My eldest son is starting to take some interest in politics, in part because he is studying the constitution in his class—though probably, too, because he hears his parents hashing out their political differences every now and then. And by “hashing out,” I mostly mean arguing, and trying to avoid name-calling about “that stupid guy you’re voting for.” Being in a politically mixed marriage can be really difficult sometimes.
Anyway, so Ben has been talking politics, and just the other day told his grandmother how grossly unfair it is that women haven’t had the right to be president in our the United States. Which was just one more bit of evidence my mother-in-law probably needed to show I’m trying to indoctrinate my kids to be lefties (and failing; at least one of my kids is “voting” for Romney).
But that’s not exactly what I told my son. Ben and I had talked about how our constitution allows women and men to be president, but women never have, and that I found this to be unjust. There have been many women qualified for the presidency, though Americans have continued to vote for men, a fact all the more frustrating because women have successfully presided over nations in places far more socially conservative than our own.
In other words, the constitution may give women the right to become president, but we have failed to exercise that right through any election, and that seems unjust. Don’t you think?
I’ve heard all the excuses for why women haven’t been elected into our highest office: that women are far more interested in local, rather than national, politics; that women have only been agitating for rights the last forty years, and it takes time for a movement to bear fruit (Exhibit A: the Civil Rights movement and Barack Obama); that women don’t want access to the highest office in the land, with its pressures and anxieties (Exhibit B: Condoleezza Rice); that thus far, the women running for the presidency haven’t paid enough dues, and are merely riding the coattails of their successful spouses (Here’s looking at you, prominent lawyer, U.S. Senator, and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton).
I’ve heard all these excuses, and they sound exactly like what they are: lousy.
Let’s face it. Plenty of people have a problem with women in leadership, and so long as we make excuses for why women haven’t been elected president in our country, we aren’t facing up to the real sexism that looms behind an unwillingness to consider women as viable national leaders.
In this season of political vitriol and partisan sniping, I’m trying very hard to understand those with whom I disagree, and the values undergirding their positions. But when I read some Christian websites that purport to providing a “biblical guide” to elections, and then who say that only men should be considered for governmental offices, it’s very difficult for me to understand where the heck these folks are coming from.
Consider, for example, “The Biblical Standards for Choosing Civil Magistrates,” written by William Einwechter and published last month on The Vision Forum. The voting criteria Einwechter urges his readers to use—straight from the Bible, so it must be right!—include “Men who are able,” “Men who fear God,” “Men who are wise,” “Men who are understanding.”
See the pattern? And then, as if Einwechter decides to give up his ruse, he says “Men.” Yep, that’s one of the criteria. He writes: “God intended that only men be chosen for the office of civil ruler . . . [Bible verse, Bible verse, yada yada yada] . . . the order of male headship established at creation applies to each of the three ‘governments’ established by God: the family, the church, and the state.”
Less you think the yada yada might matter, consider what Kendra has said about the Bible, including in Monday’s post: “It is easy to turn the Bible into a tool to buttress a point of view. All you have to do is pick and choose what verses to use and which ones to toss out. It is harder to make such claims, though, if you consider all of Scripture for then you must live with nuance and contradiction, good news and misogyny, inspiration and human construction. In reality, reading the Bible is messy stuff.”
And yes, it does get messy when there are a number of potential female leaders in our country’s major political parties who might well make excellent presidents, save for this residue of belief that God has designed only men for leadership, somehow coding into male DNA the crucial aspects that distinguish them from women who are also wise, understanding, and capable.
Oh, and those counter examples of women in the Bible who served as leaders? In an earlier article, also published on the Vision Forum, Einwechter suggests the stories of women as leaders in the Bible provides a harsh warning, because those women who acted as judges and civil magistrates were only the “result of sin and God’s retributive justice.” Even the story of Deborah cannot provide example: she was only a prophetess, not a leader of her people, appointed to lead because everyone else around her was far more corrupt.
It might be easy to discount such Vision Forum articles as the vapid musings of uber-conservative men, trying to cloak their misogyny with a particularly narrow reading of scripture. And that it is.
But I would argue that Einwechter’s beliefs are more mainstream than we imagined, and that many others also believe such clap-trap about God’s design, about the inherent inability of women to lead, and about the ways a woman’s “essential” qualities, presumably her quiet demeanor, emotionalism, and lack of aggression, make her a terrible candidate for office.
At some point, we will need to call all of this—this unwillingness to consider women for the U.S. presidency—exactly what it is: sexism. Make no mistake, it’s a sexism shared by those on both the left and the right, by the media elite and the hoi poi, by conservative Christians and their presumably more “liberated” brothers and sisters.
Until people are seriously willing to contend with their own deeply entrenched views about a woman’s ability to lead our country, and until they are willing to stop making lousy excuses, we will live in a place marked by inequity. Our children will see And, as Ben suggested the other day, no matter what the constitution says, that’s just not right.