Monday, September 15, 2008

Liberal Blog: Would Obama Be Our First 'Woman' President?

The Tropes of Feminine Leadership: Would Obama Be Our First 'Woman' President?
Submitted by Into The Woods on March 11, 2008 - 10:49am.
Toni Morrison famously said of former President Bill Clinton:

"Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas." (Morrison - 1998)
(Emphasis added.)

So, here's my question: Would Barack Obama be the first 'woman' President in the same way that Bill Clinton was referred to by Ms. Morrison as the first 'black' President?

This line of thought was prompted by a MinnPost article 'Guiltary': Twinges of betrayal bother some women Obama fans" written by CHRISTINA CAPECCHI

In the article, Capecchi quotes a young Obama supporter:

"There was also a "but" for Michelle Johnson, a 17-year-old Visitation senior who caucused for Barack. "The idea of the first female president would be really exciting," she told me, "but you have to look beyond that and really see what they're about.""
(Emphasis added.)

I have always believed that how a candidate campaigns is how that candidate will govern.

Other than when actually doing the job of President, the character and qualities of a candidate often get their greatest test in the crucible of a Presidential campaign, giving us an opportunity to observe and identify each candidates' likely governing style.

A candidate's skills of organization, crisis management, decision-making ability, capacity to inspire others and to get their team to perform at their highest potential - all these are constantly being tested in a campaign at the Presidential level. Also on display are the candidates' basic courage, truthfulness, integrity, sense of fair-play, and respect for both the rules and for their audience.

So if, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus might suggest, the way in which a candidate campaigns is a reliable predictor of how they will govern, which Democratic candidate offers the biggest contrast with McCain, and by doing so offers the best opportunity for a clear answer to the question: "What kind of leadership are voters looking for?"

Beyond the physical characteristics or 'tropes' of gender or race (or even the party affiliation of Democrat or Republican) most voters in every Presidential campaign are looking for some basic if undefined set of personal characteristics that they feel are most important for the President to have at the specific period of time in which that campaign takes place.

(As a a brief aside, any candidate who is able to give the general voting public the feeling that he or she is open enough to reveal those inner qualities is often referred to as authentic, but might also be referred to as having passed the have-a-beer-with-em threshold.)

If, acknowledging the imperfection of the exercise, one can generalize a difference in the feminine approach to leadership style, a couple of attempts at that generalization might serve as a starting point for this discussion.

Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro (Secretary General, World YWCA)had the following to say in July of 2006:

In the YWCA when we talk of “women’s leadership,” we are referring both to women who take leadership and also to a particular political and philosophical perspective that women bring to leadership.(Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro )
(Emphasis added.)

She goes on to comment on what she sees as the differing styles of leadership:

Patriarchal leadership is identified with domination, authoritarianism, and absolute power. In this system, the final answer is vested in one person who is considered beyond question.
This person is the ultimate leader, whether in a family or an organization.
Domination as a leadership style is becoming less and less popular. There is a new growing appreciation of...those traits that women use to keep families together and to organize volunteers to unite and make change in the shared life of communities. These newly admired leadership qualities of shared leadership; nurturance and doing good for others are today not only sought after but also indeed needed to make a difference in the world.

...A feminine way of leading includes helping the world to understand and be principled about values that really matter.

(Emphasis added.)

Another generalized description of attributes of women leaders as opposed to generalized attributes of the leadership of men comes from the 2005 Caliper study

Strong leadership starts with being able to pull together a group of people – who may not have anything in common – and getting them to buy into a vision of themselves as a collective group who can achieve uncommon results.
I have to wonder if the young female Obama supporter quoted in Capecchi's article has it right. That seeing beyond both race and gender to what the candidates are really like in their leadership qualities and in the manner in which they would govern may be the real crux on which our decision will be made.

Note 1:
Some sources for this post were found in "Qualities of Women Leaders" by Linda Lowan.

Note 2:
Anyone unreasonably uncomfortable with a 'feminine' characterization of Obama's management and governing style should reflect on the adolescent machismo of the current Bush-Cheney administration, its sources and its implications.

Editor Kelly's note: Trope: a rhetorical figure of speech that consists of a play on words. I had to look it up.

Crossposted at DailyKOS.


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