The idea of THE Woman

Sheryl Sandberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Judith Warner, Stephanie Coontz, Gail Collins, Anne and Kate Roiphe and many, many more have prominently and publicly discussed the changing roles of women since, primarily, the Second Wave of the Feminist Movement which is generally considered to have run from the 1960s through the 80s. Warner, Coontz and Collins are three of my favorite writers about this (and a whole host of other) subjects; if you haven't read their work, consider doing so! If you read Em-i-lis regularly, you'll know that I sometimes put in my own two cents about what I will henceforth call, The State of the Women. Within that meta-term reside questions and discussions about: women having it all; what that means; should they try to have it all, and if so, why?; the general concept of leaning in or not; who are the women who can "lean in" and who are those who feel doing so is no more than a fanciful musing of the wealthy; the mother wars, aka working versus stay-at-home moms; and on and on.

The question, Can Women Have it All, has always seemed somewhat silly to me because a) why on earth would anyone presume all women want the same things, and thus, b) what meaning can such a vague question and resultant discussion really illumine? It seems infinitely more valuable to consider what each woman might consider having it all and then trying to assess how many of us get it, get close to or remain awfully far off from our personal all.

I'm thinking about this again right now because in yesterday's New York Times, a contributing writer, Clemens Wergin (a German and the foreign editor for the German Welt newspaper group) wrote a piece entitled, The World's Most Powerful 'Little Girl.' Online -why the change?- it's entitled, "A Woman for All Seasons." In any case, the article begins with the recent story of an eight-year-old Berliner asking her mother if it's possible for Germany to elect a male chancellor; for this little girl's entire existence, Angela Merkel has headed Deutschland. In case you're wondering, I think this is FABulous, and I appreciate Wergin going on to say just how grateful he is for the role model Merkel is for little girls, including his own two young daughters, in Germany.

That said, he also discusses the fact that Merkel: doesn't have children (so has never been pulled in the ways one presumably is when both powerful and a mother); is able to rein in any ego she might have when important decisions need to be made; was once underestimated because of her gender (Helmut Kohl once called Merkel a 'little girl,' hence the print title of Wergin's piece; don't you love that Merkel then dethroned Kohl??!!) and so could stealthily outfox other pols; and doesn't over-emphasize women's issues in public and politics (this has frustrated women's groups in Germany).

Long story short, I just cannot understand why we ask and explicate and parse and analyze all these facets of a woman leader's being when we do NOT do this to their male counterparts. It gets a little old, frankly. It's like women have to repeatedly prove why their lady-parts don't hinder their extra-gender abilities. Why should Merkel mean much more for Germany's "little girls and others" than what she is: the most powerful individual in the country? Indeed, why should any woman have to stand for all the experiences and positions one might have?

I'm not trying to slam Wergin here (I do think he admires and is grateful for Merkell) except to call out what his article highlights to me: that there is still a different experience in having a female rather than male leader. Perhaps that's because there are still so relatively few of us, but really, are women still surprise spectacles?? Are we not literally all around?

Maybe if we stop noticing when women get somewhere, especially places vaunted and rare, it'll start to seem normal rather than surprising. And then we can simply study the jobs they do, judging them based on performance rather than their being "F."

Naturally all of this presupposes equal starting points, equal pay and reward, equal opportunity, but in the ways it might help to STOP differentiating leaders based on gender, well...let's get to it!