Lillie is interning at Third Wave Foundation this summer.
Do we need a female president? Does having a female president matter?
These are two questions that I struggled with last week, when we focused on women in government and politics. When I reflect on these issues, a couple of different levels of complexity emerge in my answers. First, let me just say, yes. We do need a female president. At the very least, having a female president would mean bringing a new perspective to the position. Like many people, I think it is very important that our leaders come from diverse backgrounds, and it is clearly impossible to achieve this goal if we only elect men.
However, to me, the obvious next question is, if we need a female president, which woman should it be? Can it be any woman, regardless of her political views? Does she have to be a feminist? These may seem like obvious questions with straightforward answers, but it gets somewhat confusing for me, especially when women like Sarah Palin claim the title “feminist.” I have relatively liberal political views, especially regarding social issues such as a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, trans health issues and more. So, to use the abortion issue as an example, electing a right wing, anti-choice woman to be president is not appealing to me, even if it means achieving the goal of having a woman in office. I hate to sound judgmental, like I am trying to define how “feminist” other women are, but at the same time, I do not think someone can be anti-choice and a feminist. Thus, I would not support an anti-choice candidate, no matter what their gender is, because having a woman in office is not as important to me as having a president who takes feminist issues seriously and supports the feminist movement.
Thinking about whether having a female national role model matters is an equally tricky issue. On the surface, I think it does matter. As Rebecca Traister writes in her book, Girls Don’t Cry, it was an incredibly significant moment when Sarah Palin immediately turned to pick up her young child on national television after a key debate. While I’m sure this act was partly meant to gain goodwill for Palin, even for a woman who is absolutely not a Palin supporter, Traister writes how that moment was extremely powerful and profound. Having a female president (or better yet, having more women in high profile government positions in general) is essential because it will hopefully broaden Americans’ view of what a powerful person looks like, break down stereotypes about how women lead, and implicitly encourage other young women to view themselves as leaders because having women in power will not be seen as an unusual, unnatural thing.
Even while I see the real effects having a female national role model can have, I still strongly believe that feminism’s goals cannot be achieved only by having feminist women at the top. Rather, change also needs to be come from the common people and the corporate world. Now the question is, how do we make change happen? How can we all bring change to whatever sector or environment we find ourselves in?