As a college student on a campus in the nation's capital, my fellow classmates are always up for a good political debate. Social issues are of particular interest to the D.C. college student, and as a young feminist I've found myself grilled by the boys on multiple occasions about gender equality. Why are women still whining about the dearth of women in politics…what about Nancy Pelosi? Hmm? What about the ubiquity of Sarah Palin, wasn't she almost vice president? What about Hillary and the 18 million cracks in the ceiling?! (At this point, some snarky conservative opponents suggest that taxpayer dollars will be covering the crack repairs.)
To some degree, they have a point. Yes, there is greater female representation in politics than ever before. This is evidenced by all of the previously mentioned names and many, many more, along with the fact that the Obama administration marks the first time in U.S. history when three women sit on the Supreme Court bench. Finally we live in a nation where the ideas and voices of women are heard at the national level. Unfortunately, sometimes this is only so their ideas can be exploited, while the actual women are pushed aside and divested of power.
A prime example of this is the Senate Republicans' vehement refusal to allow Elizabeth Warren to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Warren herself helped spawn. Warren is one of the few voices standing up for true consumer protection, and she is being prevented from having the recognition of leading the bureau, and the power that comes with this recognition. Republicans have been working tirelessly to block recess appointments, particularly this one. Despite this opposition, the decision to appoint remains solely in the hands of President Obama.
And therein lies the more disturbing question: why is President Obama, who trustingly appointed Warren to set up the bureau in 2010, hesitating to appoint her as its official leader? Obama allowed her to develop the bureau, which will take effect July 21 and is charged with drafting and enforcing much-needed financial reform aimed to better protect consumers and hold predatory lenders and big business accountable. However, the bureau cannot write rules governing consumer finance or begin overseeing previously unregulated agencies until the president officially appoints a director. Now he's stalling to let Warren officially take the reins on her own brainchild. Why?
The fact is that even today in 2011, when just three years ago a woman came closer than ever to becoming the president of the United States, stories like this allow us to revisit the deeply entrenched stereotypes we hold as a nation. Of COURSE a woman can be involved in politics, why anything less would be discrimination! Just as long as her name is not attributed to anything substantive, and she isn't actually given real power to effect change. Clearly, even when an economic reform champion like Elizabeth Warren comes along, male members of her own party get a bit gun-shy. And those are just the liberals!
Gender stereotypes relating to who we trust with the work of governing miraculously trump deeply divisive party lines. That is the sad truth. And though there may in fact be 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, the ceiling seems to remain firm enough to prevent incredibly qualified and progressive individuals like Elizabeth Warren from moving this country in a more positive direction.