What It Will Mean If She Wins
In the early days of the American Revolution Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way…if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion.” Well, the American Revolution lasted nearly eight years and Abigail’s ladies’ “rebellion” has lasted nearly two-and-a-half centuries. And it’s still going on.
In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon made the prediction that “…certainly in the next 50 years we shall see a woman President–maybe sooner than you think.” At the time a half-century seemed an impossible span to wait for a woman to be President. A handful of women (going back to 1872) of varying political views had already made the attempt, but none had achieved a major party nomination. If Hillary Clinton is elected President next Tuesday on the Democratic ticket, it will be 47 years since Nixon made his prediction, so he made an accurate — if not encouraging — call.
Back then, in a world dominated by “Mad Men,” women were given the message that the top job in the country was off the table for women, at least in the present century. But the other message women were receiving was pretty much top jobs anywhere were off the table for them. As a result, women joined the growing Women’s Liberation Movement (as it was called back then, and today referred to as the Second Wave of Feminism). I was eagerly drawn in by the early 1970s, and was especially inspired by the dynamic Gloria Steinem, one of the leaders of the Movement and one of my greatest heroes. Like other women, I became preoccupied with the goal of advancing myself professionally. Putting a woman in the White House would have to wait.
The 1980s brought a momentary blip of excitement on that front in the selection of Geraldine Ferraro as Vice President on the Democratic Ticket in the Presidential Election of 1984. But the Ticket was crushed by President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush. Still, Gerry Ferraro’s nomination gave women new hope and energy that there was a place at the political table for them.
In 1984, there were only two women in the Senate (out of 100) and 22 women in the House, including Gerry Ferraro (out of 435). Contrast that more than three decades later in 2016, with 20 women in the Senate and 84 women in the House (out of the same numbers in each Chamber). I strongly believe we ladies need to step up our game.
The Nineties brought us a new kind of First Lady in Hillary Clinton. “You know,” she said in an interview, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.” And with that she established herself as a no-nonsense full professional partner to her husband, the 42nd President. Well, Bill Clinton did say during his 1992 campaign that his election would give voters “two for the price of one.” Hillary was a controversial First Lady, however, because she simply did not fit the mold that had been created for First Ladies.
So while Hillary did do some redecorating of the White House her real focus was on solving problems for Americans. Health issues were her major interest and included reforming healthcare, encouraging older women to have mammograms, working to increase research funding at the NIH for prostate cancer and childhood asthma and investigating what came to be known as Gulf War Syndrome. Another of Hillary’s priorities was helping women to achieve equality and have the resources to better their lives, and she did her part for women worldwide by declaring in Beijing that “women’s rights are human rights,” and for women at home she created the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice. In addition, Hillary visited more countries on behalf of the American People than any other First Lady before her.
It was during this time that I realized that Hillary Clinton might well return to the White House as President herself someday. And one day sitting at our dining room table with my then very young daughter, going over the list of U.S. Presidents for a homework assignment, I was suddenly mortified that the list included only men. It made me so angry that my little girl had to see this list that did not include anyone of her or my gender, and I was fearful that it would send the message that this was a major career path closed to girls.
When the book by Myra and David Sadker, Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls, I immediately bought a copy and met with my daughter’s teacher and district administrators to urge awareness of ensuring fairness in the classroom. When the Ms. Foundation introduced Take Our Daughters to Work Day, I collaborated with my managers at work to let me establish a program for our company; and for the ensuing seven years my daughter and I created annual events for the daughters of employees that involved dozens of company women from secretaries to senior executive vice presidents. These were sophisticated but age-appropriate events that were instructive and inspirational to the girls and their adult facilitators. I would have done this anyway because that is who I am, but I was spurred on by that fateful day, sitting at the dining room table with my child and staring at more than two centuries worth of male U.S. Presidents.
2000, 2006, 2008 and Counting
Thus, when the new century dawned and Hillary declared her candidacy for Senator from New York, my home state, both my daughter and I volunteered for her campaign. After Hillary won, my daughter went to work in her Manhattan Senate Office as a student intern, witnessing up close Senator Clinton’s magnificent work in helping New Yorkers recover from the September 11 attacks. I was happy when Hillary was reelected to the Senate in 2006. I was elated when she declared her candidacy for President of the United States in 2008 and crushed when she lost. But I was greatly comforted by her concession speech, and encouraged when she accepted the appointment as Secretary of State, a post she left with the highest approval rating of her career. I was fairly confident that we had not seen her last run for the Presidency.
Then in the 2008 General Election, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin was selected to run as the Vice Presidential Candidate on the Republican Ticket. Although I did not share her political views I was gratified to see another women having a shot on a major party ticket.
And now we have arrived at Hillary’s encore Presidential run, during which she has faced a whole host of challenges ranging from accusations about the Benghazi attack and her handling of emails to a strong Primary challenger and the deviant behavior of her General Election opponent. Some believe that there has been sexism and discrimination against Hillary, and that would not be surprising considering women’s history. But through it all Hillary has maintained her composure, prowess and alacrity, and it appears that she might be on the brink of making history as the first woman to be elected President and Commander in Chief of the United States. If she wins, what will her Presidency mean for other women and girls?
Breaking the Highest, Hardest Glass Ceiling
It will certainly mean that a woman has broken “that highest, hardest glass ceiling,” figuratively speaking. It will also be a victory for all women that we can now plant our metaphorical flag on top of the White House. But beyond that, the occupation of the Office of the President of the United State means that the top job in the U.S. is on the table for women. For women of Hillary’s age, of my age, this has deep meaning. We lived through that period of change for women decades ago; we were part of the movement that paved the way for opportunities for today’s women. And those of us who are older and for whom it has taken a much longer time than it takes a man to reach the same rung on the corporate ladder, we understand that it has taken an extraordinary woman making an extraordinary effort to accomplish the amazing feat of being nominated on a major party ticket for President, let alone winning.
But, then it usually takes an extraordinary woman to make it to the top of any corporate structure, and in some industries it’s more difficult than others. But it shouldn’t be more challenging for a woman. The rules, standards and treatment should be applied fairly to both genders in politics, the workplace, social situations and in life in general.
A woman in the White House first and foremost will be a presence. We will see her going about business in places of power and authority: the Oval Office, Air Force One, the Rose Garden, the White House Lawn, the State Dining Room, delivering the annual State of the Union Address in the House of Representatives, and conducting state business in various places of importance around the world. Women and girls of all ages everywhere will see and witness Madam President’s power and authority, and it will in time become commonplace.
For girls and women who never thought or dreamed of attaining any position of authority, seeing a woman in the highest position in the land can be a positive influence on their own personal career paths. Not every woman, just as not every man, can be President, but women over time will realize that there are no limits to what they can pursue or ceilings on leadership positions to which they can aspire. They will view women in leadership positions at all levels as usual, not unusual.
Having a woman as President will inspire even the youngest girls to be confident in dealing with others, and interactions between girls and boys will become more equal and comfortable throughout the various stages of development. Feeling confident and equal can make a powerful difference in social, academic, relationship, family and career successes. Girls will still need guidance to navigate through the often dark waters of adolescent and there will still be bullies in school, on campus and in the workplace. But knowing that there are no limits to what they can achieve in a career because it’s been done can be life-changing in the most positive way.
But We Can’t Stop With One Shattered Glass Ceiling
If we find next Tuesday that we have elected the first woman in history to be President, for millions of women and men it will be a cause to celebrate. There may be a collective scream heard ’round the world. We have to make sure, however, that the ceiling that has been shattered is not replaced with a thicker glass construction. And the way we do that is to keep women rising through that opening. Hillary Clinton, if she is elected, must not be our one singular sensation in the Oval Office for another half century. There are many, many talented and able women in government, business, industry and non-profit — including our daughters and their daughters and daughters yet to come– who should be encouraged to follow in Hillary’s footsteps.
Finally, for eons it seems people have been saying that women should be running the world to get us out of the mess that men have made running the world. We have already seen that companies that have women in leadership positions throughout the organization have performed better than those that don’t. That means we need to elect more women to serve in Congress, Governorships, state, county, city and town positions, and appoint more women to Cabinet, the Supreme Court and key administrative positions. We need more women throughout government to ensure true balance and equality.
We are on the brink of a new era. Fasten your seat belts.
Until next time,