Review: What Will It Take to Make a Woman President?

(originally featured in Bitch Magazine)

In her introduction to this collection of interviews, Marianne Schnall admits that her endeavor began with a slightly different question—one raised by her then 10-year-old daughter, shortly after Obama was elected: Why haven’t we ever had a woman president? “It is these types of questions, often out of the mouths of babes, that can wake us up out of a trance,” writes Schnall. “Many inequities have become such a seamless part of our history and culture that we may subliminally begin to accept them as ‘just how it is’ and not question the ‘why’ or explore the possibility that circumstances could be different.”

Schnall confronts these cultural assumptions by posing a series of provocative questions to a series of equally provocative subjects—Maya Angelou, Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Sheryl Sandberg, Gloria Steinem, to name a few. She includes men and women, democrats and republicans, and a variety of races and ages—a selection which illustrates the importance of framing the lack of American women in leadership roles as a humanist issue, not just a concern specific to a portion of the population, even if that portion is more than half. “Women bring a different perspective to each and every conversation because we have a different set of experiences,” says journalist Pat Mitchell, who points out that global issues are “too complex to expect men to figure it out all by themselves.”

Despite the diversity of Schnall’s interviewees, they unanimously agree that all women leaders face the same set of challenges, namely an unforgiving media, a lack of role models and resources, and the influence of a society that frames self-promotion and drive as unattractive, unfeminine qualities. “Women have to be taught that ambition is ladylike,” says Senator Clair McCaskill. Or better yet, that antiquated ideals of what is “ladylike” or feminine need to be redefined—a process that starts at home. “Most girls don’t grow up thinking that they want to be out there in the rough-and-tumble of politics,” says political strategist Donna Brazile. “You’ve got to give women the tools they need in order to believe that they can be successful when they get there.”

The general consensus is that we are on the brink of huge shift, one largely foreshadowed by Hillary Clinton’s primary race in 2008. Much of the book actually reads like a love-letter to Hillary, one that both reveres her courage and begs her to run in 2016. The interviews are bound by this underlying sense that Hillary made a huge crack in the glass ceiling, allowing most of those interviewed to believe a woman president can and will happen in their lifetimes.

“Are we ready for a woman president?” Schnall asks each of her subjects. A resounding: yes, but not without action. “I feel hopeful that you and I will act,” says Gloria Steinem. “It’s not automatic…It means recognizing that the voting booth is the only place on Earth in which everybody’s equal—so using it.”

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