The White House Project recently released the results of a poll conducted by Roper Public Affairs that has some eye-opening results. According to the poll, most Americans believe men and women are equally qualified to handle issues such as foreign policy, homeland security and the economy. More amazingly, a large majority thinks that a female president would be as good or better at the job than a man.
So what are we waiting for? It's time to posit a strong, viable female contender for the presidency in 2008. One person that candidate should not be is Sen. Hillary Clinton. While Sen. Clinton has proven herself to be remarkably adept at playing the political game, she has done so at a price. That price has been evidenced in her ongoing support for the Iraq war, and trying to walk the center line by suggesting that we need to find common ground with the right on the issue of abortion, somehow losing sight of the fact that abortion is not the issue, women's human rights are. Electing a woman because she knows how to fit in will not change anything. But if not Hilary, then who?
The obvious choice would be the only American woman who actually has some experience with being a president, Geena Davis, who plays President Mackenzie Allen in Commander In Chief. An actress for president? Why not, anyone remember Ronald Reagan? And Davis can actually act.
The remarkable thing about Commander in Chief is that it really looks at the difficulties a woman would face in the Oval Office. The first episode had President Allen insisting that saving a woman from death by stoning in Nigeria was a serious foreign policy decision. A few episodes later, her youngest daughter pops in to surprise her at loud volume just as she is in the middle of an important diplomatic phone call. Allen manages to handle her daughter and the caller without plunging the world into a nuclear crisis. What this series does is show that despite the absurd burdens and expectations we put on women, they can in fact be world leaders.
The role of Allen is a natural for Davis, whose roles in Thelma and Louise and A League of Their Own clearly established her ability to portray strong women. This issue is also important to Davis off-screen and she is the founder of See Jane, an organization dedicated to, "improving portrayals of girls and women in media."
The portrayal of women by the media is a significant issue. When women's authority to speak is trivialized, it has a significant impact on their role in the public dialog. In "On the Homefront: The Politics of Motherhood" Meghan Gibons recently suggested that while Cindy Sheehan was a powerful voice when she speaks about her grief as a mother, her message was diminished when she spoke more generally about issues.
"But Sheehan, with her name-calling of Bush, her finger-pointing at unrelated issues like the administration's response to the flooding in New Orleans and her preaching on issues on which she's no expert, such as U.S.-Israeli relations, has fallen into the trap. Her pronouncements distract from her real qualification to speak out in public: being a mother who has lost a son in the war."
Gibbons concludes by suggesting that if the Gold Star Moms and the Gold Star Moms for Peace could both tone down the rhetoric and meet in the middle, they would be a much more potent force. Question to Gibbons: force for what? The implication that being a mom makes you unqualified to have a serious opinion about other issues is absurd. The media needs to get over the notion that the validity of women's voices is limited to their circumstances.
Diane Wilson is another woman who, like Sheehan, has taken her personal rage and transformed it into political conviction. Wilson first made a name for herself with her actions to bring pressure on corporations who were causing pollution near her home in south Texas. She went on to become involved in protesting Dow Chemical for their role in the environmental pollution caused by the factory explosion in Bhopal, India in 1984 because as she points out, "It's all connected, the pain of a mother in Bhopal whose breast milk is poisoned with Dow's toxins is my pain."
Wilson inspired the founding of Unreasonable Women for the Earth. She puts it this way, "A reasonable woman adapts to the world. An unreasonable woman makes the world adapt to her. So I urge you women out there to be unreasonable." Wilson is currently resisting a jail sentence for trespassing at Dow Chemical until the former CEO of Union Carbide (now owned by Dow) is brought to justice for his role in the Bhopal disaster.
Wilson and Sheehan are powerful because they understand that circumstances of their own lives are not isolated, that there is a connection. Women's political organizations that previously focused almost exclusively on women's issues are also now making themselves heard on a broader range of issues.
The National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority both took an active role in the September mobilization against the war in Washington, DC and NOW has a petition on their website with a very detailed vision of how to end the war in Iraq. In early November, NOW President Kim Gandy along with Rep. Cynthia McKinney announced plans to march across the bridge into Gretna, Louisiana because as Gandy explained, "We must remember to speak up when we witness injustice and pain. The Nov. 7 march to Gretna will begin a yearlong march to Nov. 7, 2006 -- Election Day." There is no question that women's voices and women's needs will be factors in the 2006 election and as the White House Project poll indicates, Americans would consider gender change in the Oval Office, so why not Geena in 2008?
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including, Awakened Woman, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Rain and Thunder, Z Magazine, Common Dreams and Information Clearinghouse.
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