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Whether you're a fan of my OSCARBLOGGER site, or if you're just casting your way 'round the web, I hope you enjoy my new blog: WHISPERING IN A WIND TUNNEL. Here I will discuss issues of politics, religion, race, gay rights, gender, you know, the big stuff.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

WHY NO FEMALE PRESIDENT YET?

Julia Gillard


Earlier this month the New York Times ran an editorial on Julia Gillard, the first female prime minister of Australia; sadly, the latter part of her reign resulted in many blatantly misogynistic attacks on her by political enemies, and when she tried to call these attacks out, she was accused of igniting gender wars by the press (not unlike what conservative commentators said about President Obama when he publicly commented on the Trevon Martin case).  While it's a shame this woman had to suffer through such hostility (how bad did it get?  according to the Times, a local menu offered "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail — small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box.”),   on the other hand, at least she was able to pave the way for other women, as she herself put it, “What I am absolutely confident of is that it will be easier for the next woman and for the woman after that and the woman after that, and I’m proud of that.”  (On a side note, I'd also like to point out that Gillard is a childless, unmarried atheist, which means, woman or not, she wouldn't get be able to get  anywhere near the White House in America!).

There are currently 82 women in the US House of Representatives and 20 in the Senate, the highest numbers ever for women in congress.  But as a percentage of women in elected national office, that  number makes  only around 19%, putting America at a measly 70th. when compared with the rest of the world when it comes to female representation in national elected office.



And then there's the presidency, again, compared to other industrialized countries, the US lags behind, and even many third world countries like India and Nicaragua  have elected women as presidents or prime ministers.  The US has had only two serious female candidates for the office of Vice president in its history: Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008, both of whom, of course, lost.  And then there's Hillary Clinton, who came close to beating Barak Obama in the Democratic primary in 2008; it looks like she will run in 2016, and if she does, she very well may break the hold that men have had on the White House.
But why does that hold exist?  Why has no woman ever served as President in this country?  Is there something unique about America that causes it to reject the notion of a female president?  I think so: first, there's the issue of religion.  I've already mentioned before that America is the most religious first world country, but it's not just that, it's also the country where religious fundamentalism is at its most powerful. Evangelical Christians make up around 25% of the country's population, but they hold majorities in some states, and groups like The Christian Coalition and The Family Research Council still have a strong influence on the Republican party, especially in the South.  So we have people who believe in the inerrant word of the bible influencing politics in this country, and as anybody who has read it knows, the bible is chock full of misogyny; whether its authors were ancient shepherds or God almighty, one thing is for sure, the book is a product of its time, and that was a time when women were second class citizens at best.  
The sexism of the bible begins in the very first story, with Eve biting the forbidden apple first, and being cursed by God thusly (Genesis 3:16) "In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."  This continues in other parts of the bible, such as (I Timothy 2:12) "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man." And (Ephesians 5:22) "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord."  In a modern interpretation of the bible, televangelist and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson said in 1992 "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women...It is about a Socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy Capitalism and become lesbians" (!).  Laugh all you want at Robinson's absurdly over the top statement, but remember that this is a man who has sat with Presidents and influenced elections in this country.


Nobodies don't wind up on this cover

Therefore, it would not be out of line to say that the sexism found in the bible has had a negative effect on the support for a female President in this country.  But there is another important issue: after World War II, while Europe went about rebuilding its bombed out cities, America, which had faced no attacks on its home front,  became the logical country to stand up to the growing threat of Communism in the USSR  and other countries.  This led to the massive US military build up of the cold war; when the Soviet Union finally collapsed in the late 1980's, America became the world's largest military power.  Today, the country's defense spending is still the highest in the world, and at around $680,000,000 a year,  it more than doubles second place China.  So America's armed forces are the world's largest by far, and remember that the President is constitutionally ranked as the "Commander  in Chief"  of those armed forces.  And let's face it, a female candidate is going to be considered by many voters as  less likely to be an effective commander than a male candidate.  In other countries, with smaller militaries, this isn't as much of an issue, but in the last remaining super power, it inevitably is.  Although history has given us female leaders who have used their militaries (like English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher invading the Falklands Islands in 1982), I think the stereotype of the "weak" woman still exists.

Hillary Clinton definitely seems aware of this, which may lead to her victory in 2016.  When she was serving in the Senate under President George W Bush, she voted in favor of the Iraq war, knowing that if the war was a success, her vote against it would be seen as a sign of weakness down the road (ironically, that vote came back to haunt her, and may be the main reason why she isn't President right now).  In another telling moment during the primary campaign with Obama, she was asked what she would do if Iran ever attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, and she replied, "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them. That's a terrible thing to say but those people who run Iran need to understand that, because that perhaps will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish and tragic."  The fact that she used the harsh term "obliterate" was no mistake; she knew that she needed to look tough.  Not that this will definitely work; with Clinton  we are sure to see coded (and not so coded) sexist comments from conservative pundits attacking her as being too weak to properly defend the country.  Conservatives have always attacked Democratic candidates as not being strong enough, and having a Democratic female candidate will be an irresistible target for the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world.  
Whether those attacks prove to be effective remains to be seen. One thing is for sure,  as religion becomes less of an issue in this country, and the cold war (and even the war on terror) becoming more of a memory, the two hurdles facing a female Presidential candidate I mentioned above are becoming less potent than they once were, and America will have a female President sometime in the near future. And more than likely, whether good or bad, Republican or Democrat, the rest of the world will be saying one thing: "It's about time."

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