If I were president of the world

I just finished filling out a fun job application. One of the questions was:

“After a hard-fought campaign you are now president of the world. Congratulations! Now what are the first 3 things that you go about changing?”


Here was my answer:

First, I would require all organizations receiving government pharmaceutical funding to allocate their entire budgets based on the number of people affected rather than the net worth of that population. This would mean less governmental funding for organizations crafting erectile dysfunction medicine, but more for those working on dysentery. Sick people can’t fix the world.

Second, I would fully fund space exploration research, with the goal of finding human-habitable planets within 30 light years of Earth. It would be called the Ibn Battuta Project, after for the famous medieval Arab explorer who in 30 years went from Morocco to China and central Europe to Nigeria and mapped the modern world. It would both inspire generations of people to explore the sciences, and perhaps find our race a new home in the stars. People without hope can’t fix the world either.

Third, I would require every person to spend 3 out of every 12 years living and working as the opposite of their birth gender. Every law with gender-specific language, for example Egypt’s new law which refers to the next president exclusively as a ”he,” would apply as if the switchers had been assigned their new gender at birth. Every social privilege and responsibility, for example freedom from signing up for the draft in the United States, would also apply equally. The program would take 13 years to complete the first time.

Using the kinds of marketing campaigns which have made Coca-Cola and McDonalds household names in places without running water in those households, we would advertise that every person born in January would switch genders for 3 years. The next year, February. Those found to be performing their birth gender during their switch years would be asked to volunteer for charities benefiting survivors of gender-based violence for their remaining term. We can’t fix the world when half of our population is undervalued.


My third action troubles even me, so if the restrictions on personal freedom and the hard-core government-knows-best-i-ness about it squicks you out, you’re in good company. I don’t want to make anyone perform any gender but their own, but I struggle sometimes to see how we can get to a world where my plumbing doesn’t undercut my opportunities. Here is a great article on global efforts to encourage parents not to selectively abort girls, and the quote from it that rung in my head as I wrote those final paragraphs [Trigger warning: mentions sexual assault, not graphically]:

I don’t care that a boy is less likely to set something I own on fire than a girl [sic], but I do care that according to theUS Justice Department, 91% of rape victims are female and 99% of rapists are men. I’m excited that changing social mores might allow her to be a powerful executive someday, but I’m not prepared to know that as soon as she’s old enough to drive, she, like her mother, is going to have to learn how to carry her keys between her index and middle fingers in case someone follows her to her car. I’m fine with a boy who doesn’t want to talk to me about feelings from the ages of 12 to 16, but I’m not prepared for the fact that advertising and popular culture put much more emphasis on a woman’s looks than on a man’s, and that 90% of people who suffer from eating disorders are female. I’m not afraid of grounding a son after I discover he’s stayed up all night playing the newest edition of Call of Duty, but I’m not prepared for my daughter to grow up in a country where her legal right to autonomy over her own reproductive system is relentlessly attacked.

If parents could be guaranteed that everyone else in the would would love a little girl as much her parents love her, girls wouldn’t be such a tough sell.


The violence against women problem in our world is so big, as is the self-violence of body-hate, but the power of empathy could be so much bigger if we could find some way to tap into it. When women aren’t body parts or others but people the way men are people, then we’ll be closer. And in my more desperate moments, I fantasize about making everyone learn each other’s roles so we can truly build a world where little girls are as welcome as little boys.

Inspirational Quote:

“The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.”–Roseanne Barr

(hat-tip to the fantastic author of Female Gazing, who is the real source of all of these photos.)


  1. I looked at this when you posted it but saved it for later and just got around to reading it. I love it and the note about me in the end. Also, I just watched missrepresentation.org and it’s awesome!!!

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