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This is an editorial that shouldn't have needed to be written.

Because to say that it's a wonderful thing that Americans will finally have a woman at the highest level of power -- only a vice president away from the White House -- is to acknowledge that this is a novelty, a "first," a milestone. And that is a sad commentary on politics in America, where a powerful woman is still an oddity.

Nancy Pelosi, who will become the first woman speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives when the Democratic-controlled 110th Congress convenes in January, has already fielded more questions about her experience as a mother and grandmother than any male speaker would be asked about his domestic life in an entire career.

To her credit, she answers them cheerfully.

But why, when a leader as competent and experienced as Pelosi is about to take the third most powerful job in America (some would say second), did her earliest television interviews focus on her five children? Male politicians' children are mostly mentioned only when they land in jail or marry someone of the same sex.

Pelosi is well-qualified to lead the House. She was elected to Congress from California's Eighth District in 1987 and was chosen as House Democratic leader in 2002 after serving as minority whip. She has been a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and has served longer than anyone on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where she oversaw reviews of U.S. intelligence and security agencies after 9/11.

Pelosi will join the largest number of women ever to sit in Congress, but the numbers are still low. One woman was added to the 100-member Senate, bringing the number to 15, and the 435-member House added four, for a total of 71.

Powerful women are nothing new in much of the world. Twenty other countries, including Britain, Israel, India, Turkey, Iceland, Lithuania and Poland, and this year Germany, Chile and Liberia, have chosen women leaders. But here, the prospect of women in the nation's highest offices still draws widespread, and unfounded, sexism.

Some day, when a woman holding high U.S. office is no longer an oddity, an editorial such as this one won't need to be written. That day can't come soon enough.