Strong Women, Oh My?!

Who knew? Kamala Harris has warmth! Wasn’t she just a cold, hard District Attorney turned Senator? Well, people, I knew. Granted, as a Californian I was closer to the source, but she first burst into my awareness as a Senator interrogating cabinet members on the hot seat. After watching her brilliant questioning, her total command of the situation and her perfect composure the only thing left was to look her up on Wikipedia.  I discovered her back story, what battles she chose to undertake, and some of the basis for imagescriticisms of her perceived actions. I also watched her eyes whenever she appeared in hearings or on news shows. Eyes tell it all, and hers had not only the sharp look of intelligence, but that glint of kind humor that delineates empathy. It should not, however, have surprised me that comments concerning her “warmer”  side suddenly appearing would emanate from pundits and news conveyors. She is, after all, female, a gender that has been forced to “walk the line”.

My early years were spent during an era that required women to be quietly strong, to fill the void left by young men forced to fight a war. My mother was a Rosie the Riveter, working for Boeing, helping to create an airborne fleet during war time. After the return of our victorious troops she was once again relegated to the kitchen, as were the thousands of women who had used their inner strength to assist the war effort. That strength was fine when needed, but please put your femininity back on and be a frail, lovely helpmate.

As I grew up women were asking for equality, and female politicians were something of an heroic anomaly.  Although our first national Representative was actually elected before women were allowed to vote, there remained a mere sprinkling of female legislatures every term, until the war years when we topped out at 10 (wow) female members of Congress. In the following decades we saw slight increases in almost every cycle. Consider yourself 1 of 10 females at the highest levels in government, trying to be heard, sitting with hundreds of men who possibly resent your presence. And no bathroom for you in that massive building! Women had to be strong to deal with that challenge.  That strength was showcased when imagesMargaret Chase Smith, with more courage than her male colleagues, made the famous speech “Declaration of Conscience”, criticizing Senator McCarthy for his red witch hunt that ruined so many families.

Nevertheless, over the decades women have had to be two people if they vied for entry into the seats of power: manlike, with warmth. Not too much man, not too much warmth. Watch the shrill tone, but don’t sound too secure and sure of yourself. That woman seeking power equity is a witch, a bitch, a harpy. Any female that makes it to the seats of power must have slept her way there, according to the anti-feminists.  Strangely enough, one practice that did help the trickle of women into the bastions of power was the practice of appointing certain widows to complete their husband’s term, some of whom then ran on their own and retained the seat.

As linguist Deborah Tannen wrote, “the requirements of a good leader and a good woman are mutually exclusive. A good leader must be tough, but a good woman must not be. A good woman must be self-deprecating, but a good leader must not be.”

Clinton faced those contradictions for decades on decades. When she chose her words carefully, it was considered calculating; when she emphasized her competence, she was dismissed as cold; when she tried to show her passion, she was told to stop shouting.

The Tragedy of Hilary Clinton VOX.COM

Hillary lost the election of 2016 for many reasons, none of them having to imagesdo with her qualifications or popularity. After all, she not only was lauded by many experts as the most qualified candidate for a long time, if not forever, she also won the popular vote, and she gets standing ovations at her speaking events. Of course , there is also the truism that women are more popular when they are not running for office, whether it is because they are already entrenched in a particular position, or they lost the vote. The real trigger for backlash against power for women seems to be the actual campaigning, publicly seeking to be “at the table”, never mind trying to be at the head of the table. That is for daddy strong, not woman weak.

Many of our allies have actually managed to move beyond our archaic ideas of female intelligence, ability and strength, electing females to lead their country. Sadly, while the majority of our citizenry has also moved into the 21st century, and welcomes females as lawmakers, we are not ruled by the majority. Even a wide swath of women, mostly white, are absolutely anti-feminist. I am constantly reminded of a boss I had that made no secret that she was unwilling to give up the privilege of having a man open the door for her, or stand when she entered a room. There are many like her, with a mind set that desires men to acknowledge a woman’s place as cherished beings to be honored and cared for.  Those women forget that the price they paid in the past was to be “owned” by their fathers and husbands, not seen as capable of voting intelligently, and as recently as fifty years ago not able to get a credit card or student loan without a male co-signer.

So, it is not just some members of the male contingent we have to convince…or override, we also have to address many of our sisters who do not want to give up their perceived benefits of being angels on a pedestal in order to be viewed as equally valuable, capable and trustworthy as their male counterpart. Showing your intelligence is no way to keep a man, the poor guy will feel “insecure”. Being strong is good, but showing your strength (as a female) is bad, it takes away from the helpmate, or angelic, or helpless child that some men (hopefully a slowly, vanishing breed) prefer to see in their wives and daughters.

So we developed that tightrope for women who (horrors) are ambitious, and would like to be a CEO, or legislator, or (for cryin’ out loud) President! Don’t shout over the man that is shouting, get the guys their coffee and when they shoot down your ideas (in a kind, patronizing manner,  of course), accept it with humility. Dress professionally, but look sweet and feminine. That tightrope, thankfully, is beginning to sag with the influx of women into our legislative bodies. With Representatives like Katie Porter

 A few of the most  powerful women in Washington

and Val Demings, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senators like Tammy Duckworth and Kamala Harris, and all the other wonderful ladies who entered the fray in 2018, perhaps that tightrope will finally sag to the ground and allow our sisterhood to finally have the freedom to excel in the same way as our brothers.

In the meantime, we have the opportunity to elect a female Vice President. Some are lauding the fact that she is black, east Indian and the daughter of immigrants. That is all wonderful to acknowledge, but considering that black men were granted the vote without inclusion of the women who had been working for that outcome,  and no female has broken the glass ceiling to the White House in the hundred years since winning that fight to vote, I am thrilled she is female! A hundred plus years ago our predecessors were being jailed and tortured in an attempt to shut them up and protect the male voting prerogative. Four years ago we had a reality “star” stalking an extremely intelligent woman on the debate stage, as both vied to become president. Today we have a president who despises truly intelligent women, stokes racial animosity, and is destroying our country. Cheers to Kamala. Perhaps a Biden/Harris victory might prove to be one small step forward for womankind, or possibly a giant step forward for the nation!

Be kind to each other no matter your ideologies, and stay safe.

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