ended the equal pay initiative and has removed all materials on narrowing the wage gap from the Department of Labor’s website. The Department of Justice has also dropped cases challenging sex discrimination in employment.
• The Department of Education has “archived” all Title IX guidance on preventing sexual harassment in schools, making it unavailable to administrators and parents trying to protect children from sexual harassment.
• The administration has placed individuals hostile to women’s interests on advisory bodies, such as those responsible for domestic violence and reproductive health.
• The administration proposed cutting funding to emergency shelters, crisis hotlines, and other domestic violence services to 26 percent below previously authorized levels.
• The administration’s plan to “restructure” Medicaid, changing it from an entitlement program to a block grant, will result in more women without health insurance.
• For the first time in history, states can now deny contraception and family planning services to poor women.
• The administration has backed laws criminalizing abortion, while cutting out family planning programs vital to women’s health.
• Medical research is being undermined and scientific information distorted to serve an anti-abortion and anti-family- planning agenda. For example, the National Cancer Institute posted information on its website that falsely suggested there’s a link between abortion and breast cancer.
“The administration’s policies are reversing progress for women and girls across the board,” Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said. “The few positive steps the administration has taken to help women are overshadowed by the overwhelming number of proposals that hurt them.”
Perhaps most troubling is the fact that President Bush has appointed to the Supreme Court and federal courts judicial nominees who oppose critical rights for women and girls. Since federal judges are appointed for life, they have the opportunity to affect generations. Justice Antonin Scalia, for example, who has consistently voted against the protections of Roe v. Wade, was appointed by President Reagan in 1986, when Scalia was fifty. It should not go unnoticed that President George W. Bush has consistently appointed younger, conservative judges.
His new appointments to the Supreme Court (two males—age fifty and fifty-five—to replace one male and one female) have consistently opposed women’s rights, and their judicial philosophies seem against our progress toward equality. During his years as a legal adviser to President Reagan, new chief justice John G. Roberts Jr. opposed legal and legislative attempts to strengthen women’s rights, questioning “whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good” and disparaging “the purported gender gap.” In internal memos to Reagan that surfaced during his confirmation hearings, Roberts encouraged ignoring the Equal Rights Amendment that was pending in Congress and said that directing employers to give equal pay to women as men in jobs of “comparable worth” was “staggeringly pernicious” and “anti-capitalist.”
As a Justice Department attorney, Justice Samuel Alito (President Bush’s replacement for Sandra Day O’Connor) wrote a memo laying out a proposal for the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade. On the bench, Judge Alito voted in favor of upholding a provision in the 1982 Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act that required married women considering an abortion to notify their husbands. Judge Alito’s opinions in sexual discrimination and sexual harassment cases demonstrated his desire to make it easier for judges to dismiss cases before they ever get to a jury, and he wrote the Third Circuit decision that Congress did not have the power to require state governments to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act. Fortunately, three years later the Supreme Court disagreed. But now he’s one of them.
TAKING THE LEAD
Around the world, women are proving that we do make a difference when we’re in positions of power. Court TV’s Catherine Crier recalled a women’s seminar she moderated during which several members of Congress, writers, and businesswomen were asked what they’d do if they were president of the United States. “Asked to summarize at meeting’s end, I said that all the participants described their issues and policies in terms of ‘stewardship.’ None of them talked about manipulating power for power’s sake or acquiring money or influence. I do believe this is a female perspective—one the world needs desperately. Women truly think in terms of future generations and the vast majority would put more effort into addressing education, health care, and poverty. Imagine women working to preserve the environment and therefore pushing energy independence and freedom from fossil fuels. Imagine how they would negotiate issues of war and peace before sending their sons and daughters into battle.”
Though no woman has ever been nominated, we do have the right to be president of the United States—well, sort of. Article 2, section 1, clause 5 of the Constitution states: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.” (Clause 1 says: “He shall hold his Office during the Term of four years.” Presumably the eight males and one female of the Supreme Court will recognize the use of he in the generic sense.)
The White House Project, an organization dedicated to fostering the entry of women into leadership positions, including the presidency, and CosmoGirl! magazine have established an internship to groom seven ambitious young women for the chance to run in the presidential election of 2024. But that’s five elections away. What about now in this country? Isn’t it time? Hillary? Condoleezza? Kay Bailey Hutchison? Susan Collins? Or maybe a political outsider such as Oprah? Oprah, in an essay entitled “How I Got There” that she wrote for Newsweek, described the secret to her success: “I’m always aiming for the truth. I relate to the core of everyone’s pain and promise. I understand that the common denominator in the human experience from the thousands of people that I’ve talked to is that everybody just wants to be heard.”
And perhaps that’s what our first woman president will do differently than the men before her: she will listen. A woman as commander in chief would certainly go a long way to help regain some of our losses in Supreme Court representation and in other areas of government. Looking at women leaders around the world, their tenures suggest a lot about how a female president might approach the job:
In Chile, President Michelle Bachelet Jeria created a balanced cabinet of ten men and ten women, fulfilling her campaign promise. The fifty-five-year-old divorced mother of three ran on the platform of creating balance. Bachelet’s first three months in office were spent working on thirty-six measures she had promised to implement during her first one hundred days as president. They ranged from simple presidential decrees, such as reducing the age for free health care from sixty-five to sixty, to guaranteeing day care services for all preschool children in the neediest forty percent of the population.
The president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, sixty-three, has approval ratings that hover around 88 percent. She has been a strong supporter of human rights, international solidarity, and pacifism, and she’s already being mentioned as a possible United Nations secretary general.
When Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, sixty-eight, assumed the presidency of Liberia, the divorced mother of four boys and grandmother of six immediately cracked down on corruption. She fired all officials appointed by the former government and announced that civil servants would all be thoroughly investigated. To address the rape epidemic in that country, one of her first actions was to pass a law that made rape illegal.
Mary McAleese, the fifty-five-year-old president of Ireland, ran on the theme of “building bridges” and has been welcomed in Northern Ireland by both Catholics and Protestants. The president of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, is hugely popular. The seventy-year-old was pivotal in improving relations with foreign countries, joining NATO and the European Union. Her approval ratings have ranged between 70 and 85 percent.
The president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a practicing economist, made the economy the focus of her presidency. She’s implemented out-of-the-ordinary solutions to economic policy, such as her “holiday economics” program, under which the government adjusts holidays to form longer weekends. Her theory was that the long weekends would allow people to spend more time with their families and boost the economy by promoting domestic travel and tourism. Economic growth in the Philippines under her leadership has been record-breaking. Inflation there is the lowest since 1986 and the annual growth in the gross domestic product, 4.6 percent, is almost a percentage point higher than under any other president.
Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand brought in significant changes to the welfare system and child tax credits in her “Working for Families” package. Her government has also changed industrial relations law and raised the minimum wage six times in as many years.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has the highest approval ratings recorded for a chancellor since 1949. Many economic commentators have referred to the “Merkel factor,” which has caused a rapid rise in consumer confidence and market spending.
Women such as Portia Simpson-Miller, prime minister of Jamaica, and Khaleda Zia, prime minister of Bangladesh, are making a difference for the poor and the oppressed in their countries. Simpson-Miller has been an advocate for those in Jamaica who have historically been voiceless and faceless in the corridors of power, namely, women and the poor. Zia instituted compulsory free primary education in Bangladesh and, though she is the mother of two boys, she has given girls the chance, for the first time, to receive a free education up until the tenth grade, including a stipend for food.
Yes, it would be great to have a woman president—not just to say we have a woman on the job but because she’ll recognize that what women need, we all need. But let’s get real. Not every woman wants to be president, nor does every man. Actually, many women don’t want a job outside their home at all, considering the monumental task of raising kids to be quite enough. Society and other women should applaud whichever role we star in—as long as we’ve chosen that role and not been forced into it by societal expectations, lack of support, or biases.
Why, then, does it seem that men in this country are somehow better predisposed for leadership positions, such as CEO and president of the United States? Perhaps it’s because we have been made to believe it. In a 2004 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Do Women Lack Ambition?” psychiatrist Anna Fels made the point that women—far more than men—consider and reconsider a decision to pursue a goal and often abandon it, not because they aren’t ambitious but because societal norms tell women that they shouldn’t be.
Fels examined studies that explored attitudes toward women versus those toward men from preschool on; the discoveries are deeply troubling. One project studied fourth, sixth, and eighth grade classrooms and found that “teachers praise boys more than girls, give boys more academic help, and are more likely to accept boys’ comments during classroom discussions.” In another study of how women and men are viewed in the workplace, researchers asked two groups of people to evaluate items such as articles, paintings, and résumés, all clearly marked with either male or female names, but reversed for each group. In other words, what one group believed was originated by a man, the other group believed was originated by a woman. “Regardless of the items, when they were ascribed to a man, they were rated higher than when they were ascribed to a woman.”
From the Hardcover edition.