Tuned In

From the Archives: Hail to the She

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I have been at this job long enough–or have just gotten old and senile enough–that I constantly come across articles I forgot I had ever written. While searching time.com for an old essay to link to in my Wire Watch, the site threw me a link to an article about women presidents in pop culture.

I was intrigued. Turns out I wrote it! The piece is from 2005, when ABC debuted Commander-in-Chief with Geena Davis. It seems more timely now, what with all the attention we’ve been giving to the primaries at Tuned In, so I thought I’d share. In it, I look at why the creator of the show felt compelled to make Davis’ character–unlike Martin Sheen’s on The West Wing–an independent:

The salient divide in politics, says Commander in Chief, is not blue vs. red. It’s blue vs. pink. I suppose you could call this a compliment to women. It’s men, the show is saying, who devote themselves to grandiose ideologies, and women who clean up their mess. Then again, one of the favorite arguments against women’s suffrage was that the lady folk were too pure to sully themselves with partisan politics.

Of course President Bartlet on The West Wing is free to thus sully himself. Even on a show with a feminist premise, it seems, TV is not quite ready to treat powerful women as it treats powerful men. The show’s creator, Rod Lurie, probably just meant to make Allen the enemy of politics as usual. But it’s a rough message to send to Hillary–or Condi Rice or any other woman who will have to rely on politics as usual, not a contrived TV plot, to become President. And who faces the sexist paradox: if you get ahead in party politics, you must be a bitch,* a lesbian … a man. If not, then you’re too womanly–too weak–to lead the free world. For all its you-go-girlness, what kind of woman President does Commander in Chief say America wants? One who’s too good for the job.

And how far have we come since 2005? Over at Swampland, Ana Marie Cox has the answer.

*Naughty word appeared uncensored in the print TIME. Let’s hear it for the time.com blogs profanity filter, everyone!