In a send-off to ABC's "Commander in Chief," Robin Givhan argues that it wasn't seeing a tough woman leading the country that made the show compelling. Really, we just wanted to see what she'd wear. Usually, it's violently groan-inducing when discussion of powerful women reverts to their chosen skirt length or the dip 'n flip of her hair. But Givhan (who hasn't yet been blinded by the sheen of her newly-won Pulitzer for criticism) is incisive with her commentary.
Givhan is careful to note that this is not an issue of fashion; instead, it is "the slow crafting of an image to go along with an idea." Sure, women are all too often reduced to their looks or how they choose to present themselves, but these issues are hardly foreign to presidential elections. Givhan's writes: "Tall men with deep voices become president; short ones who squeak when they talk do not. A president must project gravitas -- he cannot have voters thinking he should be in an advertisement for Breck shampoo."
This is all very reminiscent of the deafening debate over whether Katie Couric had the "gravitas" for nightly news. It seems that most people are at ease with a masculine, gravely-voiced anchor; similarly, presidential candidates require real gravity (i.e. male genitalia). The most optimistic thought I can conjure up is that this all boils down to familiarity or a sad lack of imagination. Maybe if we process the idea enough (even on primetime TV), it will become approachable. (Depends, are you feeling optimistic?)
I envy the ease with which Givhan determines that viewers don't question a woman's ability to tackle presidential tasks: "Intellectually, most viewers have little doubt that women can be smart, manipulative, tough and staggeringly ambitious." I'd sure like to believe that this is true; on the other hand, though, it is almost more discouraging to think that most people's comfort with electing a female president hinges more on whether she can pull off "the muted shades of a gentleman's club" or manage to limit the sex appeal of a tapered jacket.