Reforming the Presidency

I remember waiting in the stir-fry line last year, listening to a few Senior boys chat. The election that would eventually bring Uday Singh ’12 to his current position had just begun. The Seniors were talking about the possibility of a female school president, and one boy made a comment that’s stuck with me since then: “I just can’t see a girl leading the school.”

I must commend Abigail Burman for her article “Opening Up the Podium,” from the February 23 edition of The Phillipian. She looks at the underlying causes of our lack of female presidents rather than passing off the issue as Singh did in The Phillipian article from two weeks ago, “Since Abbot Academy Merger, Males Have Served in Most Student Council Positions.” Singh suggested that the presidential role is less creative than other positions of leadership, and thus less attractive to women. Dean Paul Murphy stated that the presidential position “lack[s]… real involvement,” a fact which may turn off girls from running for the position. Both of these explanations are, at best, extremely superficial and at worst, just plain wrong. Not all women wish to be creative, and not all women are looking for a very involved role, if indeed the presidential position is a less creative, less involved role, as Singh and Murphy have depicted it to be.

Burman did not accept these justifications and instead pointed to our social constructs as the origin of the lack of female presidents. From birth, men are encouraged to be opinionated and aggressive, whereas women are expected to be complacent and passive. Of course, this is not to say all men and women conform to these constructions, nor should they, and indeed strong efforts are being made to break these social constructs. Nevertheless, the ideas that men should be strong and opinionated and women should be passive and creative still persist. Obviously this puts men at an advantage in running for the position of school president, as voters have been socially trained to see the position as an inherently masculine one.

Any woman who believes that she has the traits required to serve as school president might be discouraged from running by the notion that, by entering the race, she would be going against the socially acceptable ways for her to act. These social constructions are the root cause of the lack of female leaders at Andover.

While I have agreed with Burman’s article in its analysis of the problem women face at Andover, the solution it offers to best eradicate the masked sexism in our political system, a new sex education curriculum “encourag[ing] women to follow their passions,” is largely inadequate.

Simply encouraging women is not enough; it is the whole of society that needs to be addressed. Hence, a program of this nature would be too narrow in scope and too limited in impact to have any lasting effect.

Similarly, I disagree with Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students, who proposed a new system where one male and one female student are each elected to be co-presidents. Such a system suggests that women are less capable of being elected by her own merits and thus need to rely on a fixed system to be elected. A system like this would only proliferate the problem by making the assertion that women need a fixed system to be elected.

Instead of rigging the election process to engineer equality, serious efforts should be focused on both reforming the current gender norms and redefining the role of the president so that it favors no particular sex. Of course, that’s much easier said than done.

Still, there are some things that can and must be done now to address this issue. First, we as a community need to consider our own prejudices and motives when voting. Making the decision to vote for one candidate over another based on the candidate’s sex is detrimental to the whole community. A man should not be elected simply to ensure a woman isn’t elected. At the same time, a woman should not be elected simply to promote equality in Student Council. Rather, the candidate best suited for office should win the position. So, I ask each person who votes in this election or any election going forward to seriously consider the position and the candidates running for it, and make your decision based solely on those candidates’ ability to fulfill the responsibilities of that role. However, this suggestion alone would not be enough to solve the problem, since the current perception of the presidential role favors males.

Therefore, I would like to challenge the administration to redefine the role of president so that it favors no particular sex.Paul Murphy was quoted as saying, “One might argue that when you’re school president there isn’t really a lot to do.” This conception holds true with many students who simply disregard all the ideas of the presidential candidates as promises never to be kept. Perhaps the role of Student Council can be reexamined, with new systems set up to provide better means of bringing about change to student life, giving those who have drive to be an “involved” president the ability to actually make substantial improvements through their position. Rather than judging how good a figurehead each presidential candidate would be in representing a masculine form of leadership, voters might actually consider each candidate’s ideas and ability to institute change. Then we all could put aside our biases and Student Council would actually embody the qualities that it should.

Such drastic changes to the Student Council and our greater societal beliefs are not short-term goals. It will take time to fully incorporate such alterations, and still more time will be required to see the effects of said alterations. I have confidence, nonetheless, that such things can be done.

It falls upon the administration and the current Student Council to begin to make these changes. After all, their job is to improve the school.

Makenzie Schwartz is a two-year Lower from Bradford, MA.