Female Presidents

Today’s post is about female leaders. Why don’t we have more of them?

I was inspired to write this post the other day when having a discussion in my class about Afro-Latinos. Wewere talking about how important Obama is as a black man leading the most powerful country in the world. I agreed, thinking about when I have spoken to other Latinos, or been in Brazil and heard how revered Obama is. However, during this conversation, it occurred to me, why would it not have been such a big deal if Hillary had won? She could have, she came pretty darn close.

But the thing is, Latin America isn’t so fazed by female presidents. Sure, things aren’t perfectly equal yet, but they are certainly doing better than the U.S. In fact, Latin American had one of the first female presidents in the world, Isable Péron in 1976. In more recent history, Violeta Chamorro was elected president in Nicaragua, Janet Rosenberg Jagan in Guyana, and Mireya Moscoso in Panama. Not to mention Michelle Bachelet, the recent president of Chile, who is now the head of UN Women. And now Dilma Rouseff of course, in Brazil.

When I mentioned this to my teacher, she (a U.S.-born Peruvian who has done a lot of work in Latin America) told me that was because in Latin America the dominant view is that women are not able to be corrupted, this sense that they are morally superior. In a continent that has had to deal with its fair share of corruption, I can understand the draw. Though I think that’s a bit of a gamble. Women can be corrupted too.

I found this conversation particularly interesting, mostly because I think that we see female presidents exactly the opposite in the U.S. I would say that the dominant discourse here around female candidates for presidency is that they wouldn’t be hard enough. I mean, could she really sent the country to war if she had to? Would she let her emotions get in the way of being able to lead the country? I personally find this suggestion to be downright insulting. I personally think that a female president might be able to integrate her own sense of humanity and empathy into her presidency. But then again, maybe not. Maybe a man could. Who knows?

Mostly what bothers me is the persona that female presidents seem to have to put on in order to appear capable of leading a country. Hard, serious, strict. Not very likeable. It makes me so frustrated to read about how she is so different from her husband, who is so friendly and charming. Maybe she is, but have you ever thought that she wouldn’t be taken as seriously? That when you’re competing in a man’s world, you seem more legitimate when you aren’t joking around?

I hear the same kind of discourse taking place around Dilma in Brazil now:

“Ms. Rousseff, 63, has eschewed press briefings that became almost a daily event under Mr. da Silva. She does not stand for lateness, or distractions like cellphones in meetings. While Mr. da Silva regularly had lunch at home with his wife while in Brasília, Ms. Rousseff usually has a quick lunch in her office, sometimes inviting a minister to share a sandwich with her, according to advisers.”

“For now, she is trying to soften her “Iron Lady” image. Earlier this month, she prepared an omelet alongside a female host of a popular morning television show, discussing life in the presidential palace.”

“It’s interesting how people expect a certain weakness from women,” Ms. Rousseff said. “I kid that I am a strong woman surrounded by sweet men. A woman in a position of power is seen as a little out of her role.”

But maybe if we had more women in power, things would be a bit different. Maybe if the U.S. had a female president, Planned Parenthood wouldn’t be under attack. Maybe the government sex ed program wouldn’t be under attack. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal to introduce subsidized breast pumps.

I’m not trying to hate on all the men in power in this world. Some of them are doing really great things. But, I bet if we had some more gender equality within the world’s government’s, there would be even more people doing great things.

To end, I thought I would leave you with a TED video about why women don’t reach the top ranks of their companies and firms at the rates that men do. Even though she doesn’t talk about female presidents, I think they are very closely related, and the data that she presents is very interesting, and telling. Check it out and let me know what you think! Leave a comment in the sidebar.

19. March 2011 by Juliana
Categories: Brasil, Feminism | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment