In 2002 PBS released a documentary entitled, “If Women Ruled the World: A Washington Dinner Party.” Filmed in 1999 in the Senate caucus room on Capitol Hill, the documentary was hosted by Canada’s first female prime minister, Kim Campbell. Among the 19 guests were Campbell; Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique and co-founder of the National Organization for Women; Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court; Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, who retired in 2000 as the U.S. Army’s highest ranking female; and Wendy Shalit, the post-feminist author of A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. Anyone who objectively viewed this documentary could tell Ms. Shalit’s opinions were censored. Later I found out the producer set up a private interview with Ms Shalit before the dinner. What Shalit describes is a conflict between two identities that appear to be radically opposed to each other.
As Ms. Shalit wrote in Girls Gone Mild, the book she published after the documentary, there is a script that, in her opinion, needs rewriting. “To me it was an allegory for the experience of being a young woman in today’s society. In many small ways, usually a bit more subtle than this producer’s behavior, we are notified that we must ‘liberate’ ourselves by disrobing, ‘empower’ our sexuality by being indiscriminate in our choice of partners, and strive to see other women primarily as sexual competitors. But for many of us, we soon learn that this path requires repressing our ideals.”
The female Marine pictured on this webpage does not resonate with many students at colleges like St. Lawrence. She doesn’t fit today’s feminist vision of a “leader”. There’s a disconcerting disconnect between what the eye sees and the bounded perspective or mental model of those who “know” what a woman ought to do with her life. At this very moment our nation is debating whether women should be allowed to serve in combat units. It is a debate that strikes at the heart of many people’s deepest beliefs and value systems. I do not claim to have the only answer to this argument. My purpose is to try to convince those of you who dislike the military, who categorically oppose any form of warfare, or who believe a women’s place is in the home, that your judgments may be wrong. It may also be true that your judgment about this woman’s choice is colored by unconscious psychological biases. I will try to persuade you that these psychological biases are one reason why too many college students, especially women, avoid positions of political leadership altogether.