What is the sound of one hand clapping? What would happen if I hired two private detectives to follow each other? The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. The first rule of becoming the president, if you’re a woman, is you absolutely cannot want to be the president.
CNBC reported that some “allies” of Joe Biden are “waging a shadow campaign” against veepstakes frontrunner Kamala Harris, on the grounds that she’s “too ambitious” to be the vice president because what she really wants is to be the president. That report came days after former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) dinged Harris because she wasn’t sufficiently remorseful after she’d bodied Biden in an early Democratic primary debate, and Politico referred to another black woman in Congress, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, as “the anti-Kamala” since she supposedly “cringes at having her picture taken and is content to let others grab headlines.”
While Bass immediately rejected that contrast, the problem with Harris, according to these people, is that Harris actually wants the job. Then again, it’s not just Harris. Some people really don’t like it when women want things, especially if that thing is power.
Writing for The New York Times, Peter Beinart surmised that the reason Biden is handily beating President Donald Trump in places Hillary Clinton struggled isn’t because American voters have become more progressive in the last four years. It’s because Biden is a man, and voters are generally OK when a man who is running for president seems as though he wants to be the president. That’s why Clinton was much more popular as secretary of state than she was as a presidential candidate trying to take a man’s job. Americans love women who are happy with what they have, and lose their collective minds when women want more.
Beinart further points out that voters perceive female political candidates as less truthful than male candidates even when the opposite is true. In one 2010 study, even fictional female characters that possessed ambition were viewed less favorably than fictional men who wanted the same things. Women who want something don’t even deserve it in people’s imaginations!
That puts women in a tough spot. On one hand, there are several ladies who would one day not mind being the president. On the other hand, how does a woman run for president without seeming like she wants the job?
When I was a kid in the 1990s, Magic Eye books were all the rage. They were large, glossy things that contained no text, only bright patterns. The only way to see the images embedded in each nonsensical-looking page was to focus one’s eyes so they weren’t looking directly at the image. Only then would the three-dimensional surprise—like a sphere or a leaping dolphin—present itself. Looking at anything like that for too long was a great way to get a headache.
In much the same way, a woman who wishes to become the president can only become president if she un-focuses her goals on something We the People find palatable. A concerned, midsize SUV-driving mom who is reluctantly roped into politics because the Russians kidnapped her husband, or something. That’s an easy first step. But how does she stay in office without seeming as though she wants to advance? Maybe once her foot is in the door, the only way for voters to see a woman as deserving of the presidency is for the woman to do everything in her power to make voters think she doesn’t want to be the president.
She could start a PAC called something self-effacing like “[Her Name] Does Not Want to Be President” or “Gee Whiz, I Couldn’t Possibly.” On the campaign trail, she could enter every room with her eyes cast downward and her teeth hidden, as voters threatened by powerful women can sometimes be subdued in the same way a person can subdue a stray dog. She should speak quietly, in almost a whisper, as a convenience to the men who may want to interrupt her mid-sentence.
The first female president should never think of herself as qualified or deserving, at least not outwardly. She should be pretty, but not so pretty that it seems like she is trying to be pretty. Her hair should be good hair, but not too good; her clothes should be nice but not so nice that the American people can imagine her buying those clothes with thoughts of the presidency in mind.
Hurting men’s feelings is completely out of the question, so if the female presidential nominee tells a joke that gets a bigger laugh than a joke told by a man, she should pull that man aside and assure him that his joke was funnier, and then make a large donation to a charity that supports men in comedy.
She should react to her name being announced at campaign rallies with the feigned surprise and delight of Taylor Swift winning her 10th Grammy. Her stump speech should be a list of all the reasons she doesn’t want to be president. When supporters cheer for her, she should cry a little, maybe get stage fright and throw up. She doesn’t want this. She hates this.
When her opponent calls to concede on election night, the first female president-elect should offer to let him have the presidency, since he worked so hard for it and has wanted it for so long. She should apologize for beating him. She should apologize for embarrassing him in front of his son. She should feel bad about it. She will be disappointed to discover that she can’t sign over the presidency to her opponent, and apologize to the man again.
When she is sworn in, she should look unhappy. She should tell the American people she’s sorry and that she hopes that out there, somewhere, a little boy is watching who will one day become the president. She should keep her suitcase packed in one corner of her bedroom at the White House, because she’s not planning on staying long, she doesn’t mean to be an imposition, all of this is so embarrassing, all this fuss.
Only by completely erasing any evidence of ambition can women achieve the impossible. To paraphrase President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inaugural address, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is some bitch being the boss of us.”
God bless all of you, God bless America, and, most importantly, may God grant Joe Biden’s running mate—whoever she may be—the nerves of steel necessary to ignore all the bullshit that’s about to come her way.