Abby Johnson: Reconsider thoughts about female candidates

On June 26 and 27, nationally televised debates will showcase the top 20 Democratic presidential candidates including six women. I’ve been wondering what the Democrats were thinking to embrace a free-for-all contest to unseat the incumbent Republican president who shall remain nameless.

My father was a state senator in New York in the 1930s and ’40s, and while he favored a more open nomination system, he worked within the party’s smoke-filled cigar-chomping back room pre-selection process in order to be the chosen nominee.

I don’t embrace political bosses running the show but with more than 20 candidates vying for the Democratic Party nomination, even the smoke-filled room looks enticing. Couldn’t the Democrats come up with a dream team or two instead of a mob of candidates?

Could it finally be time for women to lead? Just last week, The Nature Conservancy ousted their discredited president in favor of former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, its first female leader. The Naval War College has appointed its first woman president, Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, after missteps by her male predecessor. And even Mormon dominated Provo, Utah has its first female mayor since its founding over 160 years ago.

It’s well known that the 2019 Nevada Legislature was the first majority female legislature in U.S. history. Or is that herstory? As I watched the final hours of the last day of the session, I was struck by the professionalism, positive attitude, efficiency, dignity and purpose of Nevada’s women legislative leaders.

The Democratic presidential debates will include Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand among others.

All of us have conscious bias and likely much unconscious bias about what women leaders should or shouldn’t do, how they should behave, sound, and look. It’s natural to compare and contrast but this election season, we must do a double take.

Women are judged by different standards than men. Rebecca Solnit, the writer, historian and activist, said it best recently in her Facebook post, edited for brevity here:

“Men: take charge

Women: bossy

Men: authoritative

Women: lecturing

Men: confident leader

Women: too ambitious

Men: experienced

Women: too old

Men: fresh voice

Women: inexperienced

Men: confident

Women: strident

Men: humorous

Women: wacky, ditzy

Men: serious

Women: humorless

Man: prepared

Woman: overprepared

Men: dedicated

Women: relentless

Men: steadfast

Women: stubborn

Men: brilliant

Women: brainy, or as James Comey put it, ‘annoyingly smart’”

To counter unconscious bias, I’m trying a meditation technique. I’m just a beginner, but my teacher tells me becoming aware the mind has wandered is the awakening. Consider that technique the next time you conclude the woman is too shrill, or strident, or stubborn.

Regardless of party or persuasion, unconscious bias is a thing, and with such an important presidential election ahead, where the fate of our country and government may actually hang in the balance, it’s crucial to keep an open mind about who can be an effective leader for our divided country.

Watch the debates with an open mind. Consider the damned if you do/damned if you don’t criticism women leaders face, take a deep breath and reconsider.

Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.


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