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viewpoint

Women in Washington

| Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Of the many unlisted roles my summer as a Congressional intern included, one was tour guide. Four days a week, I walked with likenesses of George, Abe and picture-snapping tourists through the corridors and rotunda of our nation’s Capitol. Though I never tire of my arena or its thematic prominence of promise and opportunity, I have recently developed a subconscious complacency to my own potential part amongst the pedestaled past.

I became aware of this every time I turned my group’s attention to one of the rotunda’s two statues not counted among the presidents otherwise framing the interior, and more importantly, the American personification of leadership. The Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony stands, almost floating due to its lack of feet, as though it is the bow of a ship preparing to cross uncharted waters, looking proud and determined despite the load and turbulence certain to be met along the journey.

That odyssey is incomplete. The evidence is as old as the statue itself, portrayed partially finished with an untouched portion of marble following its predecessors.  It has been waiting since 1920 to become the next and newest face of the women’s movement. Then again, if such was achieved, this statue would be just that, another statue in the Capitol.

The buzz emitted among fellow guides is that our first female president would be the one so lucky to float alongside the likes of Misses Mott, Stanton and Anthony. When I mentioned this during tours, what would follow was an unspoken challenge, a game of, “Who’s gonna be the first to say what we’re all thinking?”

Kids don’t associate the name Hillary Clinton with the phrase “woman president.” They haven’t a clue as to why this lady is on a bookstand at Barnes and Noble (nor do they care).  Most of the tourist adults are sick of her. Upon the first female president comment, some throw out an aside along the lines of, “God help us,” or, “Sure hope it’s not for a while.” When it’s not that, it’s an awkward split-second silence, then on to the statue of Ronald Reagan.

I often ponder how the reaction might differ in another dimension where such a feasible concept brings more approval due to the welcomed reception of a woman who is anyone BUT Hillary Clinton. Do the adults simply wince at the image of another aging Clinton occupying the Oval Office? Is the idea of a woman in that position uncomfortable for them because Hillary has almost always called the estrogen shots above the list of many other qualified female voices long enough to write another memoir? If these other women were taken as seriously for the position as she is, how would tourists’ comments vary?

I ask because I think that if we, the United States of America, are finally going to enter the twenty-first century, we ought not to halt all progress for this one woman claiming herself to be the most qualified female to enter the next presidential campaign just because she has “been through the fire.” Promoting herself in this same fashion as the savior of women in leadership is a turn-off, frankly. Inspiring? To a degree.

Mrs. former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State or whatever title you go by these days, if you truly thought about the future in which your unborn grandchild will grow up, tell all women, Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever that they have the potential to lead and set a positive example for this country and the world. Does that sound like wishful thinking? I would be naive if I didn’t think so, but it seems to me you are not trying to “break the glass ceiling” as much as construct an even tougher one.

Observing the Senate and House galleries any congressional day makes me understand further what Madame Clinton hath wrought with inflexible partisan pleasing. Two-thirds of the already small minority of women in both legislative wings are Democrat. That’s not to say the influence of another former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, hasn’t had the same repercussion with Republicans. This is beyond party politics, though.

If women want women to embellish themselves in long-shot, long-term leadership positions such as the presidency, let’s build each other up and encourage those kids, regardless of any bias, who don’t yet know the legacy of Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to reach beyond societal and racial boundaries.

Of course, political parties will continue to fish in their own waters, venturing further into the deep end from time to time in hopes of catching that one straggler. Our values are only as sturdy as our self-confidence.

So, let’s not simply build a statue and call it a day. Let’s erect an idea. Identify other potential women presidents. Embolden each other’s strengths and abilities. We’re not all Hillary Clinton’s and that’s fine. We are unique and incomplete.

A virgin slab is as mystifying as a blank piece of paper for the curious mind. The straight edge can be curved. The end exists for art, music, literature and theatre, but it never comes for an idea. Ideas are ambidextrous, even for the unrealized lover of what is not.

Be an example. Be exceptional. Be presidential.

About Emilie Kefalas

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