Are We Ready For a Female President?

Architects of Change

Anne Kornblut, Author, Notes from the Cracked Ceiling

Why has the U.S. never elected a female president? In her new book, Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, Anne Kornblut, a Washington Post correspondent to the White House, examines this question.

Here we talk with Kornblut about what it will take for a woman to break "the glass ceiling."

If you were to design the most "electable" female presidential candidate, what would she look like?

I’ve played this game with myself for a long time. She is completely impossible. She would have served in the military and stayed home and raised her children full-time. She’d be married to someone with money, and she’d have some business experience. There’s just no way she could exist. There are too many demands on this candidate.

But joking aside – she’d be authentic, which would need to be true of a male or female presidential candidate. She’d cross the credential threshold – she’d have demonstrated that she’s qualified, and she’d be a communicator. Those are the areas where women have sometimes struggled.

Why have women struggled in these areas?

Men have to be authentic too, but women tend to be criticized more when they don’t seem authentic – look at Hillary Clinton.

The credentials hurdle is the biggest. Women’s credentials are not often taken at face value, where with men, being senator or governor of a state for one term is enough.

Are “polarizing” women more likely to get support and be elected?

We never want a polarizing candidate. I think the fact that Clinton was polarizing hurt her because people saw it as making her hard to elect. But what polarizing does mean is that you get the support of your base. It can work for or against women. Like it or not, the most prominent elected women -- Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Nancy Pelosi -- are all polarizing. It’s a question of the chicken or the egg.

Do you think the U.S. will see a female president in the near future?

I remain a skeptic. In theory, everybody is ready to vote for a woman for president. And certainly Clinton got 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. But when it comes to actual candidates and actually electing women, there is a long road ahead. Palin is the only woman we’re talking about for 2012. For the 2016 elections, yes, there are women positioning themselves to run -- Janet Napolitano [the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security & former Governor of Arizona] and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Then there are also women who still need to run their own races – like Meg Whitman – but she still has a long way to go to win the California governorship.

When you asked people in 2006 “Would there be a woman president,” the answer was yes, and they pointed to Hillary Clinton. Now, the answer is not so clear.

Are women voters harder on female candidates?

They are definitely hard. You can’t go into an election with the presumption that women will vote for a woman. They put party before gender. They also want to be able to relate to the woman candidate. If the candidate has kids, they ask, how can she also take on the presidency? They look at how the woman is dressed, and may say, you look too perfect; it doesn’t look right.

Are women still caught in the catch-22 of, how do you come across as strong, smart and tough without being labeled heartless and inhuman?

There’s no question. It’s that bind. It’s certainly still there when you’re talking about running for commander in chief. The toughness question will be there – Is she tough enough? And if she’s perceived as too tough, she gets the b word. It’s a very difficult balancing act. You can’t be sure when you’ll cross the line into too tough. She has to demonstrate that she could deal with a terrorist threat, with Iran, etc. – but if she’s perceived as too much that way, what kind of woman is she? Hillary Clinton certainly faced this issue, although she struck a more balanced act at the end.

What can we do to pave the way for a female president?

Raise awareness and engagement. Awareness is the key – being aware of how women face running for office. In terms of engagement -- the number of women who run is still low. The bigger the numbers, the less there will be at stake each time a woman runs.

Anne E. Kornblut has been a political reporter in Washington since 1998, covering, from start to finish, the three most recent presidential campaigns. She worked for the Boston Globe and the New York Times before joining the Washington Post in 2007 where she is currently a White House reporter.

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  • I have to agree (in part with Omni) that the first woman president is not even out of school yet. Unfortuanately there are too many males in the way for women to get a clear shot @ the White House. While I joke about running based purely on a 'honest' platform (no lying about marital affairs; financial records; beliefs; relations; etc) I am too old (if 51 is too old) to run. So I am depending on the likes of my neices (currently in middle school) to be the ones to take responsibility for the future of this country and succeed as the first woman president. Would I like to see it bet, but unfortunately there are too many barriers in our way. I can only believe that in my heart I work to make my world a better place and continue to be a role model for those that come after me. As Helen Reddy sang years ago..I am woman hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore..!

    Posted by rrussell, 8 March 2010.

  • When reading or hearing about a woman president, the very first words that come to me are, woman was deceived. The next words that come to me are, if women are made equal to men then woman shall become mans superior. So there is a stong possibility our generation will see a woman as president of the United States of America. What one would desire most in a woman president is, she have a husband as well as children. One believes this because it has been said, if a man does not know how to take care of his own family/home, how is it possible for him to take care of a nation, have any authority or leadership skills how is he to govern any person place or thing? How would he know? So why should it not be applied to a woman also. Experience is a great source to draw from, without which, one may just be bump bumping around in the dark as well as an endless circle.

    Posted by Naomi Jean Gray, 3 February 2010.

  • The press went after Hillary! It took SNL to make fun of her being asked 1st in ALL press conferences for the press to lower it down but by then it had done the damage! Shame on them... I don't think we'll see it for another 2 elections... when NO ONE reads the papers anymore....

    Posted by Marcia, 29 January 2010.

  • 1. Condoleeza Rice:Fmr. Secretary Of State, National, International Experience, has a Long History in Relations to Russia, Germany, France, Spain and Many Other Countries, Ironically she Speaks Russian, German, French and Spanish.

    Drawback: She's Connected to the Dreaded Bush-Cheney Administration.

    2. Hillary Clinton: Fmr.1st Lady, NY Senator and Now Nearing her 1st Year as Secretary Of State, She's well Known, Good, Bad and Indifferent, Around the World.

    Drawbacks: She's a Clinton, in 2012, She'll be Too Old and because she's a Clinton. Good, Bad or Indifferent, people don't want another Clinton in the Oval Office.

    Imagine, Bill The 1st Man in the White House ?

    Gives American's The Chills.

    Truthfully, Bill Clinton, had an Polarizing Effect on Hillary's Campaign in 2008, so much so, Hillary wanted Bill Away from the Camera's as much as possible, during the 2008 Election, but when things turned Bad, she relied on Bill, as the Democratic Nomination, begin to head in the Direction of Barack Obama.

    No not Hillary, Sorry.

    3. Sarah Palin: UnDisciplined, UnPredictable, Devisive, Confused, Incoherent, Unstable, Impatient, Polarizing, Self Serving, Self Centered to a Fault. Power Hungry, for God knows what ?

    The Epitome of the Word Rogue.

    Other than Looks, she's Useless.

    Drawbacks: Loves the Lime Light, Media Attention and the Big Money that comes along with it. In Palin's EYES, no NEWS COVERAGE about ME from the Media, is Bad News for ME.

    She's willing to take Any News Coverage, even if its Negative News about her, just as long as she's the Main Story.

    The Woman who will become Commander In Chief of the USA, is in her last Year of High School, or in her 1st Or 2nd Year of College...

    Her Major is Constitutional Law or International Law, she's Neither a Feminist, Nor a Traditionalist, she's an Independent, Comfortable in her Womanhood, yet not longing to be Defined by her Womanhood, no more than a Man longing to be Defined in Politics strictly for being a Man.

    PS: Keep in mind, She could also be a College Grad or in her 1st Year as an Attorney, in NY, Wash. D.C. Or California ?

    Who ever she is, she'll be Perfectly Placed and Perfectly Fit to be President of the USA.

    I look forward to that Day.

    But she will be a Fresh, Talented and Very Unique Face in Politics, Not Sarah Palin

    Posted by Omni Present 101, 19 January 2010.

  • I would like to know what the average woman such as myself can do to help the cause. I was a Hilary supporter and now I am lost. Who will be our next candidate? I am looking forward to reading your book.

    Posted by Pennie, 19 January 2010.