March is Women’s History Month (in the US).
This is a series of posts about women who have inspired me.
I don’t know what the North American voting public’s problem is with women as leaders. I was reading an article about women in politics as preparation for this article, and there are two things that struck me. So before I get to today’s woman of note, I’m just going to quote from that article:
In the United States no political gender quotas exist, mandatory or voluntary. The proportion of women in leadership roles in the Senate, House of Representatives, and Presidential positions reflect this. The current position of women representation in the U.S. is precarious. …The United States is one of the shrinking number of industrialized democracies to not have yet had a woman as its leader. Foreign female prime ministers include Canada’s Kim Campbell, the UK’s Margaret Thatcher, Australia’s Julia Gillard, Israel’s Golda Meir, and France’s Édith Cresson. Other female national leaders include Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, and President Isabel Peron of Argentina. Even Pakistan and Turkey, countries often viewed as particularly male-dominated have had female prime ministers. Therefore, the United States, a country which promotes the rights of women and girls around the world, is conspicuous for having only male presidents. – Women in Government. In Wikipedia posted 10 March 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_government.
Now, before you get too smug, like I did, there’s also this:
In Canada, there is evidence that female politicians face gender stigma from male members of the political parties to which they belong, which can undermine the ability of women to reach or maintain leadership roles. Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ) and the official opposition of the National Assembly of Quebec, was the subject of a claim by Claude Pinard, a PQ “backbencher”, that many Quebecers do not support a female politician: “I believe that one of her serious handicaps is the fact she’s a woman […] I sincerely believe that a good segment of the population won’t support her because she’s a woman”. ibid.
So that’s pretty sad. And embarrassing. Of course there have been plenty of female leaders among North American Aboriginal groups. It says that there’s something wrong with the way we understand power. That it’s okay for women to have political power if they inherit it (in fact, if you look at the list of female heads-of-state, it wasn’t until 1980 that there was a female head of state who did not have a male relative hold that position ahead of her (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vigdis_Finnbogadottir). If we look back through history, *wars* were fought over the lack of a male heir to thrones and tribes. It’s pretty clear that this is a silly, outdated manner of business – the concept that women oughtn’t be in positions of or are incapable of leadership.
This is why today’s important woman is Margaret Thatcher.
Go ahead and pick your jaw up off the floor. I’ll wait.
It’s not that I agree with the woman’s politics (I really don’t). It’s not that I think she did great things for Great Britain (I think she did a lot of harm). But ol’ Maggie was an incredibly important woman. Not to mention she was really, really smart. She was a research chemist, then a lawyer, before being drawn to politics. She had a sharp and incredibly analytical mind. I’m sure there were wold leaders who didn’t want to deal with a woman, and I remember the snide comments during her three terms in office. People critiqued her appearance (“she’s got a face like a horse”), as if that had anything to do with the fact that the majority of Britons voted for her, and most likely not because of her hairstyle. Sure, we make comments about the appearance of any and all ‘celebrities’ and ‘known personages’. But it never seemed quite so vicious as when Margaret Thatcher’s gender was questioned, or worse yet, her ability *due to* her gender (“she’s a man in a woman’s body”; “she runs the government like a man”).
Margaret Thatcher did what no other woman has done. She became the leader of an official political party. She became Prime Minister. She held office longer than any other Prime Minister in the 20th century. Some people claim that she single-handedly drove the United Kingdom into a state of decline from which it would take two decades to recover. Whether or not that’s true, she changed the face of politics, certainly for this girl in the 1980s. It was hearing the name “Maggie Thatcher” bandied around (usually spat out) at the dinner table that made me realize women COULD be heads-of-state.