India had Indira Gandhi, England had Margaret Thatcher. Israel had Golda Meir. Today, Chile has Michelle Bachelet. Even Spain once had Isabela. But the United States, a nation that prides itself on being ahead of the curve, lags behind in having a female chief executive. Other countries have dismantled the glass ceiling, but women in the United States continue to bump their heads.

Reasons for that are many, varied and usually filled with speculation. Some see remnants of the nation's Puritan past and patriarchal founding. Others see a nation built on business trying to maintain the status quo. Barbra Streisand sees sexism. When a woman gets tough or aggressive, Streisand has said, men describe her as strident, pushy and mouthy — all put-downs. That fact was borne out in a Massachusetts gubernatorial debate when Mitt Romney said his female opponent's gritty style was "unbecoming." Romney went on to win.

Still, women have made gains. Next year there will be 16 women in the Senate (more than ever before) and 71 women in the House (ditto). Nine women are governors, tying a record. And having Nancy Pelosi take the reins as speaker of the House was a breakthrough. Pelosi is now second in line to assume the presidency if disaster strikes.

As for the cherry on top of the cake — the presidency — several pretenders have emerged in the past, and some legitimate contenders are emerging now. The name of Hillary Clinton surfaces, but so do bumper stickers saying "ABC (Anybody But Clinton)." Condoleezza Rice? So far she says she doesn't want it. When Elizabeth Dole ran for the job the pundits asked, "Is America ready for heels and hose in the Oval Office?" When Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice president, traditionalists were put off by her tears.

Undoubtedly the United States will one day have a woman president. And when that day arrives, undoubtedly — as when Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball and Rosa Parks broke it in bus riding — Americans will slap their foreheads and say, "What were we thinking? We should have taken this step years ago."