Female politicians take the lead after Brexit
In the post-Brexit political shakeup, women have risen to the top. Soon, Britain’s main parties could all have a female leader in place. Do women make for better leaders in troubled times?
When the MP Harriet Harman complained that men were dominating the Brexit debate, she had a point. Studies showed that media coverage of the campaign was saturated with male voices.
In the referendum’s messy aftermath, however, the picture has changed. Suddenly, female politicians are poised to take over. Britain looks set to have its second female prime minister in the form of Theresa May. Her main rival – Andrea Leadsom – is also a woman.
In the Labour Party, Angela Eagle is the favourite candidate to take over from embattled leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Over in UKIP, Nigel Farage’s resignation paves the way for a leadership bid from the popular Suzanne Evans. Meanwhile, the leaders of Scotland’s three main parties – all women – have drawn praise for their professional conduct throughout the campaign.
Coincidence? Not according to some commentators. Amid the chaos of Brexit, they argue, men have discredited themselves with their lies, betrayals and petty playground politics.
The women, by contrast, come across as mature and disciplined. ‘Since the men have screwed up so badly,’ writes Sarah Gordon of the Financial Times, ‘it is time to hand over to the women.’
The notion that women make for better leaders is nothing new. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, their supposed prudence was suddenly valued. According to the psychologist Steven Pinker, the empowerment of women is a force for peace.
The historian Amanda Foreman has claimed that the refugee crisis would have been dealt with more humanely if more female leaders were in place. (Perhaps she had Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel in mind.)
From May to Eagle to US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, female candidates are positioning themselves as the safe, steady option in a turbulent world. It seems to be working. But are women really more mature than men?
It’s a woman’s world
They are, say some. With many exceptions, women tend to excel in certain qualities – integrity, caution, compassion – that make for good leadership. Studies have backed this up. If they were sidelined during the Brexit debate, it is because their nuanced views were drowned out by the brash certainties of the men. Now, we need wise leaders more than ever. Bring on the females.
Sounds like wishful thinking, reply others. In politics, women play just as dirty as men. The idea that they are essentially different to men is outdated and a little sexist. The fact that female politicians are on the rise shows that our society is moving toward gender equality. It does not suggest that tough times call for ‘female qualities’, whatever those may be.
- Do men and women think differently?
- Is positive discrimination a solution to gender inequality?
- Choose a female role model (in any field). Give a two-minute presentation to the class, explaining who she is and why you chose her.
- Research the history of the women’s rights movement from 1900 to the present day. Draw a timeline, marking the most important events. For each one, add a few sentences of explanatory text.
Some People Say...
“Leaders are made rather than born.”Warren Bennis
What do you think?
Q & A
- I’m female, and I want to go into politics.
- Great! In most democracies, women are better represented than ever before. In Britain, specific schemes to attract women to politics are in place, from all-women shortlists to Theresa May’s own Women2Win programme. Yet there is still a long way to go.
- How so?
- According to the UN, for women to make a significant impact on a country’s laws, they need to make up at least 30% of its lawmakers. Only 46 of the world’s 200-odd countries meet this threshold; Britain, at 29.4%, just misses it.
- How do other countries rank?
- Rwanda comes top: its lower house is 63.8% female. Along with Bolivia, it is the only country in which this figure is above 50%. Check where your country stands in the full list under Become An Expert.
- Male voices
- For example, analysis by Loughborough University says that only one in ten contributors to the debate in the national press was a woman.
- Theresa May
- The home secretary is the favourite to succeed David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party (and therefore prime minister). Britain’s first female prime minister was Margaret Thatcher.
- See the article on Iceland in Become An Expert.
- Steven Pinker
- Pinker makes this point in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature , in which he argues that violence in human society is broadly declining.
- Angela Merkel
- Last summer, the chancellor announced that migrants were welcome to apply for asylum in her country. She was the only European leader to do so.
- To quote Theresa May’s leadership launch speech: ‘Some [in Westminster] need to be told that what the government does isn’t a game.’
- See Bob Morris’s blog post in Become An Expert.