How girl power stopped macho Republicans taking US down
Obama is not the only one showing his feminine side: it took four women to avert US debt catastrophe
THE “macho” image of the United States has been seriously undermined in recent years. Its settlers may have conquered the wilderness and forged the world’s number one power, but the US is no longer invincible; it has been hit by recession, attacked by foreign terrorists, and its political and economic supremacy has been overshadowed by China and new sets of foreign alliances.
Has the time come for a more “feminine” style of American politics? Are we already witnessing it?
It is certainly tempting to see the Republicans’ bullish attempt to scupper President Obama’s Health Care bill – at the risk of worldwide financial catastrophe - as a desire to regain their masculinity. Obama’s insistence that the government should provide basic health care for all its citizens flies in the face of the libertarian view of “each man for himself” that is so embedded in American culture. Obamacare is, in essence, a maternalistic policy.
Just as interesting, while the intransigent Republicans locked horns over the government debt limit, it was women senators, from both parties, who led the way towards working through the stalemate.
Fed up with the stubborn power fight of her male colleagues, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine came up with a three-point plan that she thought would produce a consensus in her party. Sen Collins was then joined by Sen Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
On the Democrat side, two powerful women, Senators Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and Patty Murray of Washington, pressed their Republican counterparts to adjust their demands so that a compromise could be agreed on Wednesday night. Democrat Joe Manchin III, a collaborator of Sen Collins, praised the “gender mix”, commenting, “Would it have worked as well if it had been 12 women or 12 men? I can’t say for sure, but it worked pretty well with what we had.”
The gender mix that helped to resolve this political impasse is significant because it represents different styles of leadership and how important it can be to create a balance between the traditional aggressive “masculine” style and what can be seen as a more conciliatory “feminine” style.
There is now ample research evidence to show that corporate boards perform better when their members include three or more women. Decision-making is noticeably altered. There is more collaboration, less dangerous risk-taking, and greater concern for the long term health and prosperity of the company.
In their traditional role as custodians of family life, women have had to ensure collaboration with others, to maximise the safety of the family, and to put the family’s interests above their own. Men, on the other hand, in their role as hunter-warriors, have had to develop different strengths requiring them to take risks, to fight their corner, and to push ahead of others.
While these are typically “feminine” and “masculine” characteristics, this is not to say that men can’t demonstrate “feminine” characteristics - and vice versa for women.
The effectiveness of a more “feminine” style of political leadership has been vividly demonstrated by these four women senators. Are they also representative of a more widespread trend in the “feminisation” of US politics?
Obama is a prime example of this himself. Throughout his presidency he has been criticised for not acting, for taking too long to make decisions, and for changing his mind.
The most notable recent example was his declaration to intervene in Syria following the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against their own people.
Obama’s firm resolve to follow constitutional law - requiring him to obtain permission from Congress - was seen by many as a show of weakness. When the public feel anxious, as many did about the events in Syria, they tend to want their leaders to offer an illusion of strength through quick, decisive action – even if this means overriding the law.
But Obama stuck to the rules. And the need for Congressional approval enabled a space to be cleared for thought rather than action and, ultimately, for negotiation rather than war.
By protecting the authority of the Constitution and the democratic process, Obama allowed real differences of view to be voiced, tolerated and, most importantly, negotiated.
In recognising a “constitutional” father, Obama has not put his own ego first and he has not complied with the desire for a “masculine” warrior leader who shows his force through action. His ability to not act in certain situations may be a “feminine” strength that has yet to be fully valued.