It can no longer be argued that women are under-represented because we are unready to lead. More women graduate university than men. Changes in childcare practices, such as widespread availability of day care and better sharing of the workload between spouses, mean that women don’t have to drop out of the workforce for a decade.
We could write volumes on why women are still excluded from the top ranks. Many people (both men and women) are locked into a paternalistic framework where women aren't acceptable as leaders. Our vision of a leader is a man in business suit. A woman seems wrong. Lots of things reinforce this. There aren’t enough female university professors so people don’t see women as authority figures and women lack role models. Our society increasingly presents women as sex objects for men. The “old boy’s network”, still going strong, excludes women.
But this year we had a glaring, monstrous, public demonstration of how women are shut out. A woman – for the first time – was a serious contender for the nominee for president, and she was brought down – for various reasons – but publicly because she was a woman. She was ridiculed and demonized for being female. Some of the most widely watched and influential media personalities said they were afraid she’d castrate them. Her biggest failing, we were told, was that she had a sense of entitlement – and people accepted that as a fair criticism. She was criticized for her laugh, ankles, age. She was called shrill, a hypocrite, too mannish, too womanish. The media was more interested in the husband than the candidate. It was blatantly obvious that no woman would be taken seriously.
And after it was all over, the sexism was almost completely denied by the media, her party, and the man who won.
What people don’t seem to get about Hillary supporters who don’t support Obama is that our problem is not that Hillary lost; it’s how she lost. I fully understand that there were numerous factors in that defeat - that her campaign staff made mistakes, that she made mistakes - but the key issue is that the sexism was so egregious and blatant that the campaign represents an attack on all women.
I couldn’t bear to watch Michelle Obama’s speech at the convention last night because it was good. She is intelligent, poised, a good speaker with a great heart, and yet she cannot speak at the Democratic convention except as a spouse supporting her husband. As a woman, it is heartbreaking and maddening to see such ongoing blatant dismissal of our sex. It would almost be easier if women were dismissed as inferior, but we’re not. We have made huge strides in attaining equity in education and pay, but we’re still not equal citizens. We’re allowed into every segment of society except - other than a few tokens - the ruling class.
It is widely reported that over 30% of Hillary supporters have not yet decided to support Obama, and yet nobody, it seems, is taking our concerns seriously. The Democratic party seems to believe that it's up to Hillary to heal the rift. As I've said before, she is not the person to do that. It is the responsibility of the candidate and the party to address this issue. And as they seem to have absolutely no inclination to do that, or even to admit there's a problem, well... the only leverage we have is our numbers and our vote.
This is the time for women to take a stand. We have been promised better female representation for decades and virtually nothing has been done. We have been slapped down too publicly to just be able to say OK, fair enough, we’ll try again in four years. I can barely stand to watch the parade of men at the convention podium. I’m sick of it.
We have watched in horror as a high profile woman has been felled, and it resonates too painfully with all the little ways that each of us has been felled. Equality now.