Monday, January 07, 2008

Big Girls in Leadership Don't Cry

What woman who is in a leadership role hasn't come close to tears when she desperately needs to keep her cool? I know I have choked up while preaching, while attempting to discipline someone, while arguing with someone, etc. Most women know and understand that tears are seen as weak. Emotion is often seen as a liability in a leader. "She's too emotional." "Women are always crying." "What if she gets PMS and starts a war?" (All arguments I've heard men make against women in leadership).

Today I just saw a video of Hillary Clinton, choking up when answering a question on how she stays upbeat on the trail. Although I understand why so many people dislike and distrust Hillary, I feel for her. Any woman in leadership knows that it is very difficult to get ahead in a man's world. And it is still a man's world. I was in fourth grade when the Clintons entered the White House, so I grew up watching Hillary Clinton. I heard the jokes and criticisms about her hair and her wardrobe and her influence on her husband. It was funny and entertaining, but it showed me how uncomfortable our country still is with people who step outside of traditional gender roles. The First Lady is in charge of things like the Easter Egg Hunt, not health care (notice that people are so amused by the idea of the "First Gentleman" running such events).

We may have come a long way, but women are still faced with a difficult dilemma: if you are nice people will like you but won't take you seriously; if you are tough, people might take you seriously but they won't like you. This is obviously an over-simplification, but how many warm and fuzzy women do we see in government offices (think Condoleezza Rice or Nancy Pelosi)? Hillary Clinton has spent her adult life trying to live out the promises that people have made to my generation since kindergarten: You can be president if you want; You can raises kids and have a job; You can do anything you set your mind to; You can be a wife and pursue your dreams. Would things be the same if she hadn't put her husband's presidency first? Would she still be in this position? Maybe she's only getting this attention because she was First Lady, but then that's depressing if it that's what it takes to be a female presidential candidate.

I am by no means saying that she is a victim. People are also uncomfortable at what we perceive as lack of sincerity. Politically she isn't far left enough for some Democrats. Republicans just plain hate her. But my suggestion is that she is a product of a society that makes it very difficult to be a woman and a leader, and of a political culture that is dependent on grooming and opinion polls. It is disconcerting to see someone who seems to be saying whatever it takes to get ahead politically. Still, I wonder what it would look like to have a president who had the abilities and the savvy to work within the current system and stay alive politically -- despite being a woman.

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