No female president for the U.S., when making history and gender representation collide
Pioneer pilot, Amelia Earhart was quoted as saying, “Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.” This quote rings true amid the recent US presidential election, as the world witnessed one of the greatest upsets in political history. Secretary Hillary Clinton, like Earhart, rode on the platform of becoming the first female in a position 100% historically filled by men. Regardless of intentions to become first female- anything, achieving those goals required great talent, precision, cool, skill and extraordinary ability, whether male or female. Those attributes deserve to be celebrated regardless.
Growing up as one of five girls, there was never pressure to prove our gender capabilities, it was always: be great because it is who you are and it is what you are made of. And when you’re the first of your kind, it means you have weathered unchartered territories, and that also means that ground has been broken making room for a fuller collective contribution of thinkers and talent in the chosen field. This is one value of representation- it strengthens the hopes of actualizing potential in all groups and is used as an example to help others strive for their personal best.
Recognizing historical firsts and all-time records, in terms of gender, is necessary as it serves to show that no gender is bound to a particular level of success in any field. This contributes to a more robust, prosperous and inclusive future that will seek, like never before, to advance human kind in prolific and creative ways.
Though the US did not get to welcome its first female president this November in its recent election, it did get to usher in a number of other firsts for the US: its first Japanese and handicapped female legislator, first Somali-American female legislator, first Black female sheriff of Texas, nine Black female judges in Alabama, and quadruple number of women of colour in Congress, among others.
When newly elected Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA-elect), was announced as the winner for her state- a female, a Black woman, now held the position of US Senator for only the second time in US history, this form of representation marked a great significance. It is especially significant given the race relations-fuelled election year leading up to the US Election day 2016 consisting of a female candidate for the very first time with both candidates fighting for the “Black vote”.
This also coming after the high number of recent extra-judicial killings of Black citizens by law enforcement and after watching President Barack Obama serve magnificently for 8 years and exemplifying why representation matters as the US’ first Black president. This is why recognizing her gender and race is necessary. Gender recognition (and any other demographic ID) all boils down to context and circumstance.
Outside of Earth-shaking, ground-shattering, history-making achievements, let’s even take it elsewhere: when is simply being labelled by your gender in your field a counterproductive effort? Recently, I attended a panel discussion at the Lagos X Art fair and one of the artists told the audience that being labelled ‘female artist’ at various art exhibitions and showcases usually made people focus more on her gender, instead of focusing on her work.
She said people would try and analyse her art through the lens of her gender and because of this, the audience and potential critics failed to fully assess the art; thus, leaving her left without the necessary feedback needed to grow her craft as an artist. I found this other side of the coin pivotal- when a woman is acknowledged only for her gender presence and not her ability, it causes the same effect as if she were invisible all together, the merit is not acknowledged and the work does not stand a chance of advancing. There must be a balance struck between skill recognition and an appreciation of representation.
Representation is most necessary as it aids in the pursuit of equality, helping a generation’s ability to view all members as equally capable. Delta Airlines recently went under fire for failing to allow a physician, Tamika Cross, attend to an in-flight emergency of a fellow passenger due to prejudices and disbelief that she, a young Black woman, was a doctor. This was followed by a flood of images of Black women doctors posting their pictures through social media tagged #WhatADoctorLooksLike to dispel the myth that the title doctor cannot be embodied by a woman and Black human. In this instance, the disbelief in another’s capabilities was brought to fore and could have resulted in fatal circumstances. This could be dangerous in life-threatening situations and in all others realms of life.
When a child grows up in a society without seeing themselves in the notable figures and occupations they admire, that is a limit, a limit of perception that can be challenged.
Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, philanthropist and richest Black woman in the world said “There’s no industry or sector that is the exclusive reserve of any gender.” And she is absolutely correct. There is no limitation on any group of people based on innate ability alone. Limitations are also placed on people in the form of a lack of opportunity of socio-economic origin and otherwise, unavailable outlets of learning, skill-building and the absence of healthy reliable mentorship.
In a changing world where the limitations of a person’s gender, race, disabilities (you name it) are all thrown out of the window, we are left in a society that should, much sooner than later, strip itself of recognizing achievements based on these groupings alone. Recognition of representation should be used to serve the purpose of inspiration and continued growth and human progress.