Women need real not symbolic power: If Hillary Clinton is to be the first feminist president she will have to bring about change

And to do this, she'll probably need some help from other powerful women in the federal government and in state legislatures

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The Independent Online

If that unnamed source was correct, Hillary Clinton will be officially announcing her bid for the US presidency. Other women have run before, but Clinton is the most serious contender to become America’s first female president in history. It’s an exciting moment for America and for equal rights advocates all over the world. Or it should be. But as the British women who grew up under Thatcher can tell you, one woman at the top doesn’t necessarily mean much for those still scrabbling away near the bottom.

We can at least say that during her time as First Lady and Secretary of State, Clinton spoke out against the subjugation of women more than Thatcher ever did. Hopefully, if elected, she will also legislate according to these principles, but the simple fact of gender is no guarantee. For some supporters, whatever happens after Clinton reaches the White House is almost beside the point, anyway.

When young American girls see a woman in high office, they’ll believe they can grow up to be whatever they want to be. Admittedly, if C J Cregg said something like that on The West Wing I’d get misty eyed, but when applied to the real world, the sentiment is not so stirring. It’s not too-small dreams which hold back the world’s talented and capable women: it’s too-big barriers.

If Clinton is to be the first feminist president as well as the first female one, she’ll have to do more than simply personify change; she’ll actually have to bring some about. Like ensuring access to contraception and abortion, taking action on the gender wage gap, and reforming a justice system which last week sentenced a woman to 20 years in prison for the “crime” of miscarrying. And if Clinton wants to do that, she’ll probably need some help from other powerful women in the federal government and at the level of state legislature.

Therein lies the problem, because if women in power are merely symbols – even competent, well-qualified symbols – their presence not only does nothing to create opportunities, but it actively prevents other women from advancing. Researchers who analysed the top tiers of 1,500 firms from 1991 to 2011 found that while companies may work hard to get that first woman in a management role, once she has been appointed, the chances of another female colleague joining her halve.


“We thought that the hiring of one woman would lead to a snowball effect at a given company,” said report co-author and associate professor Cristian Desz. “In fact, what we find is exactly the opposite. Once they had appointed one woman, the men seem to have said, ‘We have done our job.’”

Britain is the perfect example of how this “job done” attitude plays out on a national scale. We elected our first female prime minister in 1979; 36 years and seven general elections later, there have been no more. But it’s not all doom, gloom and depressingly tenacious inequality. A woman, Sue Perkins, is currently the bookies’ favourite to replace Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. Her appointment won’t do anything concrete for women, of course, but it would at least p*** off a few sexists.

Everybody loves a good heist

“Highly organised”, “audacious” and “sophisticated” – this is not what the critics are saying about the latest Tate Modern exhibition. This is what police are saying about the work of criminals, specifically the Hatton Garden raiders, who last weekend made away with an estimated £60m worth of gems.

While other high-profile crimes provoke horror, titillation and maybe fear, a good heist story is usually greeted with – admit it – admiration. Partly this is George Clooney’s fault. Think of a heist and you imagine him in his Ocean’s Eleven get-up, exchanging witty repartee with Brad Pitt. But it’s not entirely down to Hollywood. No one has made a film about Hatton Garden (yet) and we’re still able to appreciate the artistry.

One ex-Flying Squad copper even speculated that the Holborn fire was set by the same gang, as cover. “I’ve never heard of an outage of electricity like that causing a fire that lasted as long as that,” John O’Connor told LBC radio. “That seems to me as too much of a coincidence.”

If the British public isn’t as disapproving of daylight robbery as we ought to be, perhaps that’s because we’ve grown used to it. Since the financial crisis made the super-rich richer, it’s hard to sympathise too deeply with victims who are perceived – rightly or wrongly – to belong to this new class. After all, even £60m is small fry compared with the billions stolen annually in tax avoidance.

Health advice that grates

Did I dream this after one too many Stilton crackers before bed, or is cheese all of a sudden good for you? The renowned source of saturated fat sounds like an unlikely health food, but several recent studies have come to just that conclusion.

Nutritionists have identified cheese-eating as one reason behind the mysterious longevity of the French compared with other nations, and a survey conducted by the dating site Skout showed that cheese-on-toast lovers have more sex. Cheese wasn’t specifically linked to the finding that overweight people have a reduced risk of dementia, but we can read between the lines, can’t we? They didn’t get that way from celery.

These studies on diet and health are often contradictory, but their annoying abundance does have one upside and here it is: if scientists hailed enough random foods for their magical, health-giving properties, they were bound to get around to cheese eventually.

Follow the Catalan clock

In 1942, General Franco decided it would be a good idea to synchronise Spanish clocks with their fascist ally Germany, and the typical Spanish working day was born: 9am to 8pm with a two-hour break for lunch from 2pm. Not surprisingly, the people of Spain grew tired of working some of the longest hours in Europe for some of the lowest living standards, and in Catalonia last week they voted for change.

Which just goes to show, when you’re stuck in the middle of it, that the 40-plus-hour working week feels as unavoidable as the sunrise, but there’s nothing to stop us from arranging our lives to suit people instead of profit. A government-approved daily siesta, though?

That might be pushing it.