Electrifying women at the highest — and lowest — levels are coming out of the woodwork these days. In a 48-hour period, three very different women stole headlines and created a frisson of disquiet across social media and the nation’s capital.
First up was Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), the House impeachment manager who gobsmacked the United States with her riveting, fact-based prosecution of Donald Trump on the second day of the former president’s Senate trial. Plaskett, literally a blue-caped crusader, on Wednesday linked Trump’s tweets to responses in online forums, credibly laying blame at his feet for the Jan. 6 siege at the Capitol.
In so doing, she became a real-time supernova, sparking lengthy Twitter conversations about what she wore and why we shouldn’t talk about it. In no time, her St. Croix-blue dress was photoshopped with a Superwoman “S” on the bodice. How fitting that the breast-beating Proud Boys coursing along the Capitol’s marble hallways in their “manly” costumes should be reduced to the wee men they really are by a woman wielding only a finely chiseled mind.
Next, we learned on Thursday that Rachel Powell, a.k.a. “Bullhorn Lady,” one of the louder — and stranger — rioters, would be released from jail pending trial. A mother of eight who claims to spend her days gardening and tending chickens, Powell was captured on video breaking windows with a pipe and shouting instructions to others storming the building. Investigators searching her home found several smashed cellphones as well as “go bags” filled with throwing stars, knives, ammunition and survival gear that suggested she (or someone) was prepared for a hasty departure.
Well, so much for stereotypes. Or should we imagine somehow that Proud Boys and violent moms are related in some new variant disorder associated with neediness? Feminism’s unintended consequences, perhaps. What kind of grown man, after all, calls himself a Proud Boy? What mother of eight finds time to riot?
Finally, but not least, Nikki Haley, the Republican former governor of South Carolina who also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, surfaced after a lengthy hiatus from public life to write Trump out of the picture and declare him finished. “He’s fallen so far,” she said in a Politico interview published Friday. “He let us down” and “we shouldn’t have followed him.” Indeed.
In other words, Haley is running for president and there’s no profit in being associated with a man she never really liked. When Trump offered her the ambassadorship, she doubtless saw it as a next step, giving her diplomatic experience on the world stage. But she also took pains now and then to strategically separate herself from some of his statements and policies along the way. A shrewd politician and tactician in her own right, Haley continues to play her cards skillfully.
The coincidental timing of these three stories is just that: coincidental. But it is probably safe to say that three men of similar circumstance might not have attracted the same attention. We’re used to men doing all sorts of things, both sublime and profane, and then asking us to handle the cleanup. But we are still getting accustomed to women stealing the show, whether by busting norms at the barricades, matching wits on the Senate floor, or aspiring to lead the free world.
While the last few elections have produced an overdue wave of female candidates for public office, the gender balance in state legislatures, the judiciary and the Congress all lag behind the norm. So do boardrooms, faculty lounges and executive suites. And then there’s the Oval Office.
Haley could well earn the Republican Party’s nomination next time around, depending on what happens to Trump’s cult followers between now and then. Her Horatio Alger story as a first-generation American born to Sikh Indian parents is ready-made for Netflix and a party that can’t find the handle on immigration and racial inequality. Smart, savvy and polished, she has long entertained a run for president and the timing, not coincidentally, is right.
The same might be said about her likely Democratic opponent, Vice President Harris, should the stars so align. Two women of South Asian descent facing off to become president of the United States would seem to close the circle for a movement that launched a thousand bra-burnings just a few decades ago. Though, were the election held today, I’d probably put my money on Plaskett, a tough lawyer and Brooklyn native who also does justice to a cape and the color blue.
As for Powell, perhaps she can land a gig with a resurrected “The Apprentice” and hatch those chickens into something more lucrative than a few shards of broken glass.