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Rachel Maddow on When a Woman Presidential Candidate Was a Joke

Rachel Maddow on When a Woman Presidential Candidate Was a Joke

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In the 1960s and '70s, even as other nations elected women leaders, many Americans thought a woman running for president was a laughing matter.

The idea of a woman being the U.S. president was once considered a joke, as Rachel Maddow pointed out in a funny yet serious history lesson on her MSNBC show last night. But before we laugh too hard, she noted, we should remember that many countries have beaten the U.S. when it comes to electing a woman leader.

Maddow showed historical clips reporting on Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith's run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964, which made her the first woman to seek a major party's top spot. In examples of the sexism of that era, a newsreel caption noted that she had thrown her "bonnet," not her hat, in the ring, and Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev called Smith, an expert on national security, an "Amazon warmonger." Another Republican seeking the nomination that year, Richard Nixon, had one of his campaign offices staffed by "girls," as a contemporary news report called them, even though they had all left girlhood behind long before.

Then in 1972, when Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American congresswoman from New York State, sought the Democratic presidential nomination, a reporter asked passersby on New York City streets if they would vote for a woman for president. Some of the answers in footage shown by Maddow: "I think president is a man's job" from a woman and "I don't think they're as levelheaded yet as the men are" from a man. Another woman said, however, "I think it's about time for sure, because things have been running bad as it is. Women can't do worse. They could do better."

But then Maddow noted that many countries around the world have had women presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors. "It is quaint to look back to the 1970s and the 1960s in this country," she said, "as Shirley Chisholm and Margaret Chase Smith were being genially laughed at as women who were daffy and adorable enough to even think of themselves as somebody who might run for president. ... But at that same time in the world that that was happening here, contemporaneously, with that huge joke in the United States, in 1966 there's India electing Indira Gandhi to lead a nation of 450 million people. In 1969 there's Israel picking Golda Meir."

With Hillary Clinton clinching the Democratic nomination, "it is farther than we have ever gone before -- we just haven't gone very far before," Maddow said. But at least this time, she added, "nobody's laughing."

Watch the full segment below.

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