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That Pink Purse


I’ve been thinking all day about what I could say about the decision of the New York Times to illustrate a story (“The Ascent of a Woman“) about women presidents (of nations, not fashion magazines) with a gigantic pink purse on the front page of the “Sunday Styles” section. Of course, the fact that a story about women achieving high political offices is in “Styles” also speaks volumes about the incalculable ways in which the editors of what is arguably the nation’s most prestigious newspaper just don’t get it.

You have to turn to Page Six in the print edition to see the actual photographs and names of the most powerful women in the world, those who actually won elections to lead nations: Michele Bachelet of Chile, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Mary McAleese of Ireland, Angela Merkel of Germany, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines, Tarja Halonen of Finland. I wonder if any of them have pink purses. Somehow, it seems to me that they might be busy with other concerns.

I have no idea if the purse is Prada or Jimmy Choo or K-Mart. Frankly, it’s not of interest to me, or to millions of women and men who truly care about the future of this nation. I want to know who will be capable of restoring peace, alleviating poverty, improving education, securing a more certain future for the health care of the nation, advancing equal opportunity for all people. The pink purse image trivializes and objectifies the potential of women to take powerful leadership positions on these and so many other issues.

The article also had the obligatory reference to the demise of “Commander in Chief,” a fictional television show, for crying out loud, starring Geena Davis. Why is it not surprising that commentators who think a pink purse is a good symbol of powerful women leaders would also confuse electoral politics with Nielsen ratings?

Yes, I would like to think that women would be considered as equally capable and talented as men when it comes to choosing among candidates for the awesome responsibilities of high office, including president of the United States.
The article focuses exclusively on Hillary Clinton, in contrast to the women leaders of other nations, as the only possible U.S. candidate for president who happens to be female. But Mrs. Clinton is not the only possible future candidate for high office. There are many other hugely capable women in this nation. With all respect to her many achievements, the exclusive focus on her potential candidacy undercuts the possibility that other women might also be candidates. This is not about one political party, one politician, one way of promoting women’s potential. Those of us who are concerned for the advancement of all women in politics must insist on broadening this national discussion to include a broader range of potential female candidates so that the interests of all women are not reduced to the question of whether one particular woman is electable.

Trinity is in the business of educating women for leadership positions in all parts of our society. Some of our graduates have attained some of the highest elective offices in the nation: Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi ’62 has achieve what no other woman has ever achieved — election to the party leadership position in Congress. Kathleen Gilligan Sebelius ’70 is one of only 8 women governors. I have no idea if these immensely powerful and talented women own pink purses. I do know that they should not be trivialized by cheap fashion statements that distract from the real issues.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: