Grossly Stereotyping Female Leaders Does Not Count As Political Discourse

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.


Abo Ahmed r.
Abo r8 years ago


Ari Daniels
.8 years ago

Dorothy, even women discriminate against other women, and men, using the same tactics that men use against women. It's not entirely "us" men. And men belittle, name-call, pigeonhole, control and intimidate other men as well. We are all somewhat animalistic in nature. There's an innate, reptilian understanding in all of us that "the survival of the fittest" applies to some degree.

Dorothy Murphy
Dorothy Murphy8 years ago

The problem that women have always had with men is that too many men are intimidated by women's inner strength, intelligence & moral compass. They fear being controlled by persons they perceive as superior (admitted or not). So the best way to avoid that is to control women by belittling, name-calling, pigeonholing, controlling & intimidating with superior size & physical strength, collaborating to ensure that men are always paid more for the same work (keeping wives dependent) & on.

This has been going on since Adam blamed Eve for his actions. It continued when Jesus' male disciples resented Mary Magdalene's relationship with the Saviour & later men unfairly labeled her as a whore to discredit her. Women were emotionally & Physically abused in our own country for wanting to vote! And it wasn't that long ago, either.

I don't dislike men, I enjoy many aspects about them, but I do resent any man who would use nefarious means to gain the upper hand instead of working fairly with women. It's disgusting and petty. Until men have pride in who they truly are, it's unlikely to change.

It also doesn't help that women like Pelosi and Clinton, who are in the spotlight, are the type of women who "prove" the point for female bashers who say that a woman in power means trouble. With those morons, it seems to be correct, though Harry Reid is no better.

But thanks for nothing, you two. You've set us back centuries.

Nuraini A.
Nuraini A8 years ago

stereotyping, like brainwashing, only works if you believe in it. i think the dealbreaker was the girls aren't good at math thing. because i was great in math as a child, i reasoned if 'they're' wrong on that, 'they' could be wrong on everything. or even if they're right, i personally could be anomalous and so free of the stereotypes.

i've never had any trouble whatsoever in school, university, in the navy, and at work, despite there still being an underlying sense that women are not as good in math and physics, women are not as forceful, women professions are teaching and nursing etc. etc. yet neither am i a particularly masculine woman. you just choose whatever approach fits the situation, whether co-operation or command. men and women can both do this, though so many of both are crap at either one or both that it's easier to look for the leaders individually than by gender, if you ask me.

there are certain healthy dynamics to the differences between men and women that should be appreciated, i believe chivalry for example is a good trait as it shows lifelong respect for women's indispensible and unique role as childbearers, essentially a sacred role relating to confirming the future of the society. so while i don't think these nonsensical stereotypes should exist to restrict girls, i'm a feminist only up to the point when no differences are allowed or respected between men and women anymore. that's gone to the realm of delusion and i don't go there.

Leah D.
Leah Duggan8 years ago

All of this just makes me so mad, I can do anything a man can

Deborah O.
Deborah O8 years ago

But grossly stereotyping female leaders is as close to political discourse as some of these hacks will ever get. I only wish that the afterlives of these guys could include a little quality time spent with some of history's strongest and most ruthless female leaders. Attitudes would be adjusted.

Jack T.
Jack T8 years ago

Zoi loz:"James-- all the more reason women, gays, and minorities of all types need to unite and support one another."

Are you saying women are at a disadvantage because they are a minority? If so it is a self-inflicted disadvantage because 50.7% of the US population are women. The real difference is that a bigger percentage of the male population are out there seeking the important positions whilst a much smaller percentage of women are doing the same. And yet some are saying women should have an equal number of positions. That is positive discrimination - which never works.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W8 years ago

Let's hope those ancient sexist stereotypes will be broken at last.

pam w.
pam w8 years ago

JAMES "there are a lot of men out there that will help if you ask! "

Nice offer...but I'd LIKE to think people of conscience don't wait to be asked...they just act.

Teresa Mac Tavish