It’s time for another contest! Please be sure to read to the end of this post to find out how to enter.
During this week of the mid-term elections, it seems appropriate to talk about politics, specifically – women in politics.
Earlier this year I had an opportunity to attend a seminar at Columbia University, where journalist and former CNN host Campbell Brown interviewed Anne E. Kornblut, Columbia alum, fellow journalist, and author of Notes From the Cracked Ceiling, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What it Will Take for a Woman to Win.
In Notes from the Cracked Ceiling, Kornblut recounts her days on the road covering Hillary Clinton’s campaign and bid for the Presidential office with amazing clarity and insight. Kornblut neither places blame, nor apologizes for the politicians, journalists, and political advisors that played a part in the process, yet simultaneously demands accountability from all of them. She tells the story of a woman who was thought to be the frontrunner and virtual incumbent, making the choice to run on a platform of toughness and readiness, while her Democratic opponent chose to run on a platform of change, embracing his feminine side and playing the race card.
Kornblut tells the story of a campaign that assumed it had the Democratic female vote, yet lost women voters in droves to Obama. Younger women failed to recognize the significance of a woman becoming President, having grown up to believe they could do anything and believing that a female President was no big deal. Clinton also faced difficulty with professional educated women – women who should have been viewing her as one of them – having lost their support during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
I found myself feeling guilty as I read the book, identifying with that latter group that Kornblut described. The fact that Hillary – a woman of considerable resources – stood by her husband when so many women are literally stuck in abusive relationships due to a lack of resources, never sat right with me. And I ask myself… is it right to judge a candidate based on that one decision? While I never had the opportunity to vote for Hillary for President (as a registered Independent, I was not eligible to vote in the primary), I never supported her as a candidate for Senator in New York (my home state). Isn’t my unwillingness to support Hillary because of that incident as bad as a lack of support due to her hairstyle, or her choice of pantsuit, or the simple fact that she is a woman?
In contrast to Hillary’s Democratic campaign, which may have over-thought the role gender would play in the election, the Republican campaign under-thought it, assuming that women would cross party lines to vote for a female candidate, and neglecting to adequately assess women’s reactions to Palin.
At the Columbia event Kornblut used the word “ferocious” to describe the reactions we have to female political candidates. We either love them or we hate them. The truth is gender plays a much stronger role in politics in the United States that most of us would like to admit.
It shouldn’t go unnoticed that the challenges women face in advancing to the highest ranks in politics bear an uncanny resemblance to the challenges women face in securing the top positions in Corporate America. Women need to be tough, but not too tough. They need to be attractive, but not too attractive. They can’t be too feminine, or too masculine. They should either be childless, or have children who are grown. They should either be single, or have a spouse who has achieved success in his own right. And, Kornblut noted, “It helps if they have overcome adversity by battling cancer.” In short, it’s a tall order that describes virtually no one.
In my opinion, the one quality that we should look for in our female politicians is competence. Earlier in the year I was optimistic that we may see a few strong intelligent women cross over from the business world into politics, but with the losses Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman suffered in California this week, my optimism has been dampened.
What I know for sure is that women are unlikely to break these barriers in politics or in large corporations, until both men and women are willing to embrace the fact that they should be there.
This week, I am giving away a copy of Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, signed by the author, Anne Kornblut.
To enter you must be either a follower or a subscriber to this blog. You can click on the “follow” button to become a follower (if you aren’t already) or use the “subscribe to” buttons to subscribe via an RSS feed or for e-mail subscription. (Note that I do not know who subscribes via RSS, so if you tell me you subscribe I’ll believe you.) Then, leave a comment on this blog responding to this week’s post.
All comments submitted by Thursday, November 11th at 5pm will be entered into the drawing. The winner will be announced along with next week’s column on Friday, November 12th.