When I first introduced Fiona, my youngest child and only daughter, to this blog two years ago, I said that from birth she’s had a keen eye on the world. I described her as ambitious, quick-witted, supremely outspoken, candid, insistent, and for some people, too much. (That Time You Were Too Much)
None of that has changed except one thing. Now when she gets frustrated, she cries through her indignation. This shouldn’t surprise me. She’s a girl. Her emotions will only increase from here. Because of this, people will again say she’s too much. They won’t be me.
Last Thursday I picked Fiona up from school and instinctively said, “Well, kid. You’re gonna have to wait another four years at least for a female President.”
Elizabeth Warren had exited the race, Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign wasn’t even hanging on by a prayer, all the other women, from moderates to progressives, were out, and the Republicans weren’t challenging the incumbent with a woman either. The familiar makeup of Presidential candidates remained: old--yes, white--yes, and men. Once again, there would be a Presidential stand-off between two men.
“How come no one wants a girl to be President?” Fiona asked, gazing out the window.
“A lot of people do,” I answered.
“Yeah, but like, why’s it so hard?”
Fiona turned to me, anticipating an answer that would settle her curiosity, explain the absence of someone like herself in the oval office, and give her a little hope to cling to.
Instead, she got: “Well, it’s because, to date, no woman has been able to be The Man.”
Fiona wrinkled her nose and asked what snacks we had instead.
In my house, there is never a dull moment, certainly not in my marriage. Our children were given two extremely impassioned parents, who love each other dearly and hate to lose an argument. We are both opinionated, competitive, and can keep at it for as long as it takes. We love as passionately as we argue, and argue we do.
But there is a key difference in what happens when we reach our boiling points. Though our emotions are equal—both of us frustrated as hell—our reactions are totally opposite. He’s a voice raiser and I’m a crier. Looking in from outside, my husband would appear to be the one in charge and I, powerless. But how wrong the voyeur would be! My husband knows that in these instances when the tears well up in my eyes, we better resolve things quickly because those tears mean trouble and there may be a bloodbath. His respect for this is all the more reason to love him as I do. But that’s not the only situation that brings on my waterworks.
That Google commercial during the Super Bowl with the old man? Holy hell, did I sob. Movies, songs, significant moments like graduations and weddings, and even just observing my children completely immersed in their little selves, make me a blubbery mess. But it’s okay. I’m programmed to be in touch with my feelings, whether naturally through science or because society deems it acceptable.
Actually, though, society expects it.
I’m also a mom. I zigzag across town to practices and rehearsals with a car full of equipment, stadium chairs, and goldfish crumbs. When my kids are sick, I’m usually the one who stays home with them. Like most females, I’m instinctively nurturing. Society accepts this.
And they certainly expect it from me too.
Sometimes I’m shrill. That’s expected. But I’m also too soft, too empathetic, and too likable. But if I toughen up, I’m too hysterical. So beyond home, I simmer down and rise above my emotions. I’m a lady, after all.
That’s expected of me too.
I’m your classic woman. I have the characteristics that define my sex. Some are more endearing than others, but altogether they make up the full picture of what a woman is expected to be. Knowing all of this, if you were to add years of political experience to my description, would you say that I’m qualified to be President? You might. And if our political ideologies were also aligned, would you then vote for me...for President?
The majority of America says no, and while it’s important to talk about the gender “trap” as Elizabeth Warren did—"if we say we don’t get elected because we’re women, then everyone will say we’re whiners, and if we say it has nothing to do with being a woman, then a bazillion women say we must live on another planet"—that isn’t the answer. When asked by our daughters, “Why’s it so hard for a girl to be President,” I wish we had the, er um, balls to say the awful truth, something difficult to hear. Women don’t get elected only because not enough men think women are electable. Women don’t get elected because not enough women think women are electable.
That’s the real trap.
A few years ago during the 2016 election, I was at a party. While drinking cocktails by the pool, we naturally fell into the subject of the Presidential campaign.
“I’ll never vote for a woman for President,” one gal said.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could she say that about her own kind?
“We’re too emotional,” she answered my silence. “We’d cry in a national crisis.”
“Yeah,” another gal added. “We’d probably get hysterical about all the criticism.”
I changed the subject. If I hadn’t, I’d probably have gotten hysterical.
That’s just two women, homing in on female expectations. And before I raise a glass to my own exemption from such sexist behavior, on the afternoon when I told Fiona she’d have to wait longer for a female President, I considered my own respect for women.
Growing up, how many times did I whisper about another girl? In high school, how many times did I gossip at sleepovers about someone we deemed a “bitch?” In college, how many times did I plant the seed for drama, start shit, engage in it, or perpetuate rumors about other girls? Nowadays, how often do I roll my eyes at Pinterest moms and the ones whose cars never have goldfish crumbs inside them? How many episodes of Real Housewives have I indulged in? It doesn’t matter if I wasn’t the ringleader. I didn’t need to be “Regina George” to be guilty. And I don’t need to be a Real Housewife myself to be just as damaging as the women at the party in 2016.
Girls are mean to other girls. Society accepts it, expects it, and women perpetuate it.
From our first spat on the playground with our best girlfriend, to catfights in the sorority house, and to idle chit chat in the back row of the PTA, we have always known the dark side of femininity. Its downward-spirals are damning for electability, convincing many women to also poke equal fun at a female leader who cries or another who loses her cool or another who is too this or too that. I don’t know why we do it, other than maybe we’re less threatened when we degrade another. If we can put them in their place, then we don’t need to answer why they threaten us.
Perhaps, just as women are more vulnerable to emotions and nurturing because of something in our DNA, women are just as vulnerable to distrusting other women because of some leftover survival instinct--a nasty characteristic that didn’t die off in evolution. If we could stay a notch above the rest, then we got ourselves a husband. Today, if we stay a notch above the rest, we’ll be taken seriously. But how seriously can we be taken when we don’t bother to take our own kind seriously enough to call off our criticism of one another and focus on the power within women in the first place?
So, when it comes to the Presidency, does a woman have to be a man to get elected?
I hope not, because then Fiona will never see a female President. And neither will you.
The truth is boys cry. Boys gossip. Boys stay home when kids get sick too. They also bully, fistfight, yet they don’t degrade their own to the same extent we girls do. They haven’t needed to in order to get ahead, not as we have. They are expected to be The Man. Meanwhile, we can’t even be The Vice Man.
But what if our femininity wasn’t a fault? What if when a female President cried during a national crisis, her instinct wasn’t to explain her tears but to ask of her condemners, “Why aren’t you crying? Where’s your empathy?” What if when a woman was criticized by her male counterparts, her response wasn’t to rise above what might be labeled hysteria and instead, she stuck it right back to The Man?
Tears don’t relinquish control. Children aren’t a set back. Being bold about our opinions isn’t hysterical behavior. The only facet of femininity that isn’t Presidential is the tea spilt by us about us. Imagine if, just as we now know that being colorblind isn’t the answer to racism, female characteristics were so visible that women were actually understood, and the real grace of being a lady was marked by not concealing that which has been the focus of our judgement for so long.
I don’t know if Fiona will ever see a female President in her lifetime, but I know enough to know that trying to be a woman in a man’s suit isn’t how the ceiling will ultimately shatter. Women may not have balls, but we sure do have whatever power slings from balls. We just haven’t accepted that the source of that power comes the moment we simmer down our distrust of who we are and light the fire under what we know to be our greatest strengths.
The alternative is too much.
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