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The Week in Review: Female Leaders in the Modern World

February 22, 2012

Maura Magistrali ’14

Female leaders are on the rise, as shown by Josefina Vazquez Mota’s recent presidential nomination in Mexico. As women strive for some of the most powerful positions in the world, it is necessary to investigate their potential impact, and examine some of the challenges they will face.

In Al Jazeera, Joseph S. Nye of Harvard University explores the current prospects of female leaders in his article, “When women lead the world,” citing a new book by psychologist Steven Pinker. In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker argues that “women have been and will be a pacifying force” in world politics. Nye examines the other side of this debate, noting that skeptics will contend that very few women hold positions of power, and so it is impossible to determine if they will foster a more peaceful world than the men before them. Indeed, most prominent female leaders, like Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain and Indira Gandhi of India, led their respective countries to wars during their time in power. However, Nye asserts that in the age of information and network-based societies, there is a definite need for a more “feminine-style” of governing. Nye claims that women are more gentle and guiding in their governing, and so are more prone “to use networks, to collaborate, and to encourage participation,” skills Nye deems important for all modern leaders. Despite the supposed need for feminine-style leadership, few female leaders exist in the world today, a fact that Nye blames on multiple factors, including “lack of experience, primary caregiver responsibilities, bargaining style, and plain old discrimination.”

Josefina Vazquez Mota, the first female Mexican presidential candidate, will face all of these challenges in her current campaign. Vazquez Mota’s recent nomination from the National Action Party (known as PAN in Mexico) was the subject of Jason Beaubien’s featured story “Woman Candidate Battles Machismo In Mexico” on NPR. Vazquez Mota is a trained economist, and has previously held positions in the Mexican government as the first female Secretary of Social Development and later as Education Minister. Notwithstanding her obvious experience in administrative positions, Vazquez Mota will have to prove herself in the upcoming presidential race in Mexico. Beaubien affirms that “Machismo is still an issue in Mexico, and some polls show that there are some Mexicans who refuse to vote for a female leader.” However, political analyst Jose Antonio Crespo upholds that Vazquez Mota’s biggest problem will be to appear new and fresh when her policies are very similar to those of previous PAN candidates. In addition to this challenge, Vazquez must also deal with the higher standards for women in caring for children, as she has three daughters.

Statistically speaking, women are the primary caregivers for most families, at least in the United States. In her article, “Young Mothers Describe Marriage’s Fading Allure,” Sabrina Tavernise of The New York Times reported that 53 percent of all births in the United States to woman under 30 occur outside of marriage. In her article, Tavernise examines the experiences of young women living in Lorain, Ohio to expose some of the reasons for the national decline in marriage. The women interviewed cited “an economy that was fundamentally different from their parents’ time, and that required more than a high school education for fathers to be stable breadwinners.” The bad economy may have much to do with the decline in the number of marriages. Most jobs require at least undergraduate education, and many women do not want to settle down with an unemployed partner. People also discussed “how little they trusted each other to be reliable mates, and of how the government safety net encourages poor parents to stay single.” One 70-year-old woman blamed government programs for making child raising “too easy” for young people. Many women also described the difficulty of finding fathers that care enough to be involved in a family. The rise of single mothers causes one to question the importance of a father figure in a child’s life, as well as the ability of young women to balance career and family.

As more female leaders like Josefina Vazquez Mota rise to power, only time will tell how they will influence world politics and global perspectives on women’s capacity to find balance between work and family.

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