This has been quite a week for the Washington Post. First there was yet another pointless and divisive article about generational differences between younger and older women (which Jessica Valenti, Jillian Hewitt and I all responded to), and then this came out – a breakdown of the “leadership styles” for successful female politicians.
Excuse me? The article is just a sorry excuse for trotting out a lot of tired stereotypes. Even the first line is problematic – saying that there are certain “kinds” of men who run for political office would never fly in a major newspaper, because it’s so laughably untrue. But the stereotypes for women actually illuminate a lot of the problems with how women are perceived in politics generally, even though I’m sure the WaPo did not mean for this article to be a biting satire.
For your consideration: the five “types”: the “Iron Lady,” the “Young Mom,” the “Grandmother in Pearls,” the “Prosecutor,” and the “Businesswoman.” Hillary Clinton, of course, is perceived as the modern archetype of the first (Margaret Thatcher “invented” the role): “a tough, tested woman who…persuades voters to set aside historic suspicions that women are weak executives.” Well, suggesting that only “iron ladies” can be strong executives certainly adds to the perception that most women can’t lead, doesn’t it?
But it gets worse: the WaPo writes that Sarah Palin sent off “shockwaves” when she brought her entire family onto the stage at the Republican National Convention – although the authors of this article seem unconvinced that this model can, in fact, work for people who aren’t Sarah. And if they do, the fact that they’re mothers has to color everything that they do – as the quote from Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz disturbingly proves. “Everything I do is through the lens of being my children’s mom,” Wasserman Schultz said, when accused of being “frazzled.”
Nancy Pelosi, of course, is the “Grandmother in Pearls” – and although within the description of this “type,” the article’s authors reveal some of the faults within the stereotype (writing that “Pelosi’s femininity masks her true governing style, which can be unrelenting and tough”) but they immediately sucked away my goodwill by adding that this “model” is “not without risks.”
There is a definite sense that, at least according to the people who wrote this article, women who run for elected office are damned if they do and damned if they don’t – they have to conform to one of these “roles” in order to find acceptance among people hungry to stereotype women, or others who aren’t used to seeing leadership models that include women at all, but even then, the “types” can be too feminine, too masculine, too old, too young, too soft, too hard – and all are “risky.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.