A Delicate Balance
A woman for President?
By Ellen Snortland
There is a painting in my living room by Georgia Bragg. It's called "A Delicate Balance" and highlights a lithe and lovely dancer walking a tightrope over an ocean-like abyss. She's got a serene look on her face as she holds the hem of her white Grecian diaphanous gown in the left hand and her right arm is extended in a lovely second position ballet pose. Below her is the maw of an exceedingly toothful burgundy monster, ready at a moment's notice to snack on our heroine. She could slip and die at any moment, and yet she stays graceful. I loved it the moment I saw it and knew I wanted to live with it as a reminder that oftentimes, my struggles are shared with "sisters" all over the world, especially those of us who dare to break the strict and often dangerous rules of "femininity" that basically dictate we NOT be leaders.
The end of 2007 saw the brutal assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's leading lady of politics. How ironic that Pakistan, a country as backward in gender equity as a country can get, could have already had a complete leadership cycle with a woman: prime minister to slain martyr within one generation. And yet, our country is so backward that we have people making Sen. Clinton a punching bag for not being "feminine" enough. "She's more male than many men." "Hillary is Republican light." "She should have left Bill." "What's with her pantsuits?" Blah, blah, blah. I've heard women put her down for not exemplifying so-called traditional female attributes. I've never thought that women are above being jerks, by the way. The Goddess of Jerks has always been equal opportunity.
But, excuse me? I thought we just spent the last 40 years breaking out of rigid roles, redefining what being female actually means. Didn't we say we could be anything ?
As far as I can tell, until we break through the gender glass ceiling in the Oval Office, we tell a bald-faced lie - a male pattern baldness lie as it were - every time we tell a little girl in this country that she could grow up to be anything , even (drum roll.) president! Oh really? If I were a little girl now, and looked at the line up of candidates or the portrait gallery of presidents, I'd have to say, "Liar, liar, pants on fire!"
I'm not quite sure what to make of the Iowa caucus result where this nation's first truly serious and "electable" woman candidate came in third. On a feelings level, I'm bummed and can't pretend otherwise. While I could certainly back Barack Obama if he became the Democratic candidate, I am ardently and unashamedly pro-Hillary and so wanted her to do well. By the time you read this column, we will know the results of the New Hampshire primary. I suspect that Clinton will show better in New England than in Iowa.
I'm not unmindful of the triumph of having a first serious African-American White House contender. (Freed slave and abolition hero Frederick Douglass was a vice-presidential candidate with Victoria Woodhull for president in 1872.) But I also think that for the girls in this country, regardless of color, a woman as our leader will make more difference in the long run because we have NEVER trusted women enough to lead this country. Clinton so far has managed the delicate balance of being a woman and also not crumbling under enormous attack and pressure. Put yourself in her pumps for a second. I'm such a wimp, I'd be trembling and drooling in a corner somewhere if I had to campaign for dog-catcher.
I've often joked that the first woman president will have to be a Republican. Why this country has such "liberal-phobia" is beyond the scope of this column. However, for Clinton detractors who criticize her for being too conservative, I have to remind them, and myself sometimes as well, what happened to George McGovern in 1972. I'm from South Dakota originally and his own damn state didn't vote for him as president. This country does not take kindly to liberals, remember? They actually get shot and killed if you'll recall our pantheon of assassinated leaders. Not a conservative among them. Blatant liberalism is often associated with so-called "feminine" attributes; values that embody some of the qualities that scare traditionalists: teamwork, cooperation, emotionality, compassion, tolerance and nuance. Look at how the mainstream media has eviscerated Dennis Kucinich! Can't people understand what would happen to a liberal woman!? She'd be branded, torn up, tossed aside and swallowed up and spit out by the monster, no matter how prettily she danced on her tight rope.
"A Delicate Balance," my painting, is my daily reminder that electing a woman in this country is going to require the grace of a dancer with the guts it takes to tightrope walk over the jaws of a monster that's praying and betting she'll slip.
Pasadena Weekly: 1/10/08