Women in Politics: "Commander In Chief"?
Thursday, September 22, 2005; 2:30 PM
ABC's new show "Commander In Chief," which premieres Sept. 27 , features Geena Davis as the first woman president of the United States. A recent Sienna Research poll found that 81 percent of Americans say they are ready for a female president, but only 63 percent believe that the nation is ready for such a change. How likely is the emergence of a female president in the near future? What about the number of women in other key political offices?
Marie Wilson, founder of The White House Project and author of "Closing the Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World," was online Thursday, Sept. 22, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the new ABC series "Commander In Chief" and the status of women in politics today.
The transcript follows.
washingtonpost.com: Marie Wilson will be online momentarily. Thank you for staying tuned!
Marie Wilson: Hello. I'm Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project and I'm looking forward to talking about Commander In Chief, the new show about a woman president.
San Juan, Puerto Rico: How do you think this series will help the citizens to visualize a woman as President of our nation?
Marie Wilson: This show will tap the thinking and the heart of people about what it means to have a woman president and what it means to have a representative democracy. I think it will get us closer than we've ever been.
Falls Church, Va.: What role do you think single-sex education plays in encouraging women to become strong, independent leaders? I attended a women's college and am much better for it, but I fear they are going by the wayside. Do you still see a need for women's colleges?
Marie Wilson: I've been quite involved in how girls and women keep hold of their voices and their authority. And what comes up over and over is the role that some form of single-sex education or some time period where women are part of a female-only learning environment moves them way ahead with regard to the authority they need to live and to lead. And yes I do think there's a need for women's colleges.
Grand Blanc, Mich.: Who are the women you think will make a good president, and why?
Marie Wilson: The majority of our presidents now come from the governorships. And it's through the governorships that women have experience with executive leadership, so I believe that progressive women governors who have shown that they can take on the challenges of leadership at that level are the best source of future presidential candidates.
Ocean City, N.J.: My personal opinion is the country is ready for a woman to lead if they are conservative, but not a woman who leans left. Why do you think left leaning women polarize America so much? Is it because they tend to come across as narcissistic?
Marie Wilson: No. Not narcissistic. It's because that often the first woman, if she is the only woman vying for the presidency, often has to show she's "man enough for the job." She has to "out-tough" the men around her to prove her credentials, which often leads to a woman who can't display all of the attributes a woman president could bring to the presidency. The trick is to get enough woman vying for the presidency that we get to choose the woman we want based on her agenda, not gender. Numbers matter.
New City, N.Y.: Television shows have always tackled social issues. Do you feel that with the airing of "Commander In Chief" that women are moving toward more societal acceptance in politics and leadership roles?
Marie Wilson: Yes, I believe that television is often ahead of reality, and in this case reality and television are coming together to really prepare the country for women's political leadership at the highest level. I hope you're having a house party for the Commander In Chief show Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 9 p.m. ET.
Elizabethtown, Pa.: As a candidate for Congress myself, I think it is critical that we elect more women to Congress in order to provide the support and critical mass for a woman to be effective as president. Do you agree?
Marie Wilson: Yes, I do agree. The entire White House Project is geared toward getting a richly diverse, critical mass of women into leadership. Having enough women will allow women to be themselves. It will also allow men to display their softer side.
Williamsburg, Va.: Which states and cities are most supportive of women politicians?
Marie Wilson: The state that stands out right now is Washington state. They have been number one in the number of women elected to office for quite awhile in the state legislature. And right now they also have two woman senators and a woman governor. Minnesota is also moving to a very good place, as is Colorado. One of the places we would most expect to be hospitable to woman's leadership is New York. However, our state has never elected a woman to a state-wide political office. Clinton was the first to win a senate seat in New York.
Bowie, Md.: Do you think it would be important that a female presidential candidate not be perceived as having married into her position?
Marie Wilson: To be honest, the first women who were ever elected to Congress usually inherited their positions. And often because every career in America is really a two-person career, a woman who is married to a male politician is often extremely qualified. I think the way women get in is not as important as what they do when they get in. However, one of the best sources of political leadership that leads to the presidency are independent attorney generals who have a proven record and a portfolio of tough performance that often leads to the best possibilities for higher office.
Boynton Beach, Fla.: Personally I think if she were fully qualified then I would cast my vote, however I don't know if our nation would accept or is ready for a female president. Do you think members in Washington would support the idea of a female president?
Marie Wilson: The White House Project's most recent Roper Poll shows that close to 80 percent of Americans are indeed ready for a female president. If you mean once she's elected would members support her, I tell you that once you're in a position of power, whether it's secretary of state or the presidency, people will support you. It depends on the job you do and how you wield the power, and how you build your relationships. I think Congress, like our country, is hungry for authentic and capable leaders of both genders.
Washington, D.C.: How long do you think it will be before America has its first female president? Do you think the well-known women of the day -- Hillary, Condi, etc -- have a chance, or will it go to the next generation?
Marie Wilson: I feel sure we will have a woman president by 2012. What I hope is that many women will begin to run for the presidency so we get to choose the women we want.
Gainesville, Fla.: What's the bigger obstacle for a potential female president: (a) the perceptions of the average American voter, or (b) feminist groups expecting a female candidate to behave a certain way?
Marie Wilson: I think there is some truth in both of the issues you raise. First, that our perceptions of women and leader often don't match. That is why the White House Project is working to change the perception of women as leaders, and why a television show like Commander In Chief can be so powerful. And I also think not just feminist leaders, but everyone expects more of women, and wants the first woman who represents us, as women, to be perfect. That's not going to happen. Again, if more women run we can let them be a little imperfect and still lead. We have been led by many imperfect men.
Youngstown, Ohio: Say a women is elected to President. How do you think the media will portray her?
Marie Wilson: Well first, they'll be very interested in the issues that we have studied about one woman in power. They will scrutinize her clothes, they will comment on her hair and they will want to know all about her husband. We call this our hair, hemlines and husband studies. However, if she stands up as proudly and as powerfully as Mackenzie Adams, who Geena Davis plays on Commander In Chief, they'll get over it very quickly and write about her actions.
Winnipeg, Canada: In "Dude, where's my country" Michael Moore jokingly suggests Oprah for President. If she were to run, however, what do you think her chances would be?
Marie Wilson: Michael Moore is just one of the hundreds of people who have suggested Oprah since we began the White House Project in 1998. She's a shrewd business woman, she is a great model of how to deal with race. She has gotten people all over America to read and discuss race and class on her television shows and through her book club. She is wildly popular and well known. And it wouldn't surprise me if she won easily. But she won't run, trust me. Too many have asked.
Austin, Tex.: Do you think it is more likely that our first woman (or any "minority") president will be a Republican? It seems like it is the conservative vote in this country that is what'll put a woman in The White House. The Democrats are already on board -- they nominated a woman (albeit for VP) 20 years ago.
Marie Wilson: I think these are challenging times and a woman from either party who truly laid out a vision and a road-map for peace in the Middle East, prosperity at home and a renewed respect for the U.S. in the world could win regardless of party.
Boulder, Colo.: What are the issues you believe will define the 2008 Presidential race? What qualities will a majority of Americans be most looking for in a President?
Marie Wilson: I believe the issues will be what kind of foreign policy do we need to secure a more peaceful world, what kind of economic policies do we need for a strong America and how do we strengthen the education and the wages of our citizens will be at the top of the agenda.
Marie Wilson: Thank you for this conversation. I hope each person who participated and those who read will watch "Commander In Chief" this Tuesday night, Sept. 27, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, will invite some friends, and will enjoy, with the White House Project, the first prime-time opportunity to pretend we have a strong, ethical, visionary female leader of the free world.
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