“Well, honey, if you marry a governor, maybe one day you can live in a house like that!”
This was my mother’s prompt response to a joke that I made a few years ago about wanting to live in a mansion like the ones we saw while driving through an affluent neighborhood. Clearly, she assumed that I would be more likely to marry into political power than to gain it on my own.
In her defense, my mom is far from a closed-minded person with old-fashioned ideas about gender roles. She’s worked tirelessly for almost 30 years in civil engineering, a male-dominated field. She has voted conscientiously for politicians and bills that pursue gender equality. My mother is a self-described feminist, with the history to back it up.
Still, she reflexively urged 16-year-old me to marry a governor. At the time, I needed a moment to process what she’d said, and to ask her, “Wait … why can’t I become a governor?” My mom was immediately horrified at her remark, and since then, we’ve had a few conversations about the incident. She always has been and always will be my favorite partner for discussing gender equality.
Our latest chat was about last week’s vice presidential debate.
I’m still reeling from both candidates’ treatment of Elaine Quijano. Throughout the debate, both Mike Pence and Tim Kaine seemed to completely disregard Quijano’s authority as the moderator, speaking over her interjections and ignoring most of her attempts to quiet their many fruitless spats. At one point, Kaine went so far as to hush Quijano: “Elaine, Elaine, this is an important issue.” Pence’s conduct towards Quijano, which reflected either willful or true deafness to her interjections, was by no means any better than Kaine’s.
In our discussion vis-à-vis text, my mom predicted that Quijano would be accused of losing control to the candidates. Sure enough, an op-ed on “The Winners and Losers from the Vice-Presidential Debate” published by the Washington Post just hours after the debate declared Quijano one of the “losers.” According to the author, Chris Cillizza, “Quijano lost control of the debate within minutes of it starting and never really got it back” and she “never was able to get Kaine or Pence to, well, stop talking.”
To Cillizza, and others who offer similar critiques: Why on earth should Quijano shoulder the blame for the messiness of the debate? The fact that Kaine and Pence were utterly unable to shut up seems much more an indication of their own lack of self-control than her failure to control the situation. As my mom wrote to me over text, “presumably, they agreed to the rules of the debate, and then became so intoxicated with their alpha-maleness that they abandoned said rules.”
I’m lucky to have a mother who will so readily discuss issues like this with me, and am lucky to go to a school populated with students of a similarly gender-equality-oriented mindset. I’ve learned to guard myself against, or at least be aware of, hyper-masculinity in politics and in the media. But when I imagine girls and young women around the country who are following the presidential race, I can’t help but wonder what events like the vice presidential debate are teaching them.
When they saw the candidates talk over Quijano’s request to move on to the next topic, did they learn that men speak first and loudest in questions of politics? When Mike Pence proclaimed the need for “broad-shouldered American leadership,” did they hear that the country needs a man as the next President?
Thinking back to my 16-year-old self, I imagine that many girls did learn these things from watching the debate. For the millions of malleable young girls in the United States, I believe it is imperative that the country elect a female president.
Many of my peers have said that Hillary Clinton’s gender is not reason enough to vote for her. Indeed, I would never claim that her gender alone is sufficient reason to elect her as president. But to those who may be unsure of Clinton’s policies or dubious about her background, I argue that her gender is so important that it should reasonably sway their support in her direction. From the perspective of a young woman who has only recently learned to question the sexism and masculinity of American politics, the U.S. simply needs a female president.
Of the nine presidential elections my mother has voted in, none has ever included a female candidate. She has lived in four states and never been represented by a female governor. Looking back on the incident in the car four years ago, I can understand why she was quick to suggest to me that I marry a governor. But if I ever have a daughter, I don’t want to ever give her the impression that she can’t aspire to political positions on her own accord.
We – my mother, myself, and future generations of American women – need to see that a woman can be expected not only to marry the governor. We need to see that she can become the president.
Ros Faulkner PO '19 is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.