From California to Minnesota, the first candidates have begun to sprout like crocuses in this early and chilly season of the 1984 presidential race. It's only a matter of time now before we notice that, once again, all the early bloomers are men.
Soon someone will raise the perennial question. What about the possibility of a First Woman in the White House instead of a First Lady?
So today, as a service for those who like to leaf through political catalogs a bit early, I'll pass on the description of the first female who may be raised to the Oval Office.
This profile comes originally from Elizabeth Janeway, intellectual doyenne of feminism, author of "Man's World, Woman's Place" and "Powers of the Weak." A landscape analyst of no mean skills, Janeway offered up her best-guess vision at a conference in New York last December.
Janeway did not name names. She chose rather to name characteristics, species, the shape of bulb, if you will, from which the No. 1 Woman would emerge in the next generation.
To begin with, the first woman president, suggested Janeway, would be elevated by fate (always a female in Western mythology) from the ranks of vice president. She will have been given a place on the ticket, as vice presidents before her, for "balance." The male-controlled convention that nominates her will be thinking largely of geography, or ideology, although there may be some visceral understanding that women also provide an attractive "balance."
As for the personal details of our first woman, explains Janeway, she will almost certainly be married, with a "healthy, non- henpecked husband . . . neither a wimp, nor a hanger-on," probably a lawyer. Children? "A couple of post-adolescent children, out of college or finishing well, with good reputations and an average amount of success would be an asset, though no children at all, who could go wrong and get into trouble, would be a safeguard."
Our first woman will also have stamina, an impressive political background and, because she's had to break stereotypes about female docility, she may be a touch pigheaded.
So much for the easy stuff. What will she be like politically? Swallow hard. According to this analysis, the First Woman will be a conservative Republican who believes in the status quo.
As Janeway noted wryly, "She will certainly say, in her acceptance speech, that she looks upon her nomination as an opportunity to represent the whole party electorate, not just women. If asked, she will firmly dissociate herself from feminism, about which, in fact, she will be thoroughly, purposefully, ignorant."
This portrait is enough to make most of the people in favor of a woman president, including Elizabeth Janeway, groan. It is, of course, just a guess, but you don't have to be a constituent of Maggie Thatcher to see its possibilities. It's no accident that both women in the U.S. Senate and the sole woman on the Supreme Court are conservative Republicans. A substantial portion of the most successful women in this country have risen on the tide of feminism only to declare that they are not "women libbers."
The path of social change to the Oval Office or the corporate office is often a curious one. The advance troop of any protest group is made up of demanding, aggressive people. They sue governments, petition bosses, raise consciousness, upset order and, despite all the paths they break, rarely win their way to the top.
The power structure turns instead, and with relief, to people who will fit in, who will minimize change, and make it less threatening. They choose the women who look and sound like they do, except that their three-piece suits come with skirts. As Janeway puts it, they look for the woman who "does not threaten innovation except by her presence."
Does all this mean that the first woman president will be a dud as far as women are concerned? Not entirely. As Janeway concluded, "I won't vote for her, but I will welcome her presence. . . . A woman in an office that no woman has held before breaks down barriers and makes the impossible possible, if not likely."
This candidate is just a composite, a species of First Woman President, and not a first choice in my catalog of candidates. But even her existence, in this saga of long-term change, says something about a climate that is slowly, yet perceptibly, warming.