Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 5:36 pm | Fair 72º


Susan Estrich: 2013 Not the Year of the Woman After All

This year began with women holding commanding leads in races to become the next mayor of America's two largest cities, Los Angeles and New York.

It was "hers to lose," the chattering class said of Wendy Greuel, former L.A. city controller and president pro tem of the Los Angeles City Council.

It was "hers to lose," the chattering class said of Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council.

And then they both lost.

No one is saying that they lost "because" of their gender.

But the reality that these two women — both experienced and talented enough to be leading in early polls — both lost decisively, that neither city has ever had a woman mayor, and that of America's 10 largest cities, only Houston has a woman mayor raises hard questions about the glass ceiling that still exists in politics (and in corporate America when top executive positions are at issue).

This much is clear: Being female didn't help either Greuel or Quinn. There was no gender gap in New York. African Americans tend to vote for credible African-American candidates; Jews for Jewish candidates. Ethnic groups overwhelmingly support their own. But women?

In fairness, neither Greuel nor Quinn made "gender" the focus of their campaigns — at least not until the closing days when they were losing and the appeal to "make history" was a Hail Mary pass that didn't connect. In Los Angeles, some criticized Greuel for not focusing on "making history" earlier on, although I can promise you that if she had, she would have been criticized for running on her gender and not on her record. Ditto for Quinn.

And so it goes.

Quinn, according to media reports and accounts from friends and colleagues, was resistant to advice to "soften" her tough image, although that didn't stop voters from describing her to pollsters and reporters as being too "ambitious" and "bossy" and even just "too masculine." Many of her own supporters worried that she didn't dress well enough. On the other hand, for decades, women thinner than Quinn and better dressed have faced the familiar criticism that they aren't tough enough or assertive enough and that they are too feminine. Those who study (or struggle as) women in corporate America are all too familiar with this particular vise: how to be feminine but not too girly, assertive but not too aggressive, in charge but not too "bossy." As Gloria Steinem put it, "If you're tough enough to run New York City, you're too tough to be considered acceptably feminine."

Something needs to change.

Both Greuel and Quinn emphasized, in losing, that they hoped their candidacies would at least send a message to young girls that they could dream of holding high office.

"This may not be the outcome you wanted, but there's a young girl out there who was inspired by the thought of New York's first woman mayor," Quinn said in her concession speech.

That was a great thought back in 1984, when young girls could — we hoped — take from Geraldine Ferraro's historic run the thought that someday a woman might be vice president. But the young girls of 1984 are now grown women, and what's so troubling is not how much has changed, but how little.

I know many women are insulted by the idea that they should vote for a candidate because she is a woman. Not me. If it's considered perfectly acceptable, understandable and appropriate for Italians to support Italians and Jews to support Jews and Hispanics to support Hispanics, what is so wrong, so unacceptable, so inappropriate about women supporting other women?

No, we're not a discrete and insular minority. We're a majority — but only in numbers, not in power. And the only way we will get more power is by supporting one another.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >