What Fiorina Got Right About A Female President

Whether or not she always envisioned herself in the role, Carly Fiorina has been thinking about a female president for a while. During a speech at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in 2002, Fiorina talked about the first time the idea of a female president came up in America. It was the incredibly sexist 1964 movie Kisses for My President, in which a woman is elected president for the first time, and then resigns when she finds out she's pregnant. After expressing her disgust for the film's depiction of women, Fiorina made an important point about a female presidency and women leaders in general.

In Kisses for My President , America's first female president (played by Polly Bergen) is distracted by her family life, as her husband almost leaves her for another woman and her children run wild. Fiorina said in 2002, "The viewer is left with the distinct impression that the first woman president cannot keep her marriage intact and her children in line." When the president finds out that she's pregnant, she resigns from office because the job is too strenuous. "The movie ends with a smile from Fred MacMurray, who says, ‘It took 40 million women to get you into the White House, and one man to get you out.'"

Fiorina isn't alone in finding the movie offensive and degrading, especially now that there are two women running for president. But her speech went on to make another important point — that labeling female leaders as "women leaders" is counterproductive. Fiorina said,

When you step back from the labels and the expectations and the boxes we've allowed ourselves to be put in since that terrible film came out nearly 40 years ago, you realize leadership lies within all of us. Does a list of the 50 most powerful women in business help us become the change we seek or does it preserve the status quo? Is it better to keep the glass ceiling discussion alive or to simply declare it, in words and deeds, an anachronism? Because women can and will do anything. At the dawn of the millennium, let us move on from labeling ourselves "women leaders" — let us call ourselves "21st century leaders."

Although this speech occurred 13 years ago, the message is still relevant today. If either Fiorina or Clinton are elected in 2016, it will be a momentous day for American women and feminists everywhere. But the first female U.S. president shouldn't be defined or restrained by that label, just like both women shouldn't be called "the female candidates" throughout the election. Constantly dwelling on the fact that the president is a woman would preserve the antiquated idea that a female president is somehow different than a male president, despite the fact that she would do the exact same job. Fiorina and Clinton shouldn't be put in a separate box because they're women, whether it's done with good intentions or not. Fiorina thought it was time for a real female president 13 years ago, and now she wants to be that president.