In the past two weeks, Sarah Palin has changed the scene of the presidential elections. As only the second woman to run for vice president of the United States that is a remarkable achievement. Yet, there is one thing she has not changed: The masculinity of American politics. To the contrary, with her tough talk attacks she’s adding something quite familiar to the debate.
First of all: There is no doubt that there is a need for more women in politics in the United States–and, for that matter, in the world. Our world is still very much ruled by men and that’s neither right nor a good thing. But, as far as I can see, the main reason why we would like to see more women in politics would be because they would present a different, more feminine, perspective.
Today’s complex world with many contradicting and opposing objectives favors feminine leadership. As heads of the household women traditionally have been better than men at bringing together conflicting elements. Women are naturally inclined to find the solution that works best for everyone. They want to avoid the macho response that isolates a party or an interest. Women tend to involve more people in the decision-making process and they are natural negotiators. They will focus more attention on matters involving personal safety in their immediate vicinity–family, education, child care, health–and they are not so obsessed by the far less clearly defined concept of international safety.
So, yes, our world would be a better place with more feminine leadership. But the interesting thing is that feminine leadership doesn’t have to come from women. The Chinese have that wonderful concept of the importance of the balance between yin and yang. While women are more yin and men more yang, in both genders there is an ongoing dance between the feminine and the masculine.
And, from what she is showing the world so far, Sarah Palin, a lifelong hunter who goes ice fishing, is not necessarily a woman that will bring a lot of feminine leadership. She reminds me more of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, another social conservative. Thatcher was widely seen as the “best man in the cabinet.” She tightened welfare laws and did away with a school program that provided children with free milk. And she was not a great supporter of the cause of women. As it has been said: “The only women for whom Margaret Thatcher paved the way were the Spice Girls.”
To the defense of Thatcher, Sarah Palin and many other women, it has to be said that it’s not easy as a woman to show your feminine side. A woman politician who appears feminine is soon regarded as a “little mother.” She is not regarded as being decisive. In today’s masculine world a woman leader must be extra tough and strong. We saw that Hillary Clinton in her campaign always stressed her readiness to be the “commander in chief,” not exactly a feminine thing. Yet, one of the best moments of her campaign was when she showed her vulnerability in response to a caring question of another woman.
One can easily argue that her husband Bill was more of a feminine leader. Bill Clinton had a talent for bringing people together. He found the balance between showing his feelings and showing power. Former Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme and former German Chancellor Willy Brandt were also good examples of feminine leaders. So were Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. And, interestingly enough, Barack Obama. Obama presents himself as a coalition builder, as someone who wants to listen first before he acts tough. Obama is more likely to bring more much needed feminine powers to our world than Sarah Palin.
What we really need is a world where there is not such a strange disconnect between homes and offices. So often fathers, who care for their children and their friends, as business leaders take decisions that do not reflect the same care for people and that they would never take at home. And as long as many people think that a mother as a mother is not fit for political office, our society will lack the necessary balance between yin and yang. We need fathers and mothers in politics and in business, because we need a balance between care and decisiveness, between listening and acting, between the feminine and the masculine. And for that balance to become healthy we need a lot more of the feminine. Bring it on Barack Obama and Sarah Palin!
Jurriaan Kamp is the founder and editor of Ode Magazine, the magazine for intelligent optimists.