A few years ago I was on a plane headed to Costa Rica for a clerkship at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Due to a voucher malfunction I ended up traveling in First Class. As I enjoyed my complimentary beverage while the plane boarded, I noticed a striking woman seated across the aisle. Each and every Costa Rican who entered the aircraft recognized her. “Laura!” they exclaimed. They asked for her autograph. They asked to take selfies with her. They gazed at her with admiration.
She was a well-dressed, beautiful woman, and I was woefully uninformed about the country I was traveling to. I immediately assumed that she was a famous movie actress or TV personality in Costa Rica. I nudged my travel companion and whispered, “quick! Google ‘famous Costa Rican women.’”
He furtively showed me the screen on his phone and replied in a hushed tone, “She is the President.”
Laura Chinchilla Miranda was elected the first female President of Costa Rica in 2010. Further frenetic googling revealed her to be a very conservative politician. But, regardless, I was seated directly adjacent to one of the most powerful women in Latin America.
We went on to have a pleasant conversation during the flight. President Chinchilla was articulate and bright and she graciously welcomed me to her country. But, what strikes me now about the encounter is that it never even crossed my mind that she could be a head of state. I am what some would consider to be a “radical feminist” and was even a human rights attorney at the time—yet, the career options that flashed through my mind instinctively were: actress… TV host… perhaps, a wealthy businesswoman. Apparently, even for me: “nation’s highest elected official” was not lodged in my brain’s female occupations lexicon.
There is a fairly simple explanation for this embarrassing oversight: a woman has never been chosen to run our country.
Plenty of women have run for political office. In fact, the first American woman ran for president in 1872. Victoria Woodhull was only 34 years old when she ran on the Equal Rights Party ticket with Frederick Douglass as her running mate (48 years before she could vote). And, still, well over 100 years later, we have yet to elect a female president.
Is Hillary Rodham Clinton perfect? No. For example, I generally disagree with her overly aggressive approach to foreign policy. But, expecting absolute perfection from women is a woefully outdated trope. Secretary Clinton is not a Savior; she’s a hard worker, well qualified for the position. We don’t need an ideological saint; we need someone who’s sedulous, skillful and solid.
Additionally, it has been patently obvious from the beginning of his campaign that a Trump presidency would be an unmitigated train wreck for Americans, particularly American women, and all other marginalized groups. This fact is now undeniable, even by the majority of Republicans in my homestate of Utah. It is time for voters to realize that we are not just passively watching a train wreck—indeed, WE ARE ON THE TRAIN and we have our hands on the emergency brake in the form of the ballot.
It makes a difference to choose a diverse set of leaders. It will be nothing short of revolutionary to have a competent woman in office who has personally grappled with issues such as: equal pay, maternity leave, sexual harassment, reproductive rights, and many more. Women are experts in our own lived experience, and that lived experience has never been represented in the White House.
As I did on that airplane, Americans need to look inside and confront the internalized mindset that would keep us from seeing a woman in that leadership role. We need capable female role models at all levels of every organization we belong to. And we need to proudly play our role in making Hillary Rodham Clinton the leader of our country.
She will be the first woman to be president of the United States of America, and one in a long line of female heads of state of many nations, and she won’t be the last.