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Illustration by Edel Rodriguez for TIME

It's Time for Our Real-Life Female Leaders to Act Like Selina Meyer

Ideas
Susanna Schrobsdorff is the Chief Strategic Partnerships Editor and a columnist at TIME

Do you know what we should do the next time a clutch of male Republican Senators decide it's O.K. to go behind closed doors and rewrite the entire country's health care plan without a single woman in the room? Send Selina Meyer over there in her stilettos to give them a piece of our minds in language they might understand.

I know, she's a narcissistic, foulmouthed fictional ex-President on an HBO series, but I think it's time for women to take a page from the Meyer playbook. We've been tying ourselves up in knots trying to be ambitious but likable, feminine but not too sexual, tough but not bitchy. And all of this rule-following isn't working. Women still occupy less than 25% of the seats in Congress.

Just look at what happened to the female candidate in the last presidential campaign. I know ... We shouldn't dwell, it's not healthy. But let's--just for a minute. Donald Trump said stunningly sexist, bigoted, cruel and obviously untrue things, many times. He hawked his own products at news conferences, refused to release his tax returns and attacked a Gold Star family. He broke every rule, and there's a lesson in that for women: if the actual President of the United States can get elected doing outrageous, unpresidential things, all bets are off. So let's free our inner bitch and knock down a few backroom doors. It's time to let our id out.

We could ask the incomparable Julia Louis-Dreyfus for lessons in how to play someone who is sure she deserves a place at the table even after a humiliating defeat. At one point in the most recent season of Veep, Meyer finds out that all the other ex-Presidents are posing for a group photo without her. Sure, she wasn't actually elected President. She assumed the office when her predecessor was forced to resign and then lost the election. A lot of women would be too embarrassed to insist on being in the picture. It would seem presumptuous, arrogant, unfeminine. Not Meyer--she's determined to push right up front in a Trumpian way. She believes she belongs, even if her dead-chic sleeveless dresses are barred from the House. (Yes, that's a rule: Speaker Paul Ryan recently chose to enforce a dress code that forbids women from baring their shoulders on the floor and the adjacent Speaker's lobby.)

You've seen the studies; most women are not like Meyer. Men will apply for a job even if they barely have half the requirements. Women won't apply unless they have all the requirements. But Meyer seizes the tiniest bit of success as reason to throw herself at the doors of power one more time

In the season finale, there's a telling flashback to when she was first elected Vice President. She walks to the Oval Office and announces herself: "Vice President Selina Meyer to see the President." An aide cracks open the door, tells her the President is busy and slips out, pulling the door closed behind him. He explains that the President doesn't expect her to actually do anything except "continue to be a woman." Crushing.

But Meyer refuses to be political window dressing. She plots, she maneuvers, she lies, she manipulates, and she gets into that office, albeit briefly. Yes, she's awful. But there's something so deliciously satisfying in watching her be selfish and demanding whether she wants a presidential library, sex or a certain kind of protein bar. Just like a powerful man. She's also unapologetically unmaternal, a cardinal sin in an era in which every woman in power, including Hillary Clinton, lists mother or grandmother as their "most important job." When she's shown her baby after it's born, she says, "Is that its hair?" When asked if she'll breast-feed, she says, "No. My God, I'm not a goat." Instead she looks at her newborn lovingly and then tells her husband she wants to run for Congress.

Her quest this season was to get her presidential library funded. And she does, against all odds. The design is shaped like a vagina--she calls it her "vagibrary"--and features a stairway that smashes right through a glass ceiling. But the whole thing is a little unstable, says an aide. "What it's like to be a woman," mutters Meyer. She's mocking the whole glass-breaking trope--her memoir is called A Woman First: First Woman. But she did break that glass. Not in a modest, deserving way, but inelegantly and imperfectly. And perhaps that's the most transgressive thing of all: accepting an imperfect woman.


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