During its 242 years of existence, the U.S. has elected 45 presidents, all male and almost all white. The only Oval Office position held by a female commander-in-chief is in fiction. From the calculating Claire Underwood in House of Cards to the comical Selina Meyer in Veep, countless women have held the Hollywood version of the highest office in the land, but outside of television and film, reality has yet to catch up — and not for a lack of trying.
Even before the passage of the 19th Amendment, women attempted to be part of the representative democracy the U.S. claimed to be. Almost a century after the country’s founding, Victoria Woodhull ran for president — an office she didn’t even have the right to vote for — as the Equal Rights Party’s candidate.
In an ideal world, Woodhull would have won — after 18 presidents, having a woman in charge was overdue, especially one as successful as Woodhull. She was the first woman to open a brokerage firm on Wall Street, earning her a small fortune, in addition to being the first woman to establish a U.S. newspaper. In an ideal world, equality would be an inherent part of civilization — a society and government reflective of the general population, not just white men.
But more than a century after Woodhull failed to receive the nomination, reality paints a grimmer picture, one that lacks diversity and representation. And, according to a 2018 Pew Research study, many Americans are indifferent to the situation at hand: half of the public says it does not matter to them if the U.S. elects a female president.
Granted, gender does not qualify someone to be president in and of itself — one should vote for someone based on their policy positions, not because they are female. However, in a land of millions of people, and more importantly, of hundreds of thousands of businesswomen, activists and government officials, qualified females have existed for decades.
Women have a hard time getting elected to office around the world, but the U.S. is especially lagging: 60 countries have had a female leader. We are the ones behind the times.
Going into the 2020 primaries, I am not going to support a female candidate just because she’s female. However, if a female candidate wins the Democratic primary and does not succeed against Trump — a man whose approval rating currently sits at 42 percent, according to Politico — should he be the incumbent candidate, then it will show the power sexism holds in our politics.
Not-so-lightly-veiled sexism stands in the way of women achieving success. When Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016, voters called her shrill and unlikeable, detached and abrasive. In the current Democratic playing field — one shaped by six female candidates — those same terms have reappeared, referring to candidates Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Women running for president are held to different standards than their male counterparts. Whereas men are viewed positively when they declare their ambitions and act with bold strokes, when women participate in that same behavior, they receive negative backlash. It is a double standard that stood in the way for Woodhull in 1872 and continues to persist in 2019.
Nonetheless, the U.S. needs a female president because it challenges the narrative that has been told for centuries. Having a woman as president could potentially offer new perspectives and approaches to the position — stemming from different life experiences that could spark creativity and innovation, ultimately bettering our country. Most of all, it would show young girls and women across the country that if there can be a female president of the U.S., they can be anything.
This concept is not limited to the presidency; it persists throughout our government. All three branches make decisions that impact the community, the nation and the world at large, however, all are skewed towards white males. In Congress, despite the noteworthy recent midterm election, females only account for 24 percent of the voting membership. In the history of the Supreme Court, only four women have served — Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
Female power is not a new concept. It is one centuries in the making and long overdue. Females politicians have the right to pursue the highest office in the nation, not because of their gender, but because they are human beings who can have just has much policy knowledge as their male counterparts. Going into the 2020 presidential election, we cannot let a chronology of sexism continue to taint the quest for equality because not only can we do better, we need to.
Catherine Buchaniec is a Medill first-year. She can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.