Women’s Power in Global Politics

April 10, 2007

Hilary goes for President - Woman in Power

White House Researcher Ms. Marie C. Wilson wrote in www.feminist.com that female heads of state are not a 21st century invention. Margaret Thatcher in England, Indira Gandhi in India, and Benazir Butto in Pakistan ascended through political dynasties, monarchies or the parliamentary system during the last century. The recent successful elections of Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia and Angela Merkel in Germany have broken through traditional barriers to women’s political leadership at the highest levels. These women have often been inspirational leaders, but they are among an extremely small and elite group. Only 11 of the 193 nations, including Liberia and Chile now, have a woman in the top position. The glaring omission from this list is the United States, indisputably the world’s leading democracy.

According to a Roper Public Affairs poll, nearly 80 percent of Americans are ready for a female commander in chief. The poll also revealed an interesting shift in the public’s perception of women in non-traditional roles. Over half felt that a woman would do as well as a man in foreign policy, homeland security and the economy. This last new mark of acceptance probably owes a great deal to the visible female national security leaders of the Clinton and Bush administrations, with both Condoleezza Rice and Madeline Albright serving as Secretaries of State.

Hillary Clinton is now a candidate for the US’s presidency. It is exciting to contemplate the world’s superpower being ruled by female leader. As IR feminist Ann Tickner suggests, global issues impact on women’s lives in significant ways that are only just beginning to be recognized in both the academic field of IR and in the policy world. Women used to be marginalized or even invisible in traditional IR theories in which masculinity is dominent. Is it a time for us to seriously think about how gender analysis should be added into our IR family. If not, it appears that traditional IR will have serious difficulties responding to our real political arena.

Posted by Maggie Law and Eva Chang

12 Responses to “Women’s Power in Global Politics”

  1. Iris Chan Says:

    How exciting to read an article highlighting the importance of feminine influence in politics! Women’s capability in management and diplomacy have been evidenced throughout the evolution of human being. I do not have personal preference to Hilary Clinton. But I do hope that she will win her presidency election as it is obvious that there is an urge for a change for US.

    Domestically, despite the loudly adovated effort in promoting equal opportunities through Affirmative Action, we still see discrimination in employment, education and practically everywhere. Electing a woman to be the head of state is an important step proving US is becoming a non-discriminative country. Diplomatically… US simply need a better president to minimize, if not eliminate, bloodshed. Democrats believe in joining efforts to fight the war on terror. No more Rambo, no more John Wayne. A good change for US?

    I don’t think Hilary Clinton can make a whole different world if she gets elected. But I believe at least Americans will hear a different voice and have a change, for better or for worse.

  2. mark Says:

    Interesting Topic.

    However, i think that if women around the world are hoping that a female President will mean women’s issues are raised to the top of the pile, they will be sadly disapinted.

    Male or female, leading the nation means making decisions to protect your population and your interests around the world and especially at home.

    Thatcher was not called the “Iron Lady” for her gentle touch. Wars, the Unions, Europe, family issues, all handled like a true man (so to speak).

    Hillary Clinton voted FOR the war in Iraq, because she felt it was the right thing for a her country at that time. She is a hard-ass and will be so if she is elected on all the major global and security issues like natural resources and energy, military, security, trade and so on.

    Internally, I am sure social issues (gay marraige, Roe vs Wade, etc) will get looked at again in a more liberal way, but nothing that will un-balance what Americans need to remain focussed on their position as the world’s number one. Perhaps if Katrina was to swing by again, then we may see a different method of management.

    In terms of the world policy, realism all the way, just like Bubba……

  3. Carole Chen Says:

    Since we are discussing women’s role in policy-making, I think it is a sort of discrimination against female. (the wording is too serious and I am not taking it seriously)

    Hillary Clinton is now a candidate for the US’s presidency and this event is widely discussed in the world. Why didn’t we have a similar discussion when George W. Bush was one of the candidate for the presidency? Is it because that it is usual for a man to be a president candidate but unusual for a woman to be? If the answer is ‘yes’, then it is discrimination.

    Feminists propose to ‘search for the princess’ because they are seeing female are marginalized in politics. However, why they are marginalized? Is it because that females are lack of ability, they are not receiving proper education for capable politicians, or they just do not interested in politics?

    ‘Thatcher is behaving as a man’ in her career life. I use this term because people are used to the idea that a powerful political strategy is by a man. In my opinion, Thatcher has the ability and charisma to be a political leader regardless of her gender. She is doing what a politician should do. Why we have to call her ‘Iron Lady’.

  4. mark Says:

    Carole, can you explain your point again?

    are you saying that gender should not be an issue at all and that we should only focus on policies?

    maybe so, but it is an issue for some people. In the same vein why would racec or sexuality make a difference to someone’s political competence? possibly not, but again, it is still an issue.

    I personally don’t care who leads the country as long as they do it well…and in any case, the US will see a woman president long before it will ever see a gay or black or latino or handicapped president (Truman was before the days of TV so he doesn’t count!).

  5. Adam Blinick Says:

    I always never know what to make of such conversations/interpretations. I wonder if it serves feminists in pointing out the sex (physiological, that is) of a candidate. Would it not be better for those with such positions to down play the sex, and just merely ask the public to judge the competency of the candidate? I’m aware that pointing out to a sex/race of a candidate points to a historical period when there was real discrimintation and such a thing as a female or balck president was mere science fiction, but shouldn’t the current argument be that we no longer look at sex and race as a qualifier–that we don’t need a female president, but a great president, be it a male or female? I sometimes wonder if these groups–by making sex and race the issue, and not the person’s politics and morality–ultimately do more harm than good for their own cause.

  6. Carole Chen Says:

    Yes, Mark. I prefer to address political issues politicaly, not bringing gender, race or whatever into it.

    The news that Hillary Clinton is competing for the US’s presidency looks like a sidebar. If we could discuss the new in a similar way as we talked about G.Bush and Bill Clinton, it will be more just. But, it is still an issue, and those discussion prevent the feminists from losing their jobs.

    I agree with Adam that when judging a person in the history and there was discrimination of gender or race during that period of time, we may refer to thsse issues for the ‘great person’- usually a female or a black- had to stuggle a lot before their success.

  7. I am not a feminist but I have a different point of view.

    Gender is politics; politics are gendered. If U.S. (and other democratic countries’) voters really didn’t care much about gender of a political leader, why no woman was being elected as the U.S. President until now? Is it a just coincidence? Or is it because no woman has been considered as a capable President in the U.S.? U.S. declared independence in 1776. But from George Washington to George Bush, for more than two hundred years, no woman has been chosen as an U.S. leader.

    Where have the women gone?

    A woman could do all the housework for a man. But a woman would better not order men from the “White House.” This was the logic of our political system, which is basically patriarchal. Rules of the game have been set by men. Women could only follow. “Thatcher was not called the “Iron Lady” for her gentle touch. Wars, the Unions, Europe, family issues, all handled like a true man (so to speak).” Yes. But to be more critical, this means that there is only one path to “excel” in world politics. And this reflects that the system could only accept men’s rules of the game – gentle is bad, tough is good. And that’s why we have an Iron “Lady” but not an Iron “Man” in history.

    Yes, it may not be a good idea to emphasize the gender of a political leader – for some people, this would only reinforce the gender inequality as the differences between genders are highlighted once again. But to me, the emphasis is necessary. Men have dominated various social, political and cultural regimes. As mentioned by Maggie and Eva, woman leaders are nowadays still among an extremely small and elite group. The emphasis on the gender of a presidential candidate could remind us that the inequality between genders hasn’t been resolved though it may only be a campaign strategy.

    The system is difficult to change. But only if we start thinking of a woman, not a man, to be next U.S. President, there might be more perspectives when talking about politics. Only if we are willing to seek for a “woman’s way” of leadership, if any, then we may have different forms of competition and international co-operation.

    If this is still unclear, try to imagine Britney Spears, not Hillary Clinton, to be the U.S. leader. CARZY!? But why can’t we accept this? This is the problem. [Frankie]

  8. Joyce Chan Says:

    I initially agreed with Adam that citizens should focus on the candidate’s competency and potential contribution to the country rather than their race and gender. Nevertheless, presidential election is always a political game rather than a qualification choice; otherwise, I don’t think that many people would agree that George Bush was elected for his presidential competency.

    People don’t vote intelligently. There are many comments about the excitement of a female presidential candidate. Therefore, many people vote according to their very basic preferences — political background, gender and race. Considering the two “minority” candidates that Democratic Party pushed, there are a female candidate – Hilary Clinton and an African American candidate, Obama. If I have a chance, I would have nominated Condoleezza Rice (the US Secretary of State), who would certainly cover broader base for feminist and African American population.

  9. Ronny Chan Says:

    I still remember my friend told me a story that when a police officer took a statement from a male witness, who stated that his occupation is a househusband. Initially we are so surprised that a man is living on the earnings of his wife, but why not nowadays?

    Even in the Hong Kong Police, we are now having many female senior officers, it will not surprise me that we will have our first female Commissioner in near future.

    In well-developed countries like the US, female could receive education like male does, and female share the same opportunity to get a well-pay job, but it does not happen necessarily in some Asian countries in which they have different values.

    Hillary Clinton could become the first female US president will not surprise me, so far if she could get enough vote. But I will not simply say that this is based on her competency, the President Election is a game, a game that who gets the maximum vote would win. Being a female could be good or bad for Hillary, this may attract votes from feminists or lose votes from non-feminists. The point is whether she could make use of this to get a net positive number of votes.

    For other candidates, if attacking her as being a female could bring them advantage, they would certainly do so. And don’t fool me that there will be a big change if Hillary will get elected, the President Election is a game with lots of political compromises. A gender or race issue is not a significant issue for a President candidate, but a very significant agenda for the election strategy.

    To Frankie, while Arnold Schwarzenegger can be the California Governor, I could accept Britney Spears be the US President, the point is if she could pass the US system.

  10. mark Says:

    Hey if Britney Spears was President of the US, I would move there in a flash….whilst millions of Americans would emigrate no doubt!!

    and then maybe Andy Lau can be Chief Executive of Hong Kong….world party time…

  11. Agree with Iris. Our “basic preferences” matter in voting. Subjectivity matters.

    Sorry, I should not distract you by suggesting the name of Britney Spears. What I wanted to point out is not about profession, but gender… Let me re-post my question again:

    Do you believe that there is/are “woman’s way(s)” of political leadership, that is/are different from the male-dominated one?

    No Arnold Schwarzenegger. No Andy Lau. But a woman. [Frankie]

  12. mark Says:

    Thanks for bringing us back to the topic frankie….(kill-joy!)

    In theory there should be no difference in the way a man or a woman would handle leadership and the decisions it entails. However, there are those who feel there might be.

    Frankie, your previous response proves a point when you ask why Maggie was considered an “Iron Lady”, but we do not have an Iron Man – she may have felt the need to over-compenmsate to prove herself amongst the male dominated world of Westminster and politics in general. (let me stress the words “she MAY” have felt…) I am not saying she did.

    Secondly, it is more likely that a women will be elected or selected a leader in the develop world than in the developing (Pakistan, Phillipines and Liberia are clear stand-out examples) – on the whole developing nations and those based on religion will almost never see women leaders.

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