It would be true progress to never again hear the phrase, “OK ... but” — two words that are at the start of so many sentences addressed to women who dare to state their opinion or stake their claim in the world.
Sometimes I wonder if we’ve learned anything from the November election.
On the morning after the Seattle mayoral debate between Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon, online commenters showed that it is still impossible for a female candidate to be taken seriously. No matter her credentials, her preparation or her desire to take on the hardest job in the city.
On Reddit, someone asked, “What experience does Durkan have? Has she ever had elected office?”
Another Redditor graciously obliged, posting Durkan’s résumé, which spans decades, involves every level of government and touches on issues like police reform, consumer privacy and civil rights. The thing’s as long as your arm, and has plenty of muscle, political and otherwise.
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“OK … but … will she fight for a lot more housing in the exclusive single-family neighborhoods in Seattle?”
There you have it: voters who are not willing to put the time or keystrokes into learning the basics on the candidates. And even when they do, they’re only focused on their pet issues.
It would be true progress to never again hear the phrase, “OK … but” — two words that are at the start of so many sentences addressed to women who dare to state their opinion or stake their claim in the world.
OK … but you have kids. OK … but your husband has a big job. OK … but we’ve never had a woman president/CEO/mechanic/lawyer/window-washer/fill in the blank.
The only job a woman might not be qualified for is sperm donor.
Beyond that, we should be able to have our shot, just like any man who decides to toss his hat into the ring — some of whom act as if elected office were a round of golf. Ahem.
But this is what happens when women run for office. They are forced to face impossible standards about their appearance, their qualifications, their temperaments. Too prepared, and they’re wooden and rehearsed. Too tough, and they’re cold.
This timeworn narrative is part of what cost Hillary Clinton the presidency, and is something she let loose about in her new book “What Happened,” as well as in interviews with David Remnick of The New Yorker and Ezra Klein of Vox:
“I don’t think I’m held to same standard as anybody else,” Clinton told Klein. “I believed that if I were to say, ‘let’s do a carbon tax, let’s do single-payer tomorrow, let’s do whatever it is that might be viewed as universal and inspiring,’ unlike either my primary opponent or my general election opponent, I would’ve been hammered all the time. ‘OK, how are you going to do that? How are you going to pay for it? Where’s the money going to come from?’ ”
The struggle isn’t limited to national office. Tracy Flick almost lost her mind in “Election” when the dim jock broke his leg and, what the hell, decided to run against her for class president. It was understandably — and hilariously — maddening.
“I had to work a little harder, that’s all,” Flick ranted. “You see, I believe in the voters. They understand that elections aren’t just popularity contests. They know this country was built by people just like me who work very hard and don’t have everything handed to them on a silver spoon. They think they can just, all of a sudden, one day out of the blue, waltz right in with no qualifications whatsoever and try to take away what other people have worked for very, very hard their entire lives.”
This higher standard has kept a lot of qualified, capable women from entering politics at all.
Of the 1,362 mayors of U.S. cities with populations over 30,000 people, only 283 — 20.8 percent — were women, as of earlier this year, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Of the country’s 50 governors, only six are women, as are only seven of 50 attorneys general and 13 of the 50 secretaries of state. That’s 26 out of 150 offices — about 17 percent.
“Underneath, people don’t believe men and women start from the same place, or that they ought to then keep moving to the same places,” said Rebecca Sive, author of the 2013 book “Every Day is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House” and a lecturer at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.
“You have structural sexism, different criteria for being qualified, and then a different set of glasses for viewing these candidates,” she said. “Some people just can’t wrap their minds around a woman at an executive level.”
It’s been shown over and over, Sive said, with the November presidential election being the “emblematic” example.
“What if it had been Ms. Trump and Mr. Clinton?” she asked. “In your wildest dreams, do you think that ‘Ms. Trump’ would get elected with the qualifications that she didn’t have? Men are held to such a low standard. Hence, President Trump.”
Seattle voters don’t have any choice but to embrace the reality that — unless a male write-in candidate can perform political miracles — we will have a woman mayor in January.
This election gives us a rare opportunity to see Durkan and Moon as candidates, first and foremost. So we should treat them as such, and not nitpick over every gesture, every hair out of place, every time they didn’t smile like a swoony hostess at a garden party.
These women mean business. The future of our city is at stake, and they know it.
Why don’t we?
Maybe the decision shouldn’t be whether we want to vote for them, but whether they want to represent us.