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My beloved French grandmother died when she was 89. I still miss her. She was to me the embodiment of unconditional love. She took me on long, long walks and we gossiped the whole time. She introduced me to “The Emperor Concerto” and “The Four Seasons.” She taught me how to knit the European method. She made me do “dictées”, or dictations, so that my French would improve.

I wasn’t the only one who adored her; my mother said that her mother-in-law was the best mother-in-law imaginable.

Yet my father once said, “She was the wrong wife for my father.” He didn’t say she was a bad wife, or that she was unloved. He said she was the wrong wife.

He said that my grandfather was an ambitious man, a hard-working man, a man who became the male-head to his mother and brothers at a very young age when his own father died in an accident. My grandfather moved the family upward in a society that is rigidly classist. But my grandmother failed to entertain powerful people, failed to cultivate the right friends, failed to impress the important people.

My American grandmother did all those things: she was birthright society. She made friends with everyone. She rode in the hunt. She didn’t need to entertain; she was always invited. She never hesitated to call anyone in power and demand what she wanted. Her marriage ended in divorce because she was the wrong wife for her husband, my grandfather.

She was frivolous. She was a spendthrift. She didn’t cook or clean. She took what she wanted without expressing gratitude. She felt indebted to no one. She regularly traveled alone to her mother’s house whenever she wanted. Those were the criticisms I heard growing up. She wasn’t a bad woman — everyone loved her — but she was the wrong wife.

These were two women born at the end of the 19th century, given the right to vote, negotiating two world wars with family members involved in both. Those were not easy times for anyone. The stories I heard, the grandmothers were both resilient in their own ways: during the War, my French grandmother walked miles to get milk for her granddaughter. After the Crash, my American grandmother let go of the maid and turned over the cooking to her kids.

Was there a right wife? Of the six offspring of my grandmothers, all six married just once and stayed married til death did them part. My grandmothers must have done something right. The 18 grandchildren and the 46 great-grandchildren are all good people and they enjoy each other’s company. Is there a better way to evaluate a woman’s rightness?

Today we celebrate that there are many more ways to evaluate a woman, and I cheer for them all. But the only way to have broad criteria — pun intended — is to eliminate the male standard. For to meet the male standard requires denying what the females do well. The first female president will not be as good a president as a male president. Nor will she be better than a male president. She will simply be a great president.

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