Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Madam President: Progress, Problems, and Prospects for 2008

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Madam President: Progress, Problems, and Prospects for 2008

Article excerpt


Women have made great progress in electoral politics both in the United States and around the world, and at all levels of public office. However, although a number of women have led their countries in the modern era and a growing number of women are winning gubernatorial, senatorial, and congressional races, the United States has yet to elect a female president, nor has anyone come close. This paper considers the prospects for electing a woman president in 2008 and the challenges facing Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice--potential frontrunners from both major parties--given the historical experiences of women who pursued the nation's highest office.

Keywords: Madam president; women in the White House; female presidential candidates; women in politics; American presidency

Electing Madam President?

Women make up over 50 percent of the world's population. However, with few exceptions, women are not equally represented as elected officials throughout the world. Frustratingly, the United States ranks only sixty-first in the world in terms of the percentage of women serving in national legislatures. Only twenty-five women in U.S. history have ever served as governor, with a record number of eight (or 16%) currently leading their states. Of the nation's 100 largest cities, only fourteen (14%) have female mayors; and the numbers are not much better for cities with populations over 30,000, where 118 of 1,139 (10.4%) have women running city hall. The current female delegation of fourteen (14%) in the U.S. Senate and sixty-six (15.2%) in the U.S. House of Representatives, although few in number, are nonetheless record achievements. At the state level, nationwide 1,662 of 7,382 (22.5%) legislators are women, and roughly the same percentage of women occupies the nation's statewide executive offices. The numbers for women of color are far lower and even further underrepresented. Yet, as abysmal as these numbers appear, all the aforementioned counts for women in political office reflect, on balance, record gains. (1)

It is also necessary to recognize that women's political leadership is neither new nor unusual. A number of women led their governments throughout history and in nearly every part of the world. (2) History has witnessed the leadership of Cleopatra, Saint Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great, and queens Isabella, Elizabeth, and Victoria, to name a few, many of whom led governments. At present, a number of female monarchs reign, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and the Maori monarch Kuini. Since just the end of the Second World War, roughly five dozen women have served as prime minister, president, chancellor, or premier, and several remain in office at the time of this writing. (3)

Table 1 below lists women who have headed governments in the modern era (post-WWII).

While a number of women have headed their governments around the world, only seven women have been serious candidates for the U.S. presidency, defined herein as announcing their candidacies, receiving media attention, developing platforms, and vigorously campaigning for the office. Five of them campaigned as candidates of major political parties, two as third-party candidates, and only one woman has been the vice-presidential nominee of a major political party, while two other secured third-party vice-presidential nominations.

Table 2 below lists women who campaigned for the presidency, while Table 3 lists women vice presidential nominees.

As of the time of this writing, all forty-two individuals who have served as president of the United States have been men (in forty-three difference presidencies because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as both the twenty-second and twenty-fourth president). Although women have made progress in all facets of electoral politics and at all levels of public office, no woman has even come close to winning the White House. …

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