Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 5:53 AM

‘Backlash’ against (Liberal) Women Leaders…

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

In light of the recent trend set by Angela Merkel of Germany and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, Bachelet’s election [in Chile] would be encouraging to those of us who welcome the seepage of womanpower through the crevices of political and corporate governance around the world…

Here’s to ‘the fairer sex’ – not only as indispensable guardians of home and hearth, but also as invaluable (and capable) stewards of the ship of state!

(“Cracking the Glass Ceiling: First Woman to Become President in South America,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 12, 2005)

As this quote indicates, I’ve been championing the rise of women as heads of state for many years. This is why the insidious backlash against them is so disheartening.

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Of course, most notably, this backlash saw last month Donald Trump, a brazenly unqualified, racist, xenophobic, male chauvinist pig elected president of the United States. An election result that was all the more disheartening because he defeated Hillary Clinton, a woman universally regarded as the most qualified person ever nominated to become the world’s most powerful leader.

But it also saw in June 2013 a resentful band of male MPs mutiny against Julia Gillard, the first woman elected Australian prime minister, citing her inability to command their loyalty and support. The irony, if not hypocrisy, inherent in this was completely lost on them. But here is how Gillard called out their misogyny:

In the [three] years in which I’ve served as prime minister, predominantly I’ve faced a minority government and political division in my own party…

I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other PMs in the past but then concluded it had zero effect on my political position or the political position of the Labor party.

(London Guardian, June 26, 2013)

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It saw in May 2014 a military-appointed court oust Yingluck Shinawatra, the first woman elected Thai prime minister, citing a battery of trumped-up charges of corruption. I decried this military coup in “RIP Thailand Democracy,” April 20, 2015. Incidentally, Shinawatra returned to public life this year as more people’s princess than laudable leader, which is as discouraging as it is noteworthy….

It saw in September 2016 a mercenary cabal of male legislators impeach Dilma Rousseffthe first woman elected Brazilian president, citing a battery of trumped-up charges of corruption. I decried this political coup in “Chauvinistic Impeachment of Brazil’s First Female President…,” September 1, 2016.

park-geun-hyeBut most disheartening of all, this backlash saw a measure of vindication this week when Park Geun-hye, the first woman elected South Korean president, offered to resign.

The disgraced South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, has offered to resign and called on parliament to arrange her exit amid a corruption and cronyism scandal that has all but destroyed her administration.

Speaking in a nationally televised address on Tuesday, Park – whose single five-year term will not be officially over until early 2018 – asked the national assembly to set a new deadline for the end of her turbulent presidency.

(London Guardian, November 29, 2016)

Would that I could decry her fate too. Unfortunately, all indications are that Park is guilty as charged, which makes her offer to resign more Nixonian than honorable.

Reports are that she allowed her Rasputin-like confidante to misuse her good offices to peddle influence and rake in millions. The audacity of this misuse appears such that it makes the way Hillary reportedly allowed her husband Bill to misuse hers (as secretary of state) seem, well, positively charitable.

As my opening quote indicates, I have written many commentaries hailing the rise of women as heads of state. Therefore, it is perhaps prescient that I was as loath to hail Park’s election in February 2013 as I am to hail Trump’s today.

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Meanwhile, there’s no denying the curious fact that all of the women leaders who have fallen victim to this backlash engaged in very public displays of affection for Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States. No doubt the fallen Australian prime minister, Gillard, would be bemused by whites who express visceral hatred of Obama but then insist that her affection for him had zero effect on their support for her.

Never mind that Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s notorious displays gave even his wife Michelle cause for resentment. Thorning-Schmidt was the first woman elected prime minister of her country in 2011.

Unfortunately, she only lasted one term. To be fair, she was neither impeached nor ousted in a military or political coup. Instead, she was swept away by a pre-Brexit wave of right-wing populism, which saw Denmark’s right-bloc parties defeat her left-bloc parties in the 2015 general election.

Barack Obama, Portia Simpson-MillerAnd I would be remiss not to mention the equally notorious displays Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller lavished on Obama. She too was the first woman elected prime minister of her country in 2012 (after serving a one-year stint as appointed prime minister in 2006). Alas, she too only lasted one term – as she was swept away when the conservative party defeated her liberal party by a razor-thin margin of just one seat in a general election held in March of this year.

Hope springs eternal that it’s only a historical hiccup that so many women leaders are falling out of favor. But, apropos of not wanting to be remiss, I am constrained to note that, in far too many cases, the failure of other women to support them is contributing to their downfall. I’ll spare you my abiding rant on this utterly incomprehensible intra-gender psychodynamic….

In the meantime, I fear this backlash might provide a pretext for misogynists to discredit women as heads of state; you know, the way Obama’s failure to seal his legacy, by helping Hillary defeat Trump, is providing a pretext for racists to give credence to the following suspicion:

So irrational is [the Republicans’ declared intent to make Obama a failed president], one could be forgiven the suspicion that their dark, ulterior motive is to see America become so dysfunctional and humiliated under his leadership that Americans would not even consider electing another black person as president for at least another 100 years.

(“S&P Downgrades U.S. Credit Rating,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 8, 2011)

That said, I hasten to point out that a few women are riding the crest of right-wing populism that helped Trump defeat Hillary. Most notable among them are Marine Le Pen, who is angling for a Brexit-like victory in France’s presidential election next year, and Frauke Petry, who is angling for the same in Germany’s general election.

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Except that black heads of state like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe proved long ago that there’s no enlightened pride in hailing a black leader based solely on race. And, by the same token, women heads of state like Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom proved long ago that there’s no enlightened pride in hailing a woman leader based solely on gender.

Yet here is why I remain hopeful … even if the women becoming heads of state are more right-wing than liberal:

We have enough data, as well as anecdotal evidence, from the way women have influenced the corporate world to make some credible extrapolations. The correlation between more women holding positions of power and the implementation of family-friendly policies is undeniable in this respect. Therefore, it’s entirely reasonable to assert that if more women held positions of power in politics they would use their power more towards building up human resources than military armaments – just to cite one obvious example.

Finland’s president, prime minister, president of the Supreme Court, as well as eight of its eleven government ministers are all women. Arguably, there’s a direct correlation between their positions and the fact that Newsweek rated this county the best place to live in 2010 – in terms of health, economic dynamism, education, political environment, and quality of life.

(“Women Make Better Politicians than Men,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 14, 2010)

Related commentaries:
Glass ceiling
Brazil’s Rousseff
Thailand’s Shinawatra
S&P downgrades
Women make better politicians

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