Why A Woman President Won't Mean The End of Sexism

Women in leadership roles are the beginning, not the end, of the structural changes that will lessen the effects of sexism in our government and in the world. 

Image via Etsy.

Image via Etsy.

In 1995, a psychologist named Ann Moliver Ruben produced a t-shirt which featured the character Margaret from the comic strip Dennis The Menace declaring "Someday a woman will be PRESIDENT!" Ruben supplied the shirts to her local Walmart store in southern Florida, where they sold like hotcakes until one shopper decided they were offensive. He filed a complaint and the Walmart corporate office ordered their removal from the store, stating that the message of the t-shirt "went against their philosophy of family values." 

At the time, Ruben declared it "a tragedy." A significant segment of American society was not ready for the notion that women could be political leaders, and probably still isn't. But at this week's Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to receive the presidential nomination of a major US party, inching America closer to a reality that was deemed too offensive for Walmart just twenty-one years ago. 

As President Obama stated in his speech at the convention last night, "Hillary's got her share of critics," both from the Left and Right. But whether you love Hillary Clinton or wish she was someone else entirely, there's no denying the tremendous amount of work that goes into making cracks in the glass ceiling that has kept all 44 of the presidents in US history male (and all but one of them white). 

As a tech company founded by two women of coloralmost unheard of, if you're keeping trackwe've bumped into this ceiling more times than we can count. Women with leadership roles in the tech industry are either tokenized as a curiosity (like "goats at school" or "babies in a marathon," as Siren advisor Rebekah Bastian quipped in a recent piece for Huffington Post) or ignored altogether. More often than not, it's the latter. 

Whether or not Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House is successful, someday a woman will be president. Breaking the glass ceiling is important, but even when it happens, the work will still be far from over. A woman president will no more end sexism than Obama's presidency ended racism. (Just last week, comedian Leslie Jones suffered a deluge of abuse on the internet just for daring to be a Black woman in a popular movie. If we think racism and sexism are over, we're kidding ourselves.) 

Women in leadership roles are the beginning, not the end, of the structural changes that will lessen the effects of sexism in our government and in the world.  

This is why we're taking a long view of history; looking forward to the day when diverse candidatesnot just wealthy cis white women, but also women of color and LGBTQ individuals, starting on the local level all the way upare so commonplace that public scrutiny of these candidates can focus on their policies and their accomplishments, not just who they are and how they happen to differ from the expected norm. And even then, there will still be work to do, because only this kind of representation can ever hope to dismantle the effects of generations of a status quo whose power depended on keeping everyone else disempowered. 

The day-to-day reality of politics, just like the reality of the tech world, is far less glamorous than the image it projects to the world. Symbolic, high-level victories are important, but deep, lasting change will depend on welcoming real diversity on every level, and learning from the diverse viewpoints that come with it.