An Open Letter To Bill O’Reilly: No, There’s No ‘Downside’ To A Female President

That’s like asking if there’s a downside to having a black president. Oh wait, you’ve asked that too.

Oh, Bill O’Reilly, you’ve provided me with so much entertainment over the years. There was the time you screamed at Jeremy Glick, the son of a 9/11 victim, to “shut up.” There was the time you downplayed our country’s homeless veteran problem. There was the time some old Inside Edition footage of you completely losing it surfaced, and to this day, my friends and I greatly enjoy mocking your “We’ll do it live!” rant during moments of frustration or outrage.

And as entertained as I am, Bill, the ridiculousness I find in your views always gives way to the horrific realization that there are people out there, functioning in this world, who watch your program and take you seriously.

Last week, following Michele Bachman’s question of whether or not the United States is ready for a female president, you turned your focus to women in the Oval Office. You asked two female panelists—Kirsten Powers, a USA Today columnist, and Kate Obenshain, a Republican strategist—if they saw any “downside” to a female president. The awkwardness was palpable. After a silence held long enough to rule out the threat of Madame President’s menstrual cycle drawing bears to the White House, Kirsten Powers told you that she would “have to say no, Bill.”

Let’s start with your assertion that “there haven’t been very many strong women leaders throughout history,” shall we?

When I was in middle school, my bookshelf was filled with a series called The Royal Diaries. These books were fictionalized first-person journals of famous women in power from all over the world: Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

But let’s fast-forward to 2014. Here are all of the countries that, as of last month, are currently governed by an elected or appointed woman: Germany, Liberia, Argentina, Bangladesh, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Kosovo, Thailand, Denmark, Jamaica, South Korea, Slovenia, North Cyprus, Senegal, Norway, and the Central African Republic. As you can see, our hypothetical female president would be in good company.

You repeatedly point out that “men are men, and women are women, and there’s a difference,” then attempt to save face by exaggerating the “macho” downside to male presidents. You paint a picture of the White House as a gym overtaken by steroid-abusing meatheads that is just as offensive and divisive as the old idea that women are too emotional to lead. The most substantial part of your entire segment was the question of whether Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War under pressure to “look tough”—pressure that is exacerbated by insistence that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.

Instead, as both of your guests argued, we should be talking about the individual up for consideration. While Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin do have the same lady parts, I can assure you that they appeal to very different voter demographics, have distinct platforms, and would accomplish very different things while in office. After all, the same has held true of our male leaders. Some presidents, like Kennedy and Clinton, have done a generally remarkable job. Others, like Tricky Dick Nixon? My bichon frisé would have been more qualified to lead. More trustworthy, too, and hey, at least he’s male.

Imagine, with President Obama in office, asking if there was a downside to a black president. Oh, wait. You have. And more than that, you told us precisely what that downside is—the white man having to share his “traditional” power.

Bill, my main beef is not simply that your question is fundamentally empty. It’s that you expect two female guests to fill in remarks that, were they to come out of your mouth instead, would make you look like a bigot. You refuse to accept your panel’s baffled answers, pushing them further, worrying about a woman president not having that certain je ne sais quoi to deal with unsavory characters like Putin. You scramble to cite the existing powerful women in Congress as if we should be satisfied to stop there, and you rely on the comments of self-marginalizing representatives like Michele Bachmann to preserve The Way It’s Always Been so that you don’t have to.

So to answer your question, no, I don’t feel that there is a downside to a female president. But as you have repeatedly demonstrated, there are plenty of downsides to people like you having an outlet on national television.

Chelsea Cristene is a community college professor of English and communications living in central Maryland. She writes Gender on the Rocks, a blog about gender, relationships, culture, education, and the media. Find her on Twitter.

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