Two articles today ask whether Caroline Kennedy was the victim of double standards. Why yes, she was: the Camelot standard!
It cannot be denied that female and male politicians are treated differently: women are subjected to a different kind of scrutiny, are taken less seriously, and oftentimes do indeed find themselves butting against a glass ceiling. Says the Washington Post, "Like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin before her, Kennedy illustrated what some say is an enduring double standard in the handling of ambitious female office-seekers. Even as more women step forward as contenders for premier political jobs, observers say, few seem able to get there." The New York Times' Susan Dominus adds that Kennedy was doubly-cursed: as a middle-aged woman attempting to re-enter the workforce, she could have been a powerful role model. "Not only would a Senate appointment make clear that possibility, but Ms. Kennedy would have the chance to prove, by demonstrating competency or even excellence once in office, that sometimes it’s worth taking a risk bestowing a plum assignment on a smart, well-educated woman whose experience doesn’t perfectly line up on the résumé."
But...she's not like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin before her. They had both worked in politics. Even Palin's resume — which was found risible a few months ago — is, politically, a phone book by comparison. Being a United States senator is not a trainee job, especially not in the shape this country is in. Caroline Kennedy is a woman who has never held office — or even much employment. Is she smart, likable, appealing? Sure. But would her name have been mentioned did she not have the magical aura of Camelot? Of course not. If anything, she was treated with an excess of courtesy. Take her dropping out because of family issues. Says Dominus, "If a male political contender had said that, everyone would have just dismissed it as the laziest of lines, a tired cliché that practically announces dirty laundry. When a woman says it, it seems at least plausible, but also a confirmation of the suspicion that women who spent their 30s on family probably will never really be able to put a career first." What? If anyone but Kennedy had said it, it would have been met with all the skepticism of Jeremy Piven's mercury levels, rather than grave respect. It's a valid point to suggest, as the Post does, that Kennedy's being penalized for a lack of experience grounded in very gender-based choices: she raised a family and now she's not getting a fair shake. I agree this is a fascinating line of inquiry and a real issue: but the fact remains that a senatorial seat is not academic. Putting someone unqualified in the position would do nothing to redress this issue, and would in fact make things look substantially easier than they are for those women who have to claw their way back into the workforce by sheer grit and determination.
In fact, I find arguments that Caroline Kennedy didn't succeed because she's a woman deeply offensive. Is any token woman good enough for people, then? There are hundreds of qualified, intelligent, experienced women — two New York politicians spring to mind — who can compete on any playing field. To suggest that Caroline Kennedy is not today a New York senator because of her sex is an insult to them — to Kirsten Gillibrand — and to the rest of us.
Does A Glass Ceiling Persist In Politics? [Washington Post]
Coming Up Short As A Role Model For The Mommy Track [New York Times]