Monday, 31 March 2008

Women and Power

This is a fairly long post - condensed from an interview in The Guardian by Sharon Krum. She spoke to with Dee Dee Myers, aithor of a book 'Why Women should rule the World' , due to be published by HarperCollins on April 7, priced £14.99 .

Dee Dee Myers was the White House’s first female press secretary. A comment made by her daughter of nursery school age inspired the book. The child said that only boys could become President of the USA, though girls could be presidents’ wives. In fact women are still under-represented in public life and account for only17% of members of national parliaments.

Myers is not interested in knocking men, but in investigating why so few women take powerful positions alongside them. Hillary Clinton’s quest for office has exposed wide-spread sexism. Though not all Clinton’s problems have been gender-related, misogynists have had their moments during her campaign, heckling her with signs that read “Iron my Shirt”, for instance. Clinton has also found herself faced with the classic dilemma: women in power are expected to act like men, but when they do they are accused of being unlikeable.

Myers feels it is important to acknowledge certain differences between the sexes, for example, according to recent research into male and female brains, women are hard-wired to defuse conflict. “I think many differences are rooted in biology and reinforced through culture,” says Myers, “ If you say men and women are the same and if male behaviour is the norm, we will never be as good at being men as men are.” She finds that while sporting prowess is considered a key indicator of leadership potential in the US, bringing up children - which builds skills such as diplomacy, team-playing and flexibility - is undervalued.

However, it is not just sexism that keeps women out of power. At times, she says, women undermine themselves. “We don’t raise our hands for promotions, we don’t take credit for our accomplishments.”Researching her book, Myers interviewed a number of successful women, including the late Anita Roddick, who said that women are not comfortable with the concept of power. “They see what it’s done to men and they want no bloody part of it,” Roddick said. When Myers asked women if they considered themselves powerful, they tended to reject the term. “But if you asked them if they like the ability to make a difference, they loved that.”

She is optimistic that younger women will step on to the public stage, motivated partly by seeing other females in power. “Women in senior jobs still represent all womankind and aren’t allowed to fail quite as much [as men], but I am encouraged to see women are being elected in Chile, Argentina, Liberia, Ireland.” She pauses briefly. “More is more.”

With thanks to Sharon Krum.

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