Judy Murray, no mean slouch as a role model herself, uses the same mantra with all her wee female tennis wannabes: If you can see it, you can be it. In some cases, in some places, that’s a whole lot easier said than achieved. I give you the United States of America where the smartest, most gifted challenger to be the Democratic Party’s candidate to run against the appalling Trump person has had to drop out. Elizabeth Warren did, in fairness, have one outstanding character flaw. She’s a woman.
When Hillary Clinton failed to stop Trump four years ago many people thought it was because she carried too much personal baggage from a lifetime in politics. And that was undeniably a factor. Yet throughout the campaign, and most especially during the TV debates, she also suffered from a prejudice encountered by all females in politics – an innate hostility towards any uppity woman daring to seem smart. (ask Nicola Sturgeon.)
Elizabeth Warren is blessed with capacious energy levels, an enviable intellectual grasp of contemporary issues, an articulate delivery, a natural empathy and, not at all unimportantly, a discernible sense of humour. So she lost to two old men who have been round the same block more times than the folk delivering the mail. Should either get elected, they will be over 80 at the end of one term. That is way too old. I’ve got enough years on the clock to know that nobody gets a free health pass. As Bernie Sanders’ heart attack might have told him. As Joe Biden’s serial inability to remember any punch line demonstrated. You don’t necessarily lose your marbles when you get older – but sometimes it takes longer to locate them.
If this were just about Biden and Sanders, their egos, and their reluctance to leave the political stage, you could retain a fondness for the positive qualities both men also harbour. But this too serious to be indulging their fantasies. 2020 is about one thing only; ridding their country of a malign presence in the top job. Someone who has trashed the best American values, feathered his own unlovely nest, appointed family and sycophants to crucial roles, dismantled vital agencies, and, throughout it all, demonstrated an overweening personal vanity wrapped up in the thinnest of skins. Try as I might I can’t visualise Mr Angry or Mr Bumble kicking him out. I’ve never wanted more fervently to be wrong.
There has been another smart American woman in the news this last week. Another woman with the temerity to have actual opinions of her own. Another woman demonstrating an effortless ability to relate to people without seeming even slightly patronising. Yet even as Meghan Markle was delighting over-awed pupils at an East London school or accompanying her husband on a farewell round of engagements, there was still sniping and trolling from the media. And not just in the tackier tabloids.One female columnist in a Murdoch Sunday broadsheet wrote yesterday: “However glossy and glamorous Meghan’s final trolling lap of the country may seem, let us never forget the appalling and destructive and grasping manner in which she left.”
And we wonder, or maybe we don’t, why this effortlessly glamorous, long standing supporter of good causes, felt that if life as a grafted on Royal was going to stay this poisonous she was outta here. I’ve never thought the House of Windsor was over endowed with functioning grey matter, but you think someone might have grasped that Meghan was the best thing to happen to their brand since Diana. And rather more gifted than that fragile specimen.
Watching Meghan entrance star struck students – most especially teenage boys – at that school the other day, reminded me forcibly of the way Michelle Obama came over during a similar visit to a girls’ school in London. Just instinctively dishing out hugs, because that was the most natural thing to do. Given a fair wind and an even break, Meghan could have been the Royal Family’s Michelle. Instead she’s made the great escape to a country where she can bring up her son in relative normalcy and taken the most popular, nearly normal, Royal male with her.
Back at our own ranch we’ve watched a couple of smart young female politicians decide to throw in the towel at Holyrood because of a political system which makes few allowances for the competing demands of work and family. As one of my colleagues shrewdly noted on the airwaves yesterday, if you can make all kinds of alternative arrangements for a possible pandemic, why should it be beyond the wit of parliament to offer family friendlier ways of working? You will note that those men standing down are not doing so because they have young children at home. Most of them are quitting because they have put in years and decades before the mast, and they reckon they’re owed some downtime. And they are. Maybe they could make a quick call to Joe and Bernie.
The unpalatable fact is that there are still very different ground rules for working men and women; different expectations, different standards to be held to. And, most especially, very different ways of viewing personal characteristics. We’ve know for a very long while that men who persist are admirably assertive and women doing the same, annoyingly pushy. We know that men can wear the same soup stained suit to work for weeks at a time (unless the little woman takes it to the cleaners for them), but that every stricken detail of a high achieving woman’s wardrobe is subject to minute analysis.
And there is a sad PS to all this. It’s still said in some quarters of the UK that “women won’t vote for a woman.” Worse still, in America it was often Warren admiring women who suggested that their country wouldn’t put a woman in the White House. That a woman couldn’t beat Trump. Personally I believe Elizabeth Warren could have had him for breakfast. But now we’ll never know. Grrr.
First published in The National 9.3.20