Former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder once noted that the US needs to get comfortable with women in power. In the past several decades, some progress has been made with that level of comfort.
We have watched more women become CEOs of mega corporations like IBM, Pepsico and General Motors, and more women have become elected officials and have been appointed to high ranking political positions. Nancy Pelosi served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011, and is now the Minority Leader. Twenty women hold Senate seats. Three out of the current nine Supreme Court Justices are women. There are six women state governors. The Chief of Police for Washington, DC’s 4000+ person workforce is a woman. The US Attorney General is a woman, and we now have a woman Commandant at West Point,
Good progress? Yes. Enough progress? No.
We currently have a woman running for President of the United States, the highest office in our land. All of a sudden, the comfort level about powerful women has been called into question. Perhaps it hasn’t decreased, but it does seem to have stalled. There has also been some speculation that the Vice Presidential candidate could be a woman. That significantly ups the discomfort ante. As one pundit put it recently, “We may be ready for Thelma, but we are not ready for Thelma and Louise.”
That’s an old (and odd) reference, drawn from a movie released in 1991 where two women go on a road trip and end up committing several serious crimes as they travel across the country. Eventually, Thelma and Louise realize that they have no way out and literally drive off a cliff in a double suicide.
Some could argue that the “Thelma and Louise” remark could refer to the potential of political suicide if a woman Vice President is chosen as a running mate. More likely, though, it means that if a woman wants to be President, she will need a male partner for support and to shore up (and perhaps make) the critical decisions. In short, it means she will need a man to lean on, to help her with tough situations, and be a “ghost president” who manages the job behind the scenes. The implication seems to be that a woman can rise to a level of power only as long as there is a man behind her to actually run things.
It used to be that women weren’t considered competent enough to vote. Then they secured the right to vote, but many were expected to vote the way their husbands told them to vote. Now women not only vote for whom they choose, but they can choose to be the candidates themselves. Women in power may give some people pause, but it increases the comfort level for the rest of us.