Will a Cleopatra Run in 2012?
I just finished reading the book Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. It was incredibly well written,
and is much more captivating than some of the other nonfiction that covers the ancient world. Schiff does an amazing job of bringing together all of the historical sources of the time into a captivating narrative, and gives a fair representation of all parties involved.
What was most striking to me was the incredible power that Cleopatra held. She ruled, as a woman, for 22 years, during a time in which a woman in power was as unheard of as a computer in the Roman Forum. She lost a kingdom, regained it, nearly lost it again, amassed an empire, and then lost it all. But her story is still popular, not for the lands that she ruled, but for her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
It was incredibly fitting timing that I completed reading this book during the same week in which we lost both Elizabeth Taylor and Geraldine Ferraro. The lives of these two incredible women give us insight into Cleopatra’s life as a sex symbol and ruler. Taylor and Ferraro have vastly different stories, but have both made a lasting imprint on American history. In an enlightening article in the National Journal, Kathy Kiely contrasts these two legendary women.
Elizabeth Taylor, who played Cleopatra herself in the film, is like Cleopatra the sex symbol—with the glamor and very public personal life. Married eight times, she was in the public eye ever since starring in National Velvet as a child. Most remembered for her distinctive violet eyes, she was the icon of her day. Even though she did a lot for others, especially those with AIDS, at the end of the day many only remember her as a sex symbol.
Geraldine Ferraro, on the other hand, is like Cleopatra the ruler—she opened doors for all women. When she strode to the podium in 1984 to accept her nomination as Walter Mondale’s running mate, the first woman to be placed on a national ticket, “She took the ‘only men need apply’ sign off of the White House,” as Senator Barbara Mikulski describes.
Though in the past 2,000 years we have made substantial progress in the realm of women in power, there is still a long way to go in terms of women being seen as leaders, not just sex symbols. There are currently 99 women in congress. In U.S. history there have been only 34 women governors as opposed to 2,319 men, and there still has not been a woman president (the Barbara Lee Foundation). Recently created programs like Emerge and Project 2012 provide women with the support and tools to take the risk and run like Ferraro, and perhaps by 2012 the world will look more like one that Cleopatra and Ferraro embody.