Women: just too female to be in power

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I was still in high school just a few years ago, and in one of my social studies classes the instructor asked us what sort of characteristics a Prime Minister (Canada, not UK) should have.

I gave my bit, and then one of my male classmates said, “A Prime Minister should be someone confident and smart, and–” he held up his hands in that sort of goofy, ‘no offence’ gesture, “I’m just being realistic–someone male.”

Even at the time I was very sensitive to this sort of thing, so I stood out of my chair and said very loudly, “EXCUSE ME? I find that EXTREMELY offensive.”

The guy just laughed and shrugged and said, “Well, come on, people just look up to men better as leaders. If a woman could do it, we would have had lots of female PMs already.”

And then another female (thanks, really) said in his support, “Well, men and women really are just different, and they’re good at different things. I think we have to accept that.”

The same guy said, “See? That’s what I meant,” and channelling my obvious female hysteria, I threw my pencil at his head, picked up my notebook, and stormed out mid-class. But in retrospect I shouldn’t have been so angry, it’s #MFIF.

Kris, Canada.

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22 Responses to “Women: just too female to be in power”

  1. Kara Says:

    Fortunately, it seems that female Prime Ministers are becoming more accepted and prevalent.

  2. A Different Sam Says:

    It’s an ouroboros loop of sexism. Apparently, women can’t make good leaders because sexists are too sexist to accept them. It’s sort of like how slavery totally shouldn’t have been abolished because accepting blacks as free people would be too weird.

    Never mind that we already have plenty of highly-successful female political leaders, like Prime Minister Thatcher.

  3. kly Says:

    What a jerk! And where was the teacher in this? This is EXACTLY where the teacher/prof ought to be stepping in and saying “male student, that is extremely offensive, and female student, if you really think that I feel deeply sorry for you.”

  4. Dude Says:

    Well there are differences between men and women in performance on certain subjects. For example, some studies have indicated that girls outperform boys in high school math. In general, the difference between individuals is a lot more than the difference between the sexes.

    Stereotypes that some things are ‘realistically’ too hard for girls are also very damaging. In countries where women have lower levels of equality, they perform worse in several subjects. Studies have shown female teachers that act intimidated by math can cause their female students to become discouraged and do poorly.

  5. Linda Says:

    Yeah but I’m equally saddened by the “women are better at some things” comment (i paraphrase) because as soon as you say “women” you are somehow supporting the stereotype that one gender is this, another that. There are plenty of women good at math, engineering, etc and bad at interpersonal communication, management skills and empathy. True equality is not supporting stereotypes, and your statement insinuates that somehow, you still
    think in terms of gender

  6. annabel Says:

    well, men and women have different brain structures, don’t they? I say men and women because it’s not the case for male and females in any other species than our own.

    Just as well there are now 17% of women that make up parliaments across the world. This includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel, China’s vice premier Wu Yi, Sonia Ghandi who is head of india’s national congress party, Indian president Pratibha Patil, Pakistan’s ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi, minister of the economy in the United Arab Emirates, Hilary Clinton and god forbid even Sarah Palin.

    Pretty good for people who, just don’t make as good leader’s as men. Hopefully that will increase, especially in Canada

  7. Linda Says:

    I’m not aware of any brain structure digits studies that support any sort of integral functioning disparity between men and women as a result of brain physiology; indeed as they previous commenter said differences are still bigger between individuals. As a woman who graduated with an engineering degree from MIT let me assure you, there are plenty of women who are good at traditionally “male” things…and also bad at the traditionally “male” things (like multi-tasking which I personally suck at) . If you believe that there are categorical male and female abilities you will interpret the world that way, don’t limit yourself by pre conceptions – and are ultimately supporting the attitudes and behaviors you claim to rail against.

  8. Lorna Says:

    And by storming out in a huff, you’ve made an EXCELLENT example of why women can make great leaders. Way to be diplomatic in the face of inflammatory comments. Great job, making it harder on the rest of us, because next time someone asks this guy, he’ll have “Women are too affected by their emotions” up his sleeve, complete with a perfect example. Thanks!

    • Kris Says:

      In retrospect I realize that it wasn’t setting the best example (along with Miss Women-Are-Just-Different) and regret reacting so explosively, but please bear in mind that this happened when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old. Not really my height of rationality.

      A bit of background: this was the age at which I first really discovered contemporary feminism, “feminism” being a bit of a dirty word in my (extremely religious) household. Learning about the sexism that still existed in the world shocked me, but I was convinced that things were improving. To hear something so blatantly sexist from a member of MY OWN young generation was devastating. We were teenagers then, and in my mind, it was up to our generation to make things a little bit better. Hearing another teenage male in my very liberal hometown (Vancouver) claim that women couldn’t be Prime Ministers and then another girl agreeing with him still stands out to me as one of those moments in my life where my outlook for the future and hopes for my generation became a whole lot bleaker.

      So I’m not saying that my reaction was appropriate, certainly it could have been more tempered, but I was proud of myself for standing up and saying something, which is more than I can say for anyone else in that class, male or female – including the (female) teacher.

    • Alibelle Says:

      Lorna, fuck you. Seriously, don’t get up on your high horse and act like an upset reaction to something upsetting is damaging to all of feminism. It ain’t. Not to mention, women don’t have to fit some perfect ideal in order to be accepted as equals, what you’re saying is shitty and anti-feminist. Do you also attempt to educate gay men on how being flamboyant makes them targets and tell People of Color that they should behave better so that white people will accept them?

      Fuck off asshole.

    • Brittany-Ann Says:

      Careful. You’re crossing into the trope popular in all isms: one member of a minority is representative of all minorities, and conversely, the only individuals are white, male, straight, cis, and able bodied.

      Anger is a perfectly valid reaction to sexism–anger is a perfectly valid emotion. Emotions are coded socially as “bad” because they’re coded as a female trait.

  9. kly Says:

    Annabel, I think you are missing the point here. You are drawing a direct line from a biological variation which may or may not make any difference at all to leadership skills (or any other skills), and then saying “see women are naturally not as good leaders as men”. But leadership is a social phenomenon; that it, it depends on the pack being willing to accept X as a leader. In a misogynist culture, the pack is less likely to accept X as a leader if X is female, even if X would be ten times as good a leader as Y. This has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with culture.

    If you really think men are so much better leaders than women are, ask yourself how the world is in the mess it’s in, and who got us there.

  10. kly Says:

    Oh, and in fact differences in brain anatomy ARE observed in other mammals; it’s by no means exclusive to humans. See for example here: http://www.newhorizons.org/neuro/diamond_male_female.htm

  11. cim Says:

    http://meloukhia.net/2010/03/food_for_thought.html has a list of all the countries that have had at least one female head of state (and when the earliest was), and those that don’t. It makes interesting reading.

  12. Lauren Says:

    TBH based on the only female example we’ve had here in the UK…

    (kidding!)

  13. Charlotte Says:

    Ugh, this guy sounds like a COMPLETE tosser. I live in New Zealand and feel extremely privileged to have had two female Prime Ministers in my young lifetime, one elected right after the other and the second ( Helen Clark) proving popular as she ran for three consecutive terms (1999-2008), HE can suck on that! And right now Julia Gillard IS the Australian Prime Minister, and is very likely to be elected again in their upcoming election.

    I understand your pencil-throwing rage, and maybe would’ve done something similar, I certainly would’ve spoken up anyhow. I really am over this whole “We need a mans to run the country!!” bullshit. I even read a comment on a forum recently, by a woman saying, “Many women just prefer a man leading the country as an authoritative figure…” – uh, no.

  14. Francis Norton Says:

    As an expensively educated straight white guy, I suppose I haven’t suffered much in the way of offensive comments or stereotypes (what’s wrong with Bertie Wooster anyway?), and maybe this is one reason that while I will normally politely concede to complaints of “offense”, I don’t often find them persuasive.

    Here’s a tip for anyone (male or female) who wants to change my mind: take a deep breath, look me in the eye, address my argument (you should be able to do this if you’re confident in your position) – point out where I’ve talked rubbish, concede any good points that I’ve made (skip this bit if I was just winding you up!) while demonstrating why they’re irrelevant to the facts / moral principles / personal experiences that you’re bringing to the case, and you have a good chance of not merely shutting me up but converting me to your cause.

    Sorry if this sounds a bit blame-the-victim, but in an age where listener reaction rather than speaker intent is used to define offensiveness, I hope it is forgiveable to offer some listener-based thoughts on persuasiveness.

    • Luna_the_cat Says:

      https://myfaultimfemale.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/being-made-to-feel-its-mfif-on-mfif/#comment-882

      Here’e the deal: If you claim that you want to be a Good Guy and understand, then the first step is taking responsibility for learning on yourself, the second step is respecting other people’s experiences as being at least as valid as your own, and the third is being respectful enough of people who are living an experience that you have never shared not to tell them they are Doing It Wrong.

      “It’s your job to teach me about feminism. Now do it. ” is a square on the first anti-feminist bingo card for a reason.

      • Francis Norton Says:

        Dear Luna,

        I think I was only claiming to be an ordinary guy (apart from the Bertie Wooster bit), but I can see that I’m wasn’t really taking part in the spirit of the site.

        The point I was trying to make would probably be worth making in a very specific time and place, to a specific (male or female) individual, and (as I think you suggest) doesn’t add anything here.

        Best wishes for you and this site –

        Yours respectfully,

        Francis.

  15. Francis Norton Says:

    Hmmm – just re-reading my comment above, and thinking maybe I should add that I am do feel for how Kris reacted and sympathise with her reaction – shouldn’t need saying, but then this site shouldn’t need to exist…

  16. Zee Says:

    Next time just bring a copy of this list: http://www.terra.es/personal2/monolith/00women3.htm It’s all the female PMs since 1945. And there’s a lot of them, too.

  17. Xena Says:

    Francis Norton, it would be great if the oppressed could just calmly and rationally look their oppressors in the eye and offer objections 1,2&3 with all their conclusions following from their premises and yada yada. But guess what? The ruling elites know exactly how to prevent us from being able to do that. It’s called treat them like mushrooms ie, keep them in the dark and feed them bullshit.

    After 7 years of postsecondary education, with getting past admissions and loan eligibility criteria requiring serious craft on my part, I am finally able to argue with bigots. But it still does no good. In fact, it makes things worse. If they can’t silence us with fancy words, they find other ways to discredit us, or cripple us with discriminatory hiring practices and vicious social policy manouvres that come down to blaming the victims for their joblessness and the resulting poverty it creates. In my darker moments I still wonder sometimes if the trade-off was worth it.

    Kris, you’re right. Women ARE NOT less competent as leaders, the elite are just less willing to accept them as such. Have you ever noticed that a majority of the female politicians in this country’s history have been conservatives? That’s because women have and still do need to marry power to have any of their own.

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