This topic was Linda’s idea, and Hillary Clinton helped us out a month ago by answering several questions on how she would operate differently as the USA’s first female president. Specifically, she said
I think that there are certain issues that we are more attuned to one of the things that I did in the State Department is increase resources to cases involving child abductions, trying to do more to promote international adoptions where appropriate. I just think there are some areas where our own life experiences really prepare us to be more receptive. I do think there is something in the governing or organizing approach. I just think women in general are better listeners, are more collegial, more open to new ideas and how to make things work in a way that looks for win-win outcomes. That has been my experience.
Hillary added that that as a woman president she would focus more on issues of importance to America’s working families than a male president might. Regardless of whether Hillary believes what she said, it’s significant that she said it because she must think that some voters believe it and would thus expect her to push hard to accomplish things in these areas. Read the whole thing.
This is pretty weak tea, IMO. It’s hardly some expansive claim that as a woman she would govern in a way radically different from a man. Notice also what she did not say: That she could somehow cajole better cooperation from the Republicans in Congress by virtue of some feminine emphasis on inclusiveness and collaboration. After the 7-year brick wall of obstruction President Obama faced, there would be no point in making that promise.
Yet, Linda’s question still stands. Hillary is the first woman poised to win the nomination and the presidency, but she won’t be the last. A future female president might not be so constrained by rabid partisanship – or could take office with her own party in control of Congress. So, someday we might find out if any differences in male/female governing styles translate into changes in policy with a woman in charge.
It’s relevant for other reasons. For one, the USA has far fewer female politicians in positions of real power than almost any other industrialized country. I think it’s worth discussing why that is and whether/how our politics might change if more than the current 20%-25% of elected leaders were women. President Obama has appointed record numbers of women to key positions and Hillary surely would continue the trend. So, we might find out sooner than we imagine whether a government led by women would be any different.
I’ve broken down our topic into some discrete discussion questions, below, that try to get at cause and effect. After I do my usual brief opening to frame the topic I’ll try to guide us through them in discussion, more or less in order.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Do female politicians operate differently from men? What is the evidence?
- If so, why? Different personality traits? Different life experiences? Different public and/or news media expectations?
- Would these differences extend to the presidency? To Hillary Clinton?
- Could it extend to today’s gridlocked politics in which partisanship trumps all other considerations?
–> Say Hillary wins. Could a change of presidential style overcome all of this?
- Why does the United States have so few female politicians compared to other OECD countries? How big an effect does this have on political outcomes? On progressive versus conservative agendas?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- What Hillary Clinton said:
- What Hillary may have learned about “running while female.” Recommended.
- The gender demands of being Commander-in-chief in a never-ending time of war. Recommended.
- How women in politics are viewed/treated:
- Why are women under-represented in U.S. politics?
- Do women govern differently?
Next Week: Is Russia turning fascist?