What will it take to make a woman president?
In the years since Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, the number of women leaders in Washington has decreased.
December 15th, 2011
03:39 PM ET

What will it take to make a woman president?

Editor’s Note: Marianne Schnall is a journalist whose writings and interviews have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Women’s Media Center, Glamour Magazine and O, The Oprah Magazine. She is also the co-founder and executive director of Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. Her new book is titled  "Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice."

By Marianne Schnall, Special to CNN

It has been three years since we applauded Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling” during the 2008 presidential campaign. However, there has been little progress for women in Washington to celebrate since then. In fact, the current statistics on women’s representation in the U.S. government are pretty shocking: while women make up almost 51% of the U.S. population, they are only about 17% of Congress. The United States ranks 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures, behind countries such as Cuba, China, Iraq and Afghanistan. Heading into the 2012 election, there seems to not only be an absence of female leadership, but some discouraging trends, like that 17% - last year, for the first time in 30 years, the percentage of women in the House of Representatives actually went down.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to some pioneering and influential women - political leaders, business executives, publishers and thinkers - and I asked them why they believe women have made such little momentum in Washington just four years after having a near presidential contender - and what we can do to get more women into the pipeline of political leadership.

Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic leader, first female Speaker of the House

“As I’ve said before, you can lose the election but win the campaign, because even by running you’ve asserted your strength and authority. In her historic run for president, Hillary Clinton certainly helped crack what I like to call the ‘marble ceiling,’ which has largely kept women from the halls of power for hundreds of years.

I similarly hoped that becoming the first woman Speaker of the House would lead to more opportunities for those who came after me. But one woman can’t do it all; America, as a nation, needs to make a decision that they want to see women leading. And women have to help women: to run for higher office, to succeed in business, and to excel. There’s nothing more powerful than someone who has succeeded reaching back to lift up the next generation. I hope that we will help each other make history and progress.

Women bring a unique perspective to debates over policy. I hope that women will lead progress on all issues, because every single issue is a ‘women’s issue:’ from the security of our country, to its economy, to prosperity around the world.”

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of  Facebook

“The last Congressional election was the first election where women actually lost seats in Congress. And as I understand it, one of the challenges is getting women to want to run for office. And I think there are great groups out there trying to do more, but I think it goes to measurable differences between how men and women attribute accomplishment. If you look at how men and women attribute their success, men attribute success to their own intrinsic qualities, and women attribute success to extrinsic things like help from others or luck - or if it’s intrinsic it’s hard work. And so men often look at an opportunity or running for office and they say, ‘I can do that’ and women need more encouragement. And I think a lot of articles have been written about how men will volunteer to run for office and women won’t. I think that’s something we need to nudge along.”

Arianna Huffington, president and editor in chief of The Huffington Post

“I think it’s really what Sheryl Sandberg says to women, you know, 'Don’t leave before you leave.' Stay engaged. If you are going to take time off to have children, that’s great, but don’t leave until that happens. And stay engaged at whatever level – it doesn’t have to be elected office. There are many ways to be a leader.”

Kirsten Gillibrand, New York state senator, founder Off the Sidelines

“I don't know the reason why participation has stalled. Many organizations have done many studies, and one thing they've found is that women really need to be asked to participate – that they respond very well when they're asked to run for office. And the studies also show that when women do run, they win. That they do have the ability. They do have the tenacity. They do have the drive. They can raise the funds. So I think we need a call to action – we need to actually invite women to come to the table – ask them that we need them to come to the table both in corporate America and in political life, because we need their thoughts, views and guidance on these very important decisions that our country is making.

I think the most important message for women is that they can do it. That this is something that they can do. That you can find a way to balance a career and family – that there is a way that you can be part of the decision-making fabric of this country and still be a good mother. For a lot of women, that's the challenge – can I do both? Is it the right time in my family's life to take on these challenges? And my call to action is very comprehensive – do whatever you can do, it's a question of: are you voting? Are you being heard? Are there issues that you care about that you could advocate for and let your representatives know how important it is to you? Would you ever consider running for office? Really making that request of women's participation across the board.”

Jane Fonda, actress, activist and co-founder The Women’s Media Center

“If the media shows women in a degrading, demeaning way, if violence is not taken seriously, if female candidates are covered in the context of how they look and what their hair is like and how they’re dressed as opposed to how the male candidates are referred to, this has an impact on women and girls. Not always conscious – but it can’t help but make us feel somehow we don’t count as much. It’s not a cognitive thing, it’s a visceral response, I think.

One of our mottos and one of our programs is 'Name It, Change It' – if you don’t know it exists and you don’t give it a name to it, you don’t do anything about it. Like in campaigns - we are going to see this a lot in the coming year. Women are treated differently than men when they’re running for office. And it becomes very sexist and misogynist. So we name it in order to change it.”

Gloria Steinem, author, activist, co-founder of Ms. Magazine and The Women’s Media Center

“In the last election I supported Hillary Clinton because I thought she was simply the most experienced, but I felt it was too soon for a woman to win, and that may still be the case, even though she transformed people’s ideas. Because we are raised by women and so we associate women with childhood. Men especially may feel regressed when they see a powerful woman. The last time they saw one they were 8. So one of the most helpful things we can do in the long-term is make sure that kids have loving and nurturing male figures as well as female figures, and authoritative and expert female figures, as well as male figures.”

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Filed under: How we live • Politics • Women
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  1. nikki in PA

    I'm so sick of this. The democratic party had their opportunity to not only elect the first woman President, but put the RIGHT person, with the RIGHT experience in the position. Obama has shown he was not ready for the job, is not doing a good job and all this does is dredge up the fact that the Democrats chose the WRONG person, now they have to deal with it. Me? I will be writing Hillary's name in on my ballot AGAIN and every year until she is finally our President. She's the only one I trust.

    December 19, 2011 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
  2. rahul

    You should chose a president based on intellectual ability. Its time that we look beyond genitals and skin color. Needless to say, I wish I was a black Muslim lesbian (a quadruple minority) so I could easiely become president...aahh..

    December 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. American Citizen

    I refuse to read this article because of the offensive headline. Why any woman would is unimaginable. And yet – look who the photograph is of – hasn't the United States realized that the Clintons are not the only people in this nation? Hilary Clinton is not the only woman who could be president? My God. Such limitations on the brain.

    December 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Micheal Wade

    To all people this blog, do u realize(which i think is a injustice to the people of PR) I have live here for two years and i have study everything i can get my hands on of the history of PR,but that another story! Getting back to this article! Do the people in the states realize we can pick who runs for President, but we cant vote for who we pick! With that being said, we would already have had a woman President if the people of Puerto Rico were allow to vote in the last election! Because Pr was for Mrs Clinton 3 to 1. She would have had enough votes to beat Obama! Im not saying hes not a good president, thatsthe great not wht this article is abt! So anything anyone has to say should check their facts! Hopefully this will change in the future! Puerto Rico would make a great state to the union of the states! The great culture it wld bring, a great vacation for people in the upper states, its beautiful scenic views, i swear the water is the bluest of blue! The great fishing! i cld go on an on why we sld be a state! But again we would already have had a woman president if the people of PR were able to vote for the President!!!!

    December 17, 2011 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • American Citizen

      The Clintons have been corrupting Washington, DC long enough. They need to get out and make room for others. Hilary isn't the only woman in the United States, but it could be easy for some third world country to believe that because her face is all that we see. God.

      Get a grip and get them out of Washington.

      December 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cameron

    This is a silly question. Of course the US will elect a woman, but she won't be one that is widely know right now. She will be a fresh face on the national stage.

    December 16, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      False, the USA will never choose a woman president because in all history the greatest ruler to be a woman was cleopatra. Women don't know how to rule. If a woman becomes president I will give up my citizenship. Men and women will never be equal we were never made to be equal

      August 10, 2012 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
      • Sharon

        Ok Johnny,

        It looks like you have negatively portrayed progression. If we want to move away from war and conflict, then there needs to be succession in Government.


        October 12, 2012 at 6:02 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jenean

    I'm convinced that my vote doesn't count anyway....

    December 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. William

    What will it take to get a female president? easy Hillary Clinton

    December 16, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • William II

      If Hillary is the best women have to offer, then it will be a long time before a woman is President. She has shown little other than she caved in to Bill's "adventures" while in office.

      December 16, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
      • American Citizen

        I don't agree.

        December 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry in Houston

      Geraldine Ferro would have been a Super Woman President -and I also think Hillary would have done a Super Job. I was one of those 18 Million supporters – If Obama puts her in, as his VP, and Biden drops out, Obama will get re-elected, & in 2016 Hillary would be a shoe in. She's the smartest one out there. next to her husband, which I have the ultimate respect for.

      December 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry in Houston

      Geraldine Ferraro would have been a Super Woman President -and I also think Hillary would have done a Super Job. I was one of those 18 Million supporters – If Obama puts her in, as his VP, and Biden drops out, Obama will get re-elected, & in 2016 Hillary would be a shoe in. She's the smartest one out there. next to her husband, which I have the ultimate respect for

      December 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
      • American Citizen

        No more Clintons – get them out of Washington!

        December 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Curt

    When you have potential nominees like Palin and Bachman, its never going to happen.

    December 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JOSE0311USMC


    December 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jane

    i would vote for jane fonda in a heartbeat. as president.

    December 16, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC


      December 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry in Houston

      I would too,in a half of a heart beat . and Yes, I'm a Registered Democrat, living in a Republican State.

      December 16, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Lynda, California

    A woman will become president one day, but it must be the right woman. Bauchman and Palin and female politicians of their ilk have damaged the image of women in politics. They are not bright, and are completely mean spirited and I believe they would not help American woman at all. I can see Hillary Clinton in 2016, or another Democratic women who will stand up for their fellow females and are highly intelligent. It's not about female in the end it is about character, intellect to handle the demands of the job, and pride. But we can't simply check a box because of gender, that is the problem with the way the Republicans choose candidates. It's all about a look, rather than substance, even with most of their male candidates. They really need to get out of the shallow end of the candidate pool.

    December 16, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • American Citizen

      Congress isn't going to allow a highly intelligent and excellent choice for a female president to occupy the Oval Office any more than they would allow a Catholic president to stay in office. It's the Southern Baptist Convention and the KKK that will never permit it. So – don't waste your time dreaming – these men will never let it happen.

      December 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Larry in Houston

    I don't know Marianne – I thought Hillary was the one who was going to be the nominee, I Voted for her, and was a huge fan of hers. She was correct when she said that Obama doesn't have any experience -and look what we have today – it all doesn't make any sense to me. I think Hillary (with the help of a little bit of advice from her husband) would have been one of the best Presidents we've ever had in the U.S. I'm a registered Democrat – but don't always vote that way – it just depends on the candidate. Look at other countries – Germany has a woman as their leader – England – and I can name several others, that had a woman as their leader, at one time, or another.We got Obama because of Bush , and McCain ended up getting ahold of a "bimbo" for his VP. Pitiful isn't it ? I really hate to relate myself as a democrat, when we've got this guy Obama in office. There are times he actually doesn't "think" I think he's catering to some of the Far Far Far Left, most of the time. He acts & talks like he's got experience, but in reality, he has absolutely None. He's Just not a Leader, peroid. As much as I hate to do it, I will end up Voting Obama out – as long as the Republicans get someone that is towards the middle, ( even a little, towards the middle) In other words, I would Vote for Ron Paul, or Romney, but anybody else, I guess I will end up voting for Obama 🙁 At least Ron Paul will get us out of that 15 Trillion, by cutting a Trillion a yr. All the others wants to cut a cpl Trillion in a 10 or 15 yr span. That's not going to get it. People don't know this, But that 15 Trillion will eventually Kill us, as a country, believe me. I hope you print this.
    Larry in Houston

    December 16, 2011 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |

      Dude just say you're a conservative. Period. To vote for Hilary, then vote for Mitt Romney...lol there is no continuity there.....The entire GOP field is worse than giving Obama a second term, period point blank.

      December 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
      • Larry in Houston

        that's because Romney WILL come around the Middle. ( eventually) unlike the others.

        December 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Al

      I thought Mrs. Clinton had a great chance to be president. However, I soon realized the the in-depth racism of African Americans and the anti-powerful-woman makeup of the progressive arm of the democratic machine and its lackeys. I recall how the democratic bigwigs, including its "progressive" women, abandoned Mrs. Clinton. I remember how the mainstream media (MSM) characterized the Clintons as racist. (Just imagine what the MSM would have done had the Clinton campaign said, as did senior Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod: "I told my colleagues yesterday a bit of homespun wisdom that I got from an alderman in Chicago some years ago when one of his colleagues wanted to run for higher office and he was really dubious. He said, 'just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt.' " I remember how persons President Clinton had brought into his administration all of a sudden turned on the Clintons and backed Obama. I remember Mrs. Clinton's frustration with the CNN hosted debates; at one point suggesting to the CNN debate moderating team that they might offer Mr. Obama a lounge chair to make him even more comfortable than they were already making him.

      December 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
      • Micheal Wade

        Big Al
        People dont realize this, but if the people of Puerto Rico were able to vote! we can pick who the canidate will be but we cant actually vote in the election! but Hillary would have won if our votes were counted! What a shame!

        December 17, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • William II

      Hillary is not a viable candidate, but I will give her credit than being more able to do the job than Obama. I give most everyone more credit to do the job than Obama. Obama was elected by the 98% black vote who was voting for what they thought was one of them.

      December 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
      • Larry in Houston

        lol – you're right -98% – – can you imagine what the black Vote is going to be – in 2012 ?? let me put it this way – Obama pulled a rabbit out of his hat, when he got elected in 2008 – – – but IF he gets elected in 2012, he will be the 2nd person that lived on this earth to have "walked on water" – – – I predict that Obama will end up getting those kids that were 14 yrs old – 15 yrs old – 16 yrs old – 17 yrs old – BACK in 2008 – – – They are 18 / 19 / 20 / 21 & 22 yrs old NOW. They (especially the blacks) will want to have the opportunity to "Vote" for a President of their race. Pitiful, isn't it ?

        December 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Matt

    I love how every example mentioned or pictured here is an EXTREME LIBERAL. I take that to mean that you'd be dismissive of a conservative woman running for president? Like Kelly Ayotte or Candace Miller or Condoleeza Rice?

    December 16, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |

      Condaleeza yes Ayotte is a tea partier so NO.....Miller a tea partier as well, so no.

      December 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danielle

      You can blame that on your party since they choose only to put the dumber woman on display such Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. You want to show some smart conservative woman tell whoever is the next Republican provincial nominee to think with the brain in his head and not the one between his legs should he choose a female VP candidate.

      December 16, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
      • Larry in Houston


        December 16, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry in Houston

      it would be like voting for the current list of clowns on the debate stage – then IF they were elected, they would end up getting "tips" ( advice) from the current GOP clowns.

      December 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Blake

    so all this talk about a woman becoming president and not a word about Bachman? the only woman with a chance to become President for the 2012 race. is it because she is conservative? weird

    December 16, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • A. Goodwin

      Most likely because we all know that she will never in her wildest dreams become president.

      December 16, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
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