Archive for Thursday, May 11, 2006

U.S. lags in female leadership

May 11, 2006

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Michelle Bachelet is elected president of Chile. Patricia Russo becomes head of the newly merged telecom giant (a merger of Alcatel and Lucent, based in France) that will be one of the largest companies in the world. Angela Merkel serves as chancellor of Germany. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is elected president of Liberia.

Meanwhile, in the United States, we're still arguing over whether women have "the right stuff" to be leaders. Harvard political science professor Harvey Mansfield, in a new book ("Manliness") that is getting substantial media attention, claims there has been only one real female leader - Margaret Thatcher. Teaching other women to be assertive, Mansfield claims, might be "like teaching a cat to bark."

Women in other countries are earning the right to lead by working their way through the political system, as men have always done. Here, we are still wringing our hands about whether women have the right hormones, the right brains, the right motivation or the right abilities to take on the challenges of the modern world. Although the rest of the world seems to accept the notion that women are fit to command a nation or a huge company, in the United States women who have the audacity to put themselves forward for the top job face harsh questioning.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, for example, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination, has been called either a "witch" or "witchlike" in the media more than 50 times. There are constant innuendos about her sexuality - as evidenced by a book about her by former New York Times staffer Ed Klein. As critic Tina Brown pointed out in The Washington Post, "Every time Klein describes anyone female in Hillary Clinton's circle, you hear the clump clump clump of stereotype-lesbian footwear.

As for Condoleezza Rice, mentioned as a Republican nominee, her single status is often commented upon as if her ambition were somehow unfeminine. There's also an inordinate amount of attention to her clothes and her style - her pearls, her Southern accent, her size-6 dress size and her high-heeled boots.

When Elizabeth Dole threw her hat in the presidential ring in 2000, she was treated very differently from male candidates by the media - although she was the only Republican who beat Al Gore in several head-to-head polls. Many men would have given their eyeteeth for her credentials: former Cabinet member in the Reagan administration and head of a well-known national organization (the Red Cross).

But researchers Caroline Headman, Susan J. Carroll and Stephanie Olson of Rutgers University note that, although political insiders and the public regarded Dole as a strong contender, the media did not. Dole never got the level of coverage that her polling indicates she should have had. The American media seem fixated on gender issues that don't seem to warrant much attention in other countries. Recently, headline stories in the U.S. media focused on whether women have the right brain structure for leadership, the right hormones to make decisions or enough motivation to devote themselves to a high-powered career.

Even in the absence of solid evidence, newspaper, magazine and television stories recently claimed that the best and the brightest American women are dropping out of the workplace and just want to go home to be housewives. In fact, study after study shows this not to be true.

When women fail in the corporate world, it's big news. For example, when Brenda Barnes resigned from a high-level position at PepsiCo, there was a media feeding frenzy of stories saying she couldn't handle work and family. But when Barnes subsequently was hired to head Sara Lee, no one claimed this was proof that women could indeed succeed at work and at home.

When women fail, it's seen as proof that they can't manage a career and family responsibilities. When men fail, no such claim is made. When women succeed, it's not seen as proof that women can indeed lead. Instead, such women are seen as having some special stroke of good fortune - a wonderful mentor, a lucky break, being at the right place at the right time.

In this country, the more we hear that women are unsuited for leadership, the more women and men will internalize this message. We may never get to the place Germany, Chile and Liberia appear to have reached, where a woman is judged not by some rigid sex role stereotype, but by the credentials she brings to the position.

Chait Barnett, senior scientist at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, and Rivers, Boston University journalism professor, are co-authors of "Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children and Our Jobs."

Comments

xenophonschild 9 years, 3 months ago

Not to worry. Hillary and Bill Richardson will beat the pants off John McCain and Elizabeth Dole in '08.

I work for a woman, and she is terrific.

xenophonschild 9 years, 3 months ago

Arminitwit:

You are a liar. You tap into conservative Republican editorials/lies and present them as facts.

Then again, you probably set this website up to substantiate your ridiculous claims. "Attacked and raped." Have you no shame?

xenophonschild 9 years, 3 months ago

Are you guys for real? What a bunch of sexual lollipops you must be. A strong-minded woman would have you guys running for the hills.

Arminitwit, when I call you a liar, I mean it. In prior posts, you consistently assail William the Great as somehow being responsible for OBL bombing the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the attack on the Cole, and the 9/11 attack.

You cite the 4 October 2001 International Herald-Tribune . . . but you deliberately fail to tell the whole story. To wit: "The Clinton administration struggled to find a way to accept the offer (Sudan, arresting OBL) in secret contacts. Unable to persuade the Saudis to accept Mr. bin Laden, and lacking a case to indict him in U.S. courts, the Clinton administration finally gave up on the capture."

"lacking a case to indict him in U.S. courts" - keep this thought uppermost in your febrile little mind.

"Clinton administration officials maintain emphatically that they had not such option (indict) against Mr. bin Laden in 1996. In the legal, political and intelligence environment then, they said, there was no choice but to allow him to leave Sudan unmolested."

As for your callow suggestion that William the Great should have shot down OBL's plane: "Resigned to Mr. bin Laden's departure from Sudan, some officials raised the possibility of shooting down his chartered aircraft, but the idea was never seriously considered because Mr. bin Laden had not been linked to a dead American, and it was inconceivable that Mr. Clinton would sign the "lethal finding" necessary under the circumstances."

"because Mr. bin Laden had not been linked to a dead American."

You knew it, but you posted your lies anyway. Liar.

xenophonschild 9 years, 3 months ago

Arminitwit:

What exactly are you saying? Because a U.S. attorney in Manhattan could "indict a ham sandwich," we should have arrested OBL in 1996?

Do you ever go back and actually read what you post on this site?

Don't insult us any more with that Broaddrick nonsense. "She said, he said" is not fact, or news. If rabid Clinton-haters want to drag that up again, have them deliver hard forensic evidence to a court - or shut up.

xenophonschild 9 years, 3 months ago

"because Mr. bin Laden had not been linked to a dead American."

Liar.

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