When my aunt Eunice Kennedy Shriver died in 2009, more than a few people wondered aloud why she hadn’t run for president, as three of her brothers did. By then, we had women on the Supreme Court, women as senators, representatives and governors. One woman had even come close to winning her party’s presidential nomination. But when my aunt was young, she saw no women in elective roles, and what she could not see, she wasn’t encouraged to be. Even now, among dozens of Kennedy cousins in the next generation, I am the only woman who has sought or held elective office.
What is a female candidate supposed to look like? Act like? Be? These are tough questions for Americans to answer, especially when we’re so quick to recycle outmoded gender perceptions when women try to talk to us about why and how they want to lead. As Hillary Clinton prepares to accept the Democratic nomination for president, Americans are long overdue for what George H. W. Bush once contemptuously called “the vision thing.” Only this time it’s about envisioning women as leaders. Why should one more woman have to contend with the conventional daily diet of criticism fed to me as a woman campaigning for political office?