In the last two years of my political life, I served with 4 other women as a county commissioner. I was the fiscal conservative in the bunch but shared their liberal persuasion for social concerns. About money, I saw it as a fickle friend, not to be relied upon as the answer to every problem. My four colleagues differed. They viewed money as a battering ram to be used to defeat every obstacle. Our debates were lively and when my arguments seem too convoluted, one particular colleague would lean forward on the dais and purr, “Pink things make me think things.”
Her reference was to my wardrobe, in part. I often wore pink. But she was also suggesting I was guilty of sophistry, a gift of the tongue often seen as a feminine trait. Fair enough. Throughout history women have had few other tools at their disposal but cajolery — a weak force when compared to the masculine power of command.
In her excellent essay, “The Grande Dame’s Revenge,” (Town&Country, October 2016, pgs 243-245), Sadie Stein gives us a brief but crackling view of the way women used their power of influence to draw real power to them. Sex was another form of influence, of course, but it required few words.
If the world of courtesans and Grande Dames has seemed to disappear, it is in style only. As Stein points out, rather than mystery and mystique as part of their arsenal, today’s Grande Dames appear to be transparent folk — one of us, mingling democratically on social media and reality television. No longer required to influence and manipulate behind the scenes, they glitter in the virtual firmament. They may compete, but they are no longer required to destroy their competition and sometimes, they even lift their sisters up. (Ibid Pg. 245)
Stein paints a rosy picture of women’s progress, though it remains, largely, an exercise in influence. Women with real power remain the exception. The world may smile at Oprah Winfrey who has built and paid for her own fiefdom, or smirk at an anachronistic Kim Kardashian, wriggling her way to fame and fortune, but the notion that women and power are a natural fit continues to have many doubters. Pink things still make people think things.
Women doubting themselves is the result of centuries of indoctrination. Influence is the most to which we were taught to aspire. the woman behind the throne; first Lady. But as Alice Walker (Click) reminds us: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” In the upcoming presidential election, I hope voters across the country, and particularly women, will heed Walker’s words. It’s time for a First Lady to become Madame President.