Saturday, November 18, 2006

Female political wave

The Financial Times just published an analysis of the feminisation of politics brought about these past two weeks with the victory of Ségolène Royal in the French Socialist primary and with Nancy Pelosi becoming the US Speaker of the House. Both politicians have played up their female characterisitcs with regard to family and female "caring", unlike past leaders like Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher. Here are some exerpts:
...the new generation is different. Ms Royal (now universally known as Ségolène) has deliberately played up her feminine qualities. She has campaigned as what Le Monde called a “mummy candidate”, introducing herself to audiences as the mother of a family of four and announcing that: “I want to do for the children of this country, what I was able to do for my own children.” In her book The Truth of a Woman, published in 1996, she argued that a world run by women might be a less violent place. At a time when many French people seem to be longing for change in a generalised sense – but are frightened by specific social and economic reforms – the very fact that Ms Royal is a woman offers the promise of novelty and a fresh start...

Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House of Representatives, is the first woman to hold the job and campaigned explicitly as a “mother and a grandmother” – making a point of saying that if her pregnant daughter went into labour in the final stages of the campaign, she would break off whatever she was doing and rush to the hospital...

Of course, women running for the highest offices in the land are always going to face questions that are simply not asked of men. Why – for example – have they chosen this most demanding of careers? Give the wrong answer and you risk antagonising someone. There are American women who have never forgiven Mrs Clinton for apparently scorning those who choose to “stay at home and bake cookies”.

But skilfully played, the question can be turned to advantage. Laurent Fabius, a Socialist rival, harmed himself far more than Ms Royal when he asked of her: “But who will look after the children?” Mr Fabius heatedly denied making the comment – but Ms Royal trumpeted it in her final campaign rallies...

A “woman’s touch” may appeal on social issues, and even in some diplomatic contexts – but are American and French voters ready to accept a feminine finger on the nuclear button? My guess is that the answer to that will be – why not?

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