Despite her relatively short speaking time during Tuesday's Republican presidential debate, Carly Fiorina had one super feminist moment. In arguing for her ability to handle national security, Fiorina quoted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In doing so, however, Fiorina gave into the "gender card" argument that she had vowed to avoid, and seemed to unfairly vilify the eight men who joined her on stage.
At the end of one of her responses, almost as if it were a punchline, Fiorina boldly quoted Thatcher. "If you want something talked about, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman." Sure, it's a memorable quote, and it elicited applause from the audience at the Venetian in Las Vegas and on Twitter. But it doesn't actually speak to any of Fiorina's supposed qualifications, or her plans. In other words, the quote came across as a tool to get a response, not a communication of a substantive message.
What's worse, it was a substance-less jab at all the men on stage with her. So what if she's a woman and they're men? Isn't the point of feminism that men and women are equal? Fiorina's argument would have been better served by a quote that conveyed some sort of edge which she can provide but her male counterparts can't. To do so, she could have taken a note from one of these other feminist role models.
When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.
At just 18 years old, Malala Yousafzai has become one of the most recognizable advocates not just of women's rights, but of human rights around the world. Yousafzai is able to call on governments and groups of people to act without putting others down. Not to mention, given her history of going up against the Taliban, Yousafzai's quotes often apply to situations in the Middle East.
Susan B. Anthony
I do not demand equal pay for any women save those who do equal work in value. Scorn to be coddled by your employers; make them understand that you are in their service as workers, not as women.
Fiorina is a member of a political party that isn't known for its prioritization of women's rights. Fiorina herself has sometimes been criticized for failing to speak out in favor of certain women's issues, like access to contraception and equal pay. Susan B. Anthony, one of the earliest feminist figures in the United States, might not have been a modern-day Republican, but she left us with some words that could help Fiorina explain her position on these issues better.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the '40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S.
Like Anthony, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg probably wouldn't consider herself a modern-day Republican. Still, she and Fiorina have something powerful in common: They're both part of an extreme minority in their respective fields. Ginsburg is one of just four females to be appointed Supreme Court Justices, and Fiorina was one of the few female Fortune 500 CEOs at the time she ran Hewlett-Packard. On Tuesday night, it would have been nice for Fiorina to take a note from Ginsburg and use her success story in the professional world as justification for her success in office.
Success for me is that if my son chooses to be a stay-at-home parent, he is cheered on for that decision. And if my daughter chooses to work outside the home and is successful, she is cheered on and supported.
It's safe to say that this quote from Facebook's chief operating officer and the author of Lean In wouldn't work for a foreign policy debate, but it's a good example of a feminist quote that celebrates men, as opposed to putting them down. It's also a particularly relevant quote for Fiorina, whose own husband retired early to be able to better support her and their family in her success. (He even got a lot of flack for doing so from friends and family.)
Power is like being a lady ... If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.
Perhaps Fiorina just channeled the wrong Thatcher quote. She probably should have taken this one to heart, since she frequently reminds voters and debate viewers that she knows every world leader someone asks her about. With little political experience, it's good that Fiorina wants to prove herself as connected in the international community, but at what point does the "I know him" approach come off as less powerful and more Buddy the Elf?
Fiorina hasn't really made it a point to associate herself with feminism so far in this election. When she finally did so on Tuesday night, she chose a reference that delivered no substance and shamed all the men on stage with her for no specific reason other than their gender. It was a catchy quote, but it probably wasn't a winning strategy.