More on Gender and Political Leadership

If HRC fails to win the nomination for the Democratic party, then Nancy Pelosi will remain as the most powerful female politician in the land as Speaker of the House.

Which is why I thought this profile of her in The New Republic is a decent piece. If this piece is to be believed, then it illustrates the kind of contradictions about being a powerful female politician in a traditionally male-dominated organization like Congress.

On the one hand, the profile clearly wants to argue that Pelosi has got the political will and power to both take and dish out hits. It even concludes with this sentence:

Is She Tough Enough? The answer, quite clearly, is yes.

In fact, most of the profile is dedicated to detailing how she outmanuevered and out-politiked her male colleagues in Congress to rise to the highest position in the House. But yet there is also this passage in the piece that made me pause:

But possessing the proverbial “woman’s touch” is also part of Pelosi’s political arsenal, helping her twist the arms of some of Congress’s grumpiest old bulls without putting them on the defensive. (A certain Ways and Means Committee chairman is said to be highly susceptible to her charms.) Some colleagues have described Pelosi’s tough-love leadership style as “maternal.”

Doesn’t this message contradict what the profile’s main message is, namely, that Pelosi has, to quote “brass balls.”

And this is what I think a fundamental contradiction in how we think about powerful women in high office, whether in Congress or in a board meeting: we want them to be just as tough as any man can be, but yet we also demand that they possess certain “feminine” qualities. What kind of double-standard is that? Why do women have to be “feminine” even in the public arena, when what ultimately should matter is merit and hard-work?

As long as they get the job done, who gives a shit if people are “feminine” enough?

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