Women are the latest battlefield. Or at least BEING a woman seems to be controversial these days when it comes to presidential politics. And trying to figure out who will SECURE the votes of the nation’s females -- as if we all walk in lock-step when it comes to our political decisions -- well, that’s certainty being factored into the political equation too.
We’ve been reading news headlines recently about folks complaining that the top Democratic presidential contender at the moment, who happens to be a woman, is getting attacked during debates by the other male candidates and that their criticism (or “piling on ” as it has been called) is occurring because she has ovaries and because the guys are sexist, not because she’s number one in the polls, is doing solid fundraising and needs to be toppled in order for one of the other candidates to prevail.
We’ve been seeing candidates, and/or their surrogates, alleging that they are more in tune with real, salt of the earth “women’s issues ” than the actual female presidential hopeful is.
We’ve been hearing the actual female candidate herself reference kitchens, heat in kitchens , say how very comfortable she is in kitchens and observe how all the boys in the campaign are paying attention to her. This is the same woman, who the media reminds us, 15 years ago said that when she was a working mom, she did more with her life than just stay home and bake cookies like some housewife .
The politization of femininity, of the women’s vote and of so-called “women’s issues” (I loathe the term “women’s issues”) in this presidential race is unfortunate but not altogether unexpected. Nonetheless, the way those issues are being handled still ticks me off. I had hoped, perhaps naively, that a presidential race featuring a serious female candidate would be a wonderful, substantive thing to witness and discuss with my 9-year-old daughter, regardless of my political preferences or views on the candidates themselves. I had hoped to be able to use this campaign and the debates, regardless of the outcome, as a jumping off point for dialogue with my daughter, not as a lesson in frivolous discussion about whether a candidate is too feminine or not feminine enough.
During a family trip to Washington, D.C. last year, when we walked around the Capitol building, my daughter, always observant, asked our tour guide for the location of the portraits and statues of “the ladies” since all she was seeing were likenesses of men. We were directed to the “Three Ladies in the Bathtub ” statue, which embodies three of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement , and to the paintings of Pocahontas. Much to my daughter’s disappointment, there wasn’t a whole lot more in the ceremonial areas of the Capitol that represented women.
So, when Nancy Pelosi became the speaker of the House of Representatives earlier this year, I made it a point to discuss the historic nature of the ascension with my daughter, to show her the television footage as well as the newspaper coverage. Partisanship aside, it was a delight to share that moment with her, a contrast to the paucity of women she’d seen represented inside the Capitol building the previous summer.
And when this presidential campaign began in earnest and featured a female candidate with a realistic chance of winning her party’s nomination, I hoped that this too could serve as an instructional, even inspirational tool, for my young daughter, that is until the oh-too-realistic ugliness of rough-and-tumble presidential politics came calling as, I suppose, was inevitable. (Yes, I know that Elizabeth Dole , currently a senator from North Carolina, waged a serious campaign for president in 2000, but she withdrew from the race in 1999 when she couldn’t raise enough money.)
Here’s what we, the public, have witnessed thus far:
If the only female candidate for president decides to style her hair  or makeup  in a different way, news reports become all abuzz over her new selections, and render judgment upon those choices.
If the only female candidate for president muses on issues such as national security but doesn’t speak chiefly or prominently about “women’s issues,” then critics say she’s letting down her fellow females.
If the only female candidate for president does indeed talk about “women’s issues” – because, apparently, childcare, education, parental leave and being healthy are only of concern to the nation’s women, not to the men – then she’s critiqued for pulling out the gender card  and slapping it on the crumb-covered kitchen counter, particularly if she mentions that she, in fact, is a mother who had to balance work and family. (Or, on the flip side, she’d be considered too weak to be the commander-in-chief if she spent too much time on those “women’s issues.”)
I know, in the real world, this is what has to happen in order for a woman to become president. This is the type of presidential campaign from which my daughter has to see and learn, where a woman is judged as a woman, rather than as just another strong candidate. I know that when a woman eventually does become president – whenever that may be – she’s going to have to overcome all of this hyper and sometimes nonsensical criticism  and that she’s going to have to figure out her own way of avoiding missteps. The road to the presidency for our first female executive is going to be paved with silly, superficial scrutiny and in order to triumph, the woman’s going to have to have uber-thick skin and be tough as nails in the face of it all. And that, sadly, is how it’s going to have to happen. And that’s what I’m going to have to tell my daughter. That doesn’t mean that I have to like it.