Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Downside of a Female President

Bill O'Reilly (a conservative pundit) wants to talk about the possible downside of having a female president.  This is because the American conservatives have very few women among their prominent politicians and because conservatives fear that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate in the next presidential race.  It's never too early to start working on the voters by bringing out all the murky gender ideas that float about in that reptile brain, right?

The snag in all this is that talking about the downsides is not about one individual here but about half of all humankind.  Which puts it firmly under sexism.  In this case, the hidden assumption is that women cannot be leaders.  The reasons why women cannot be leaders are ultimately whatever O'Reilly can dig up (and if you watch the video you will find out that almost anything goes there). 

For instance, we might argue that women are going to be too soft or wimpy to go against Vladimir Putin (who rides little ponies bare-chested and knows karate and ten other Chinese words*):

There haven't been that many strong women leaders throughout history," O'Reilly countered, noting Margaret Thatcher and women in the U.S. Congress as exceptions. "But you know when you’re president of the United States you have to deal with people like Putin. You got to deal with real ornery -- the Mullahs in Iran. Look, the Mullahs in Iran, they think women are like subspecies."

That is so sweet!  O'Reilly captures two different arguments there:  First, women are too wimpy to go against a real manly man, and, second, there are potential enemies of this country who would not respect a female leader (so let's obey that view and let's not have one; better still, let's oppress women, too).

The above comment was a response to a different type of possible problems with a female president:  one who tries too hard to be a tough manly-man type, one who tries to take on Vladimir Putin or the mullahs of Iran:

Panelists Kirsten Powers and Kate Obenshain were skeptical, but Powers volunteered one example: if a woman felt she needed to act "macho" and vote for the Iraq War -- theoretically, of course -- to make it look like she was a tough leader unafraid of using military force.

That's the third argument!  Women cannot win, because either we are too wimpy or we try too hard not to look too wimpy or we cannot lead because women's status in much of the world is so low that women leaders will not be respected!

All this is most enjoyable and funny, and not only because you can do a reversal on that too-wimpy vs. not-wimpy-enough part and apply it to George Bush Jr** and a large number of other male presidents whose masculinity has been judged by their war-mindedness or the lack of it. 

That judging, however, does not reflect anything much back to the male half of this world, despite the small nod O'Reilly gives to men perhaps being too macho, and the reason is that we are used to having male presidents, and so we are willing to judge them as individuals.  The case with female presidents is different because they will be judged as representatives of a whole gender.

*The bit about karate and ten other Chinese words is a joke.  The bit about Putin on a pony is not.
 **Remember Mission Accomplished picture?