Hillary Clinton will be the youngest – and oldest – woman ever to be president of the United States if she makes it to the Oval Office. She will be less tainted by the scandals and mistakes of previous administrations than any woman has been. She will be the first American president who has experienced childbirth or even admitted to wearing a bra. She will be the first spouse to have followed her partner into office. She will be the first president to have prompted the need for an answer to the question: Who is that guy then, if he isn’t the first lady?
And that’s a question that needs answering. First lady? Eh? No title could better advertise the long-standing structural fact that the White House is open only to men. The idea is that any American can be president. But the truth is that when the founding fathers came up with this lovely idea, what they actually meant was that any male American could be president. Their institutionalised sexism has proved enduring.
So, it’s interesting that so many people are fretting now that US politics has become too elitist, too dynastic. Critics may complain that it’s grim that Americans may well be deciding between a Clinton and a Bush again. But you do have to ask yourself why, if it helps so very much simply to be a member of certain families, such an advantage hasn’t managed to put a woman from one of them into the White House.
The US does have problems with lack of accessibility to public life. But the biggest one is that women have historically had no actual access to the presidency at all – rich, poor, black, white, young, old, experienced or fresh. This problem needs sorting out more urgently than any other. Happily, since Sunday, the means to do so are at hand. Nothing would break the male monopoly on the US presidency like a female president would. Quite clearly.
But the plain truth is that it has proved impossible up until now for a woman to be head of the US (or the “free world”, as they like, hypocritically, to put it).
The US may have been offered a choice between a Bush and a Clinton before. But they have never been offered a choice between a man and a woman. Some Americans are more free than others – which, in the land of opportunity, is appalling: a huge, oppressive stain on the world.
And I do mean the world. How can the US complain about the treatment of women in other countries and cultures – which it does – when its own democratic system is so manifestly inadequate in this regard?
America’s biggest problem is that it over-idealises its own perfection, and therefore believes that what it has to offer is so perfectly precious that corners can be cut in inducting the rest of the world into its joys. The US still kills and tortures because it believes its moral authority is impregnable. It’s quite astounding that a country that still refuses to be led by a woman believes that its own pure and refined liberal democracy is ready to be given to the rest of the globe.
No doubt many people consider it wrong to believe that Clinton should be president “just because she’s a woman”. No doubt many feminists are troubled by the way that Clinton is following in footsteps trodden first by her husband. No doubt many people would prefer a candidate less steeped in “the old politics”. But sometimes you have to concede that monopolies are hard to break and that compromise is needed if you hope to do so.
I’m troubled myself by all the issues I have listed above. I have never been a big Hillary fan. I don’t expect her to be the best president ever. In my book, anything more than competence would be a bonus.
Double the possibilities
But who knows how many times really wonderful presidential minds have remained entirely unrecognised because the bodies that contained them also contained some ovaries? Men and women must feel equally able to enter public life because it doubles the possibility that splendid leaders will emerge. That’s not feminism. That’s probability.
Gender bias – any identity bias – is a wanton waste of human potential. The US has to start somewhere in addressing its historic problem with male hegemony and Clinton is the one appointment that could kickstart the change most quickly and strongly. That’s why the symbolic power of her appointment transcends all else.
Anyone who doesn’t understand that, in this one respect, Clinton is an absolutely perfect presidential choice is simply refusing to acknowledge reality.
There is no perfect female candidate and there’s no more time to wait for one. God knows, anyway, that the US has long enough been happy to overlook its propensity for anointing imperfect males.
There is no choice between a woman laden with baggage and a woman unencumbered with it. But there is an opportunity to signal to all women, everywhere, that “anyone” can mean them. Hillary Clinton is still standing after all these years. And that is good enough. – ©?Guardian News & Media 2015