Being the first woman ever in the White House is a daunting place in history, undoubtedly a very lonely place to be. If history is anything to go by, the ugliness will begin once the initial euphoria dies down. And while Ms. Harris is no doubt beyond capable of handling everything that will be thrown her way; the question remains – why are women in power held to such obnoxiously high standards?
Trailblazers in the past have had to contend with much. Perhaps Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female PM, put it best when she said that the things that were said to her were “…Things that wouldn’t have been said to any man sitting in this chair“. For the record, the then leader of the opposition had allegedly stood next to a sign describing Gillard as a witch, among other vulgarities which need not be replicated here.
That wasn’t an isolated incident of a woman in power having to deal with sexist abuse, and if you’re having a sense of déjà vu as you read that, you probably have US Congressman Ted Yoho to thank for that. Recently declassified tapes have also revealed the offensive remarks made by President Nixon about Indira Gandhi’s “attractiveness”, or the perceived lack thereof – lowly comments that you’d expect from a common vagabond, but are nothing but shameful coming from an elected head of the state.
Apparently, the struggle for being treated at par doesn’t end with merely getting elected for women. Being able to (finally) say Madam Vice-President is a feel-good moment, sure; but what would truly be unprecedented is if Madam Vice-President would be treated just like her forty-five white, male predecessors.
That, of course, is utopian talk!
Even the way the media covers female leaders displays a marked difference. For instance, when Theresa May was elected Prime Minister of the UK, the headlines read – “Theresa May is Britain’s answer to Angela Merkel.” Honestly? Is it so inconceivable that two ladies could work professionally with each other without competing or being envious? Trying to pit a woman against a woman is so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche. But it’s generally taken for granted that most male leaders will get along just fine as long as their countries aren’t sworn enemies.
And of course, then there’s clothing. Can a female leader ever go without having intense scrutiny on what she wears? Just ask Sana Marin. Already, I’ve read scores of articles on What-Kamala-Harris-Wore-To-The-Inauguration, but just an occasional, passing mention of what Joe Biden wore.
She shouldn’t be too assertive, she shouldn’t raise her voice, she oughtn’t to seem too aggressive, she oughtn’t to interrupt others, but she shouldn’t seem too meek – the crazy expectations we heap on our female leaders seem to suggest that we’re still stuck in that mindset that a woman should “smile and be nice”. That highest glass ceiling has not been truly shattered till these double standards continue. And yet, our women leaders continue to shine despite the tough trapeze act before them.
Kamala Harris has an even greater burden of scrutiny and expectations on her shoulders by virtue of being a black woman. Yet, that she will triumph through every challenge is a foregone conclusion – even more so because she has the shiny, hope-filled eyes of a future generation of leaders upon her – best of luck, Madam Vice-President.