It's as old as Eve and pretty predictable: the power of a woman to tempt us to disaster. Political pundits and candidates have created their own "October Surprise" by identifying the real dangers in this election--not terrorists or nuclear bombs--but two women: Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.
The latest reason to get out the vote is the threat of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House (should the Democrats win today) and the frightening specter of Senator Hillary Clinton as president. Their power continues to be perceived warily, even as it is acknowledged by Pelosi herself that most Americans have no idea who she is, and as Hillary's polls give her the highest favorability rating of any possible Democratic candidate for '08. We've seen this kind of demonization before. A review of the literature on Elizabeth Dole when she ran for president shows that the press and her own husband (who spread public doubts about her ability to win) took her from a top contender to a drop out within months. More recently, New York Attorney General candidate Jeannine Pirro has been cast as the devil on several mainstream blogs.
What frightens us about these women? Last week, an article in New York magazine pictured Pelosi as a googly-eyed creature. Hardball host Chris Matthews has suggested that Pelosi looks "scary...like a lefty." Hillary has become a go-to bogeyman (bogeywoman?) for all sorts of conservative woes. Rev. Jerry Falwell, the prominent southern evangelical, told a congregation that even Lucifer couldn't motivate his constituency to vote Republican more than Hillary Clinton could.
The real fear is not based on anything that they've done or said; it's grounded in the threat of a powerful woman gaining more power.
Ignore the fact that women are the majority of those making a minimum wage; that one in three of us will be victims of domestic violence; that females are the targets of bride burnings in India, infanticide in China, and sex trafficking around the world. Women, particularly women with power, still terrify.
I have been trying to figure this out for years. In 1993, a group of us from the Ms. Foundation launched the concept of Take our Daughters to Work, an opportunity for young women to dream of a future and develop role models. However, we began to hear pushback from the leaders of men's organizations immediately. The cry went up: What about the boys? Where is our son's day? (Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton likened the protestation to a person calling for a "White History" month).
We convened these men's groups, and at one point the head of the Oakland Men's Project looked at me and said, "Marie, you don't understand. We think [women] have all the power anyway."
So, if men really believe we have power, why aren't we using it?
I'm not suggesting that a rebellion is needed. But, women should realize their power, and join together. My hope is that women in other countries will serve as an example and lead us to into realizing our own strength. Women in Chile, Liberia and Germany, countries formerly torn by torture and war, have taken on their country's highest office. Women in Norway constitute about 50% of government positions, about 60% of college graduates, and have enacted a rule that requires 40% of all board seats of publicly traded companies be filled by women.
This year may present just such an opportunity for American women to join together. There are 2,582 women on the ballot across the country seeking seats in the US Congress and state legislature. The only "October surprise" here is the number of women who are hungry for change, and ready to lead. If Americans would stop demonizing our female leaders, and choose power over our fears, women just might turn out to be the best promise our country has.