“Most of the American electorate has probably been ready for a woman president for some time. But that woman must have the right array of qualities and ideally have risen to prominence through her own talents and not (like Hillary Clinton or Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) through her marriage to a powerful man.”
Camille Paglia writes: Why has the U.S., the cradle of modern democracy, never had a woman president?
Incredulous young feminists, watching female heads of state multiply from Brazil and Norway to Namibia and Bangladesh, denounce this glaring omission as blatant sexism. But there are systemic factors, arising from the Constitution, popular tradition, and our electoral process, that have inhibited American women from attaining the highest office in the land.
The U.S. president is not just chief executive but commander-in-chief of the armed forces, an anomaly that requires manifest personal authority, particularly during periods of global instability. Women politicians, routinely focused on social welfare needs, must demonstrate greater involvement with international and military affairs.
“The protracted and ruthlessly gladiatorial U.S. electoral process drives talented women politicians away from the fray. What has kept women from winning the White House is not simple sexism but their own reluctance to subject themselves to the harsh scrutiny and ritual abuse of the presidential sweepstakes.”
Second, the president has a ceremonial function, like that of the British royal family, in symbolically representing the history and prestige of the nation. Hence voters subliminally look for gravitas, an ancient term describing the laconic dignity of Roman senators. The president must project steadiness, sober reserve, and deliberative judgment. Many women, who tend to talk faster and smile more than men, have trouble with gravitas as performance art.
[Order Paglia’s book “Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars” from Amazon]
Third, the complex, coast-to-coast primary system in the U.S. forces presidential candidates into well over a year of brutal competition for funding and grass-roots support. Their lives are usurped by family-disrupting travel, stroking of rich donors, and tutelage by professional consultants and p.r. flacks. This exhausting, venal marathon requires enormous physical stamina and perhaps ethical desensitization to survive it.
In contrast, many heads of state elsewhere ascend through their internal party structure. They are automatically elevated to prime minister when their party wins a national election. This parliamentary system of government has been far more favorable for the steady rise of women to the top. Read the rest of this entry »