The Politics Of Bloody Difficult Women

This summer, with Hillary Clinton becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee and Theresa May sailing into the new role of Prime Minister in the UK, I’ve seen a regular refrain on my Facebook newsfeed: “I want a woman leader but not this woman. Anyone but this one.”

It’s pretty easy to understand the reasoning behind these types of opinions. Most people can appreciate the symbolism that a woman is actually in the running to be president. Most will applaud that the UK can now claim two female prime ministers in its history. But many are also disconcerted and alarmed that the women now bearing these coveted, hard-earned mantels are not representative of the “best” ideals. The sentiment seems to be—I’m all for more female leadership, but did the chosen ones have to be so utterly flawed?

I truly get why some American men and women are frustrated that the watershed feminist moment of possibly having a female president is marred by said candidate’s tendency to be shady, untrustworthy, and awkward when it comes to Pokémon jokes. I get it even more with Theresa May. It may be a big step for gender equality in British politics but that feels less meaningful when the woman in charge picks a giant egg McMuffin to serve as her foreign secretary.

Still, this logic also seems to imply that women shouldn’t be given the esteemed honor of power and leadership unless they’re pretty damn close to perfect. In order to really deserve authority, a woman needs to not only tick all the right boxes but also represent women’s rights regardless of her political leanings. It’s almost implied that a flawed female leader is embarrassing. She reflects negatively on all the other women who seek higher office. If our first female president is bad for the country, will women ever get the chance to lead again?

But if women are really going to be equally represented, whether it’s in politics or media or business, we have to accept that there will definitely be bad female leaders as well as good ones. Men have been allowed to fail and suck in so many spheres for so long. While of course it would be great if all the women taking the reins of power were also noble forces for equality and progress, this is just an unrealistic expectation. Why can’t women get a chance to suck too?

I think it’s possible to both appreciate the necessity of more women without supporting the female candidate who ends up in a position of power. Take Carly Fiorina. I am so glad Carly Fiorina ran for president even though she thinks Planned Parenthood murders fetuses for fun on a Saturday night. Even though I shuddered hearing some of her ideas on the debate stage, I still liked seeing one woman up there. I would never vote for Sarah Palin even if you promised me a lifetime supply of SoulCycle clothes (this would be a big selling point for me) but at least it’s a change to see a woman spew nonsense rather than a man. 

People who really fear a woman in power will use examples of bad female leaders as reasons why men should continue to hold court. But that reasoning is just unfair. I don’t think all white men are terrible presidents just because George W. Bush was in the White House. I don’t think all former reality stars would be bad presidential candidates—Kylie J 2020!—just because the one getting the attention now is, as one brilliant Tweeter wrote, “a bloviating flesh bag.” 

Whether you agree with their opinions or not, any new faces represented in the political sphere can be welcome on some level. This goes not just for women but for other people usually denied a seat at the table—from more Black and Hispanic representation to maybe one day even having an openly gay President.

To conclude, let’s bring it back to Game of Thrones. Daenerys Targaryen is an incredible female leader. Cersei is a tyrant. No one in their right mind would root for Cersei to be the ruler of the seven Kingdoms. But let’s be honest. It still felt kind of good to watch her regally sit down on that testosterone-fueled Iron Throne so long denied a Queen.