[Column] Robyn Curnow: One job in America remains beyond the glass ceiling

Regardless of whether Donald Trump wins the U.S. Presidential Election in November, one enduring certainty of U.S. politics will remain.  With key women dropping out of the race to become the Democrat nominee, leaving only Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders as realistic options, there will be a man sitting in the Oval Office come 2021.

For a country that prides itself on its unique, exceptional place in the world – a beacon of forward thinking – this is a peculiar anachronism.  Almost sixty countries, beginning with Sri Lanka in 1960 and encompassing the likes of India, Israel, Argentina, Senegal, Mozambique, Canada, Croatia, Jamaica, Mali and Namibia, have beaten the United States to this milestone of female leadership. 

41 years after the UK, America’s closest cousin, elected Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, the United States is no nearer to electing a female President.

 While this is a familiar sensation to Americans, the absence of a female front-runner this time around feels more remarkable.  The 2018 midterms saw a wave of strong women candidates sweep into Congress.  235 women won House nominations that year, a huge rise from 167 women in 2016. In the Senate, 22 women clinched primaries, beating 2012’s record of 18. For governor, 16 women won their state’s ticket, up from the previous record of 10.

The democrats were buoyed by energised female voters, many of whom were spurred into action by the Trump presidency, the MeToo movement and greater organisation by activist groups. African American women came out in droves in Alabama to stop controversial candidate Roy Moore from taking a senate seat.

 But they will have to wait longer for a female candidate to be on the presidential ticket. Elizabeth Warren lamented the sexism inherent in politics when she dropped out this week, and some Republicans have voiced their own concerns about the lack of diversity within their party.

Women’s issues, too, are a major point of electoral debate here.  The debate on abortion is well known, but other issues such as maternal safety have recently found prominence – America is the only developed country in the world with a rising death rate for pregnant or new mothers.  Elsewhere, progress for women in America’s boardrooms remains frustratingly slow.  Maternity and paternity leave remain among the shortest in the world.  Access to affordable childcare is hard to come by. Polls consistently show that suburban women could be the key swing demographic in November. 

My daughters have two Barbie dolls that are sold as a pair – the packaging says, ‘First all-female ticket!’ – and the dolls represent Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. They look like they mean business, with pencil skirts and jackets, pearls and – on one – a sharp pair of black spectacles. You can buy a journalist Barbie, doctor Barbie, vet Barbie, or scientist Barbie too.  For now at least, all of those career options are open to women in today’s America, except one. When it comes to the role of Commander-in-Chief, it seems that the only thing American girls can do is play, and dream.