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Guyon: Gender Politics

I’ve always considered myself a raging feminist, though that rage has generally been quiet. I donate to my local women's shelter each month and do all I can to help empower girls in my community. I've raised my daughter to dream big, her brother to respect women, and I’ve done my best to show them that women can be strong, smart and successful. When I think of my great aunties in England who were suffragettes, I figure they’d be amazed at how much women’s lives have improved since their day. Unfortunately, though, there hasn’t been a lot of progress when it comes to leadership. Out of 200 countries around the globe, only 22 of them are lead by women. That means about 90 percent of the world’s presidents, prime ministers and heads of state are men - and that can’t be good for women. Right?

Then I remember 1980, when I was 17, and the news came out that Margaret Thatcher had become the first female prime minister of Great Britain. I recall sitting at the kitchen table with my Mum, Grandmum and Auntie - and they were all toasting their cups of tea at the notion that a woman was finally in charge of Mother England. We’d all immigrated to the states years prior, so they were finding a sort of ex-pat pride in knowing that the UK had somehow one-upped the US in putting a woman at the helm.

As we’d all been following the elections, I knew a bit about Thatcher and proceeded to argue that she would be the worst thing that ever happened to English women, that she was no Emmeline Pankhurst (the leader of the British suffragettes) and that just because she possessed two X-chromosomes it didn’t necessarily mean she’d help the plight of British women, especially poor women.

Needless to say, the following decade proved to be one long “I told you so,” with which my female elders eventually – reluctantly – agreed.

Since becoming a US citizen, I’ve taken that lesson with me into the voting booth every time.

Just as someone who has kids isn’t necessarily a good parent and the CEO of a hospital might have no idea how to care for patients, it cannot be assumed that a member of one particular gender is going to be a de-facto advocate of what’s best for his or her own peers.

It’s not down to similarity; it’s down to integrity and true connection to the common man - and woman.

Annie Guyon works in Development at Dartmouth College and occasionally writes as a freelancer for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
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