A Madame President would advance more than just politics

Avery is a rising sophomore who is interning at Legal Momentum this summer.

I believe we need a female president because I think it is one of the best ways to change perceptions of gender norms. If future generations grow up hearing adults refer to the leader of our country as “she,” this would have a significant impact on what they grow up believing women are capable of. When we learn about our country’s history as kids, and see that it is made up almost entirely of men (in regards to leadership positions in government), this naturally affects how we see what is commonly expected of men, and therefore what isn’t commonly expected of women.

I think that the structure of government, businesses, families, and organizations in general affect our perception of gender more than we realize. We observe so much as kids, and these observations shape our view of the world. The majority of the time, we view white men making laws and minority men being arrested on the news, while we see mostly women doing shopping in the grocery store. No one explicitly tells us that white men typically have more power, minority men and women are typically subjected to poverty and end up in the dangerous neighborhoods, or that women typically cook and run the household. This is just what we see every day, and our minds are trained to categorize and therefore discriminate amongst the information we take in.

While education does a good job of highlighting a lot of the prejudices, it will never rid the mind entirely of discrimination. My supervisor at Legal Momentum, Lynn Schrafran, told us about an article she read about this mental process, and described how most of the time it’s a good thing. It enables us to learn, make connections, and even protect ourselves. But this “survival of the fittest”-type encoding leads to discrimination and stereotypes about the people around us, too. We deal with this a lot at the National Judicial Education Program. The majority of people discriminate everyday, but are not aware they are doing so. We aim to educate judges of these implicit biases, so they can better address them and also avoid making biased decisions in court.

This isn’t the final solution. This work is obviously valuable to our country’s judicial process, but it’s just another way of treating the symptom, rather than curing the disease. If we continue doing this and nothing else, we will forever being doing this work. Every new generation of judges will need to be taught again and again.

If we want permanent and lasting change, we need to stop a lot of these prejudices from forming in the first place. If we get more women into visible leadership roles, more minority men and women out of poverty, and more men helping out in the home, demographics will change, and new generations will begin making very different observations than the ones we made growing up. I can’t think of a leadership role more visible than that of President of the United States. Maybe the Pope, but that I really can’t see happening any time soon.

However, this doesn’t mean I plan on readily supporting any female willing to run for office. I would go so far as to say that if given the option of two poor candidates, I would support the male over the female, just because he is a man. The first female president needs to be great. If she’s not, there will be people out there ignorant enough to blame it on the fact that she is a woman. Even those people who aren’t ignorant will have their opinions of female leadership tainted if the first female president does an awful job. My idea of the perfect female candidate is someone who is confident of herself, articulate about where she stands on issues, but at the same time is compassionate and cooperative- traits commonly assigned to women. We need someone who is more than a woman who can act as a man; we need a woman who isn’t afraid to lead as a woman.

2 thoughts on “A Madame President would advance more than just politics

  1. I appreciate your candor about the question of gender and politics. I wondering what lessons you think feminists can learn from the experience of observing the performance of (as well as reactions to) the first elected African-American president?

  2. While discrimination and gender role stereotypes continue today, I am concerned about emphasizing selection of any leader based on gender. Rather than consider whether the US needs a female President, I’d like to address whether gender is a relevant consideration. Precisely because prejudices still exist, emphasis on gender has the potential to divide rather than unify people. It can polarize people who might otherwise be like-minded about substantive issues. It also deflects attention away from individual attributes of Presidential candidates such as character, experience, and political views. Several posts hint at the importance of these qualities in addition to gender. Indeed, I’d like to see gender de-emphasized so that people can clearly attend to issues such as social and economic justice, empowerment, and opportunity for all men, women, and children and consider candidates for President, or any leadership position, based on whether they have the mettle to carry out the job, irrespective of gender.

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