The days following the 2008 election have been interesting. Although I knew the black community was pleased and excited that a black man had finally been nominated to run for President and that the polls were strongly in favor of his election, I was unprepared for the emotional response that was so visible on the streets, particularly in Washington, D.C. and Chicago. The sight of Jesse Jackson and others with tears streaming down their faces; in this instance, Oprah doesn’t count – those who have watched her through the years know she does what she refers to as “the ugly cry” over very small touching things. To the black community, this was no small victory; it was huge.
In these days they have recounted their long journey, from the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, through Martin Luther King’s strong leadership with sit-ins and marches and enduring brutality, beatings and bombings, being denied education in our finer educational institutions to finally having a black man be judged, as Martin Luther King hoped, by the content of his character rather than by the color of his skin, and elected to serve as our President for the next four years. We have obviously come a long way – for the black man. But what about the white and black women? We had Hillary Clinton running for President – meaning, to some extent, we’ve come a long way there as well. But really, how far is that?
When facing the choice between voting for a senior citizen, a woman or a black man, the majority of our people chose a black man. Though I know our voting decisions are never black and white – no pun intended – this result makes me wonder what this election really says about us.
In assessing John McCain, his superior experience in leadership was never questioned. What did seem to be questioned was if he had, perhaps, passed his prime. I heard news commentators say things such as, “McCain kept repeating himself as though he had forgotten he’d already said that.” There is no doubt that if, and when, Clinton and Obama repeated themselves, it was either for emphasis or because the same response was, once again, pertinent to the question for them.
I heard commentators saying that John Kerry had been successful with the youth vote by 7% while Obama managed to bring in a 32% higher amount of the youth vote than McCain. The commentators’ suggestion was purely that our young people were drawn to Obama’s platform and message, but I would suggest that a far stronger factor was this country’s obsession with youth. AARP, in their magazine, has to go to an effort to point out and review any movies that show our aging population in any positive light. It is clear from viewing ads in any magazine, except AARP, that the focus of advertising dollars is on young people.
If that’s how it is for a senior citizen candidate, how have and do women fare? At the present time, there are apparently 16 women in the Senate, and 79 in the House. There are currently eight women governors. Historically, there have been 218 women in the United States House of Representatives, 36 of whom were elected as widows to complete their deceased husband’s term. There have been 35 women in the United States Senate since the establishment of that body in 1789, meaning that out of the 1,897 Americans who have served in the United States Senate since that time, 1.85% have been female. Interestingly, the first woman Senator was 87 years old and was appointed when they wanted someone who would NOT be a contender for the general election to complete an unexpired term. Because the Senate was not in session, no one believed she would have any opportunity to actually vote on anything. She served one day between her swearing in and the swearing in of the newly-elected male Senator.
Observing the nation’s responses to both Hillary and Sarah Palin was also interesting. Hillary is an exceedingly strong, even aggressive, woman. Here’s a quote about Hillary from an article for the Washington Monthly by Carl Cannon: “You know the rap: She’s too liberal, too polarizing, a feminist too threatening to male voters. Too much baggage. Too… Clinton. She can’t be elected in a general election; men aren’t willing to vote for a woman like Hillary; women don’t think much of her marriage–or her, for staying in it.”
It is not my intention at this time to discuss Sarah Palin’s true strengths and weaknesses as a candidate, but I would like to address some of the areas pertinent to her being a WOMAN candidate. Where people referred to Hillary as a “ball buster,” Sarah Palin seemed to be viewed as too attractive to be taken seriously. One man I heard say she clearly wasn’t experienced enough to be elected, although he got turned on watching her. And I heard women suggest she should not have even considered running for Vice President since she had five children, one of whom was handicapped. It was quite clear to them she should be a stay-at-home mom with all that on her plate. Let me say, it would never have occurred to anyone to suggest that Joe Biden should have been a stay-at-home Dad following the death of his wife and daughter when his sons clearly needed a hefty dose of ‘mothering’ as they struggled for life and health as well as emotional stability in the aftermath of that tragedy.
Additionally, in an interview on a Baptist university campus, both male and female students were asked what they thought of Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate. They were effusive in their warm response to her; it was clear her principles on abortion and marriage were in line with their own views. But then they were asked, “You would be fine if she ended up being President of our country?” They indicated their agreement with that possibility due to her conservative views. Then the interviewer asked, “Could she be a pastor of your church?” The answer was an absolute, “No way. That would be against the clear teaching of the Bible.”
As a young woman, I felt a strong call of God on my life, but at that time there WAS NO PLACE for a woman to serve (and in the conservative church that is still the case). Women could be wives and mothers and, if they HAD to work, they could work in retail or be a nurse, teacher or secretary, though, of course, their wages would be small because, “the company just can’t afford to take the wage from a MAN responsible for the upkeep of his family.”
I learned as an educated musician that I could be used to lead rehearsals and conduct the choir in the absence of the minister of music, but I could not sit on the platform and I was not permitted to lead the congregational singing. They chose a 17-year-old boy to do that – because, of course, he had the necessary genitalia.
Today, although as Hillary said, she put 18,000,000 cracks in the glass ceiling, that ceiling is still there. A preponderance of both men and women seem unwilling to see and live according to the biblical principle found in Galatians 3:28 that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
So in these first days following the election as we watch the black community wiping away their tears of joy that Martin Luther King’s words regarding his dream have been fulfilled, women are still waiting for the fulfillment of Susan B. Anthony’s words when she said, “The day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation.”
I can only add with a sad hopefulness, “that day will come … that day will come.”