Against All Odds
Last week, when Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar suspended their presidential campaigns, you could hear a coast-to-coast collective sigh of female frustration. “Are we ever going to see a woman be elected president of the United States?”
I strongly believe we will. But not until (we) women make it so. As Elizabeth Warren said, “If you’re not willing to get out there and fight, nothing is going to happen.”
I don’t think there was a perfect presidential candidate. I’m not sure there ever is. So we’re down to three white male septuagenarians, all of whom are flawed (i.e. human), but certainly no more or less so than at least one of their six former female opponents. But apparently, the male candidates are flawed in ways not tied to their gender. With Elizabeth Warren, I kept hearing criticisms mostly reserved for women. She “sounded scolding,” “like a schoolmarm.” Hedge fund billionaire Leon Cooperman commented that when Warren spoke about him her tone was “as if chiding an ungrateful child.”
Even when The New York Times Editorial Board broke with convention and endorsed not one, but two women – Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar – they took issues with Warren’s demeanor. One male editor asked, “Do you find her a little patronizing?” Kathleen Kingsbury, Deputy Editorial Editor, who wrote the endorsement, chimed in. “It just comes off condescending. And there just is this risk in a lot of the ways she talks that if you don’t agree with her, you’re dumb.”
The Times endorsement ended with: “May the best woman win.” Not so fast.
When men take umbrage, they’re “indignant” or “defiant.” “Presidential” is the highest form of that characterization. I’ve never heard a male candidate accused of “sounding scolding,” or “like a schoolmarm.” Or worse, twisted into a monstrous portrayal of one’s mother. Is it possible that smart men make us feel safe and smart women make us feel dumb?
If electing a woman is so important to so many women, why didn’t we, as women, throw our collective support behind one? In 1960, when JFK defeated Nixon in the popular vote by only 100,000 or so votes, it is notable that he received 75% of the Catholic vote – which was critical. Likewise, when Obama defeated McCain by 51% to 47%, he was supported by non-whites in historic numbers, with 90% of registered black voters participating and at least 95% of them voting for Barack. Obama defeated McCain riding a wave of non-white voters, the preponderance of whom (95%) voted for the guy who “more looked like or seemed like them” as the polling phrased it at the time.
So why aren’t more women supporting women? After all, we have the right to vote. And while we may take that right for granted, the fact is, once upon a time the 19th Amendment guarantee was just a dream, too.
2020 marks the “Suffrage Centennial” – the 100th anniversary of the passage of that amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote. Only after years of suffragists risking everything for equality, like Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Lucy Stone, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton… and yes, even some men like Frederick Douglas, did it finally come to pass. And that was before women had the power to vote for their own cause.
My point is, women having the right to vote felt like it was out of reach, until it wasn’t. The odds of achieving anything that brings about monumental change, at any given moment, are slim. Everything can’t be done… until someone does it.
Consider the odds of some British upstarts taking up arms to challenge the King of England and creating the greatest nation on earth. No way. Putting a human on the moon. Yeah, right. A machine that can fly humans across the Atlantic? Not likely. That machine flown solo by a female pilot? Even less likely. Who thought a woman would ever be in a Grand Slam Final, post pregnancy? Serena Williams did. Who thought a woman could ever win the popular vote for US President? Hillary Clinton did. And she was right.
Thomas Edison said: “I know 60,000 ways not to make a lightbulb.” Everything can’t be done… until it can.
While we’ve not yet elected a woman president, we have no shortage of women leaders at every level of our nation, beginning with a most impressive list here at home. Our community is filled with women and men who understand, as we like to say at the MJ, that “doing well means doing good.”
I believe one day, not long from now, we will see the first woman president. But until then, there is important work being done by many women who, though they’ve not been elected president, are making a real difference.