“My nephew Luke has no memory of a white male president” says Melissa Ryan. “Hillary Clinton just made history but for millions of children she won’t be the first woman president. She’ll just be the president.”
This is exactly right, I responded.
I was born right before Margaret Thatcher became the British Prime Minister and she remained so until I was nearly 11 years old. In my head, the word ‘Prime Minister’ was inherently gendered female and whenever, in fiction or historical context, the Prime Minister was referred to with the male pronouns he/him, it felt odd.I think this was a really important lesson for a young white male to learn. Even now I sometimes have to put the idea out of my head that Mrs Thatcher is the ‘real’ Prime Minister and all the others were just play acting – a particularly worrisome feeling when I profoundly disagree with her politics.
And if that is how I feel about the transient office-holder of Prime Minister, imagine how the entire British public think of the monarchy. On this day when we celebrate HM the Queen’s ‘official’ birthday (her actual birthday is in late April), we should pause to recall that the vast majority of us have known nothing but a Queen. The gendered monarch’s Q is found in many places, such as the QC appended to lawyers’ names, to the national anthem ‘God Save The Queen’, sug with gusto this evening by the football fans in Marseilles. When Elizabeth II dies the dissonance will be huge even though a King Charles III would represent a return to the long term status quo.
This is how the powerful remain so: their longevity makes them such a fact of life that our minds cannot imagine anything different. It is why the Clinton candidacy, the Obama Presidency (and, I might add, the Sadiq Khan mayoralty) are so important to everyone, including and perhaps especially for the white guys. It is also why fictional representations of diverse presidents, politicians, military, judicial and business leaders are so crucial (even in slightly ridiculous shows like 24, Veep, or Homeland) because they break that mindset.
One theory about the rise of Donald Trump’s racist and sexist candidacy is that it is a petulant reaction to white men losing their power. It’s noteworthy that Trump is very popular with white men and very unpopular with other demographics. It’s also given as an explanation for the hideous culture war flash points like #Gamergate or #RabidPuppies, and for the bizarre outrage at the prominent role given to women in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mad Max: Fury Road or the all female Ghostbusters reboot.
Minorities are finding their voices, rising in confidence and in prominence, writing themselves into popular culture, and those from the traditonally powerful groups (including people who may not have had power or wealth themselves) are Freaking Out and Losing Their Shit. As politics and culture throws up more diverse role models, we will find that subsequent generations will be far more comfortable with equality and diversity than we are currently.