The Gender Card and the Highest Glass Ceiling

No sooner do we report the latest foolishness on the “glass ceiling” than it pops up again, this time from someone who wants a rather important job — President of the United States.

“In so many ways, this all-women’s college prepared me to compete in the all-boys’ club of presidential politics,” said Hillary Clinton in a recent appearance at Wellesley College, “Fear is always with us, but we just don’t have time for it, not now. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work together. We’re ready to shatter that highest glass ceiling.”

That prompted candidate Barak Obama to accuse Hillary of playing the “gender card” in the 2008 race. That, in turn, set off feminist writer Susan Faludi, who rambled on about candidates’ “rescuer” fantasies, by which she means that the gender card is always played, even when all the candidates are men.

At the core of all American political rescue fantasies, Faludi wrote, is a young woman in need. “In the general election, whoever the candidates may be, they will be tempted, perhaps required, to show just those bona fides. Clinton may be the only one who can do so without betraying the signature of a disgraced cowboy ethic.”

Faludi’s fulminations may be entertaining but they cloud the issue Hillary addressed. What about that “highest glass ceiling” she wants to shatter?

True, no woman has yet served as President of the United States, though some believe Hillary’s first two terms should count. As her husband noted, you get both of them in a two-for-one deal. He even put her in charge of health-care reform, as if that and Hillary herself had been on the 1992 ballot. Her experience as co-president has been raised in this campaign and will surely come to the fore in 2008. What will happen then is anybody’s guess, but it seems to have escaped notice that the highest glass ceiling has been broken before.

Cristina Kirchner is now president-elect of Argentina, following her husband, Nestor Kirchner. Michelle Bachelet, recently profiled in the Financial Times Magazine, is at the helm in Chile, and Angela Merkel the first female Chancellor of Germany. Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, is now back on the scene in that Muslim country. A more prominent example does indeed showcase the “rescuer card,” in a way Susan Faludi did not intend.

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher, now Baroness Thatcher, became the first female prime minister of Britain, without the assistance of any male relative as a forerunner. She rescued a nation headed full speed for ruin, and did so against furious opposition from the wreckers themselves. She accomplished this by reducing the role of the state in Britain’s economic affairs. Feminists, on the other hand, find their rescuer in Big Brother and want to increase the role of the state.

In these dangerous times it pays to remember that Margaret Thatcher also proved a capable commander. When an Argentine military junta tried to grab the Falkland Islands, she sent the fleet and quickly recaptured British territory. That led to the demise of the junta and helped promote democracy in Argentina. One could say that Margaret Thatcher helped Cristina Kirchner’s rise to power.

The Kirchners’ example surely inspires Former First Lady Hillary Clinton. Candidate Obama may well be right that she is playing the gender card with her predictable glass-ceiling rhetoric. The point is not whether women can ascend to the highest office, but what they accomplish once they get there. In Margaret Thatcher, all candidates have a tough act to follow. The voters will decide whether they are up to the task.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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