A woman's place is in the Styles section

Thanks to the New York Times for a story on the chances of electing a female president. But why was it covered in Sunday Styles?

Published June 12, 2006 1:49PM (EDT)

If you saw the cover of the New York Times' Sunday Styles section, you may have noticed a giant pink handbag emblazoned with a presidential seal. "A feature on political fashion?" you might have asked. Perhaps you wondered if this was a story about how pink is the hot new color for Beltway accessories. Then you read on and realized it was a very nonfluff story about whether America is ready to elect a female head of state.

Writer Anne E. Kornblut used the opportunity of a gala dinner hosted by the White House Project honoring female leaders (including Chile's new head honcho, Michelle Bachelet) to muse about the real chances of getting a chick in the Oval Office. And unlike much of recent coverage on the subject, this piece didn't focus on Hillary Clinton's odds of winning the presidency (which, many pundits have pointed out by now, has to do with a lot of other factors besides her gender). It looked at whether this country would vote for any woman.

And that answer is "Sort of. Maybe. Some other time perhaps?" Although polls show that 90 percent of Americans would vote for the right female presidential candidate, only 55 percent say that the U.S. is ready to have a woman in the White House. Aside from our leadership gender gap, there are other reasons we haven't managed to follow countries such as Liberia, Ireland, Israel, Germany, the Philippines or Finland, which have gotten over the woman issue by now. For example, the U.S. doesn't have the political dynasties, such as the Bhuttos of Pakistan or the Gandhis of India, to maneuver women into the top position of power. And the electorate system -- as opposed to the parliamentary one -- is a tougher route, since a candidate needs to be voted in by the entire electorate and not just her own party. Also, there are few experienced female candidates out there who would be ready to take the job; Kornblut reminds us that there are only eight female governors out of 50 and 14 female senators out of 100.

But that's not all. There are sociological and cultural reasons we've yet to see a woman president -- namely that American society has "not yet raised a generation of girls growing up and thinking, 'I can be president of the United States someday,'" according to Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. And Kornblut questions why Hollywood has yet to love Hillary the way they loved Bill.

I wonder what other forces are at work -- like the country's most important paper relegating a really important topic to the Styles section and accompanying it with a photo of a pretty pink purse, perhaps. If the subject of women leaders can't make it from Styles to the front page (or even the Week in Review), how are we going to get a live one into the White House? Thank goodness the Times doesn't have a garden section.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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