Women drag US government back from the brink

Fixers: The female senators who helped end the US political crisis © Getty Images

After two weeks of chaos, America’s political crisis has been resolved. Female senators played a vital role in ending the stand-off. Would having more women in power prevent disasters?

Will this week turn out to be a turning point in American politics? That is what author Hanna Rosin thinks: ‘Perhaps this will be remembered as the week when everything shifted, when we realised that leaving groups of men in charge of global decisions is not a good idea.’

At the moment, only one fifth of US politicians are women – a lower proportion than in Tajikistan or Bangladesh. And according to thinkers like Rosin, the low number of women in power is a real problem.

Certainly, all is not well with the US political system. For two weeks, the whole US government has been at a standstill. Vital government agencies have been shut down. Thousands of government workers were forced to stay at home without pay. The chaos in the US capital has cost the country an estimated $24 billion.

The cause of all this chaos? America’s two political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, could not agree on a spending plan for the coming year. Neither side was willing to compromise, which meant that for two weeks no spending was allowed at all.

Rosin thinks male stubbornness was to blame for the crisis. It was men who led the most aggressive political factions. She notes the number of military metaphors being hurled around in the last two weeks: men have been calling on each other to ‘wage battle’ or to ‘refuse to surrender.’

When a deal was finally made it was women of both parties who took the lead. Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican who laid the foundations of the final agreement, praised the contribution of her fellow female senators. ‘Although we span the ideological spectrum, we are used to working together in a collaborative way,’ she said.

And this is not the first time women have found themselves cleaning up a mess made by men. In Iceland, voters famously elected a female prime minister to steer the country out of the 2008 financial crisis. It was the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a US bank, that started the 2008 crash. Perhaps if the bank had been Lehman Sisters instead, the disaster would never have happened.

Girl Power

For centuries, women have been barred from and then under-represented in positions of responsibility. Although this is changing, the last few weeks might show that it is not happening fast enough.

On the other hand, some feminists are uncomfortable with the idea that women in power would have done a better job than their male peers. After all, they argue, if women are better at something than men, that implies that women are different from men. And imagined differences between the sexes are exactly what men have historically used to keep women ‘in their place’. Real gender equality means understanding that women and men are essentially the same.

You Decide

  1. Are women better at working together than men?
  2. Should there be laws and quotas to force countries to have equal numbers of men and women in power?

Activities

  1. In groups, list some of the qualities that are traditionally associated with women. Are they mainly positive or negative? Do you think society’s ideas about women are empowering or repressive?
  2. In 100 words or fewer, define what it means to be a feminist.

Some People Say...

“Women are not equal to men. They are better!”

What do you think?

Q & A

Surely it’s obvious that men and women are different?
Men and women are physically different, they face different challenges and are subject to different cultural expectations. That doesn’t mean that the sexes are necessarily different by nature though.
Different doesn’t have to mean better or worse!
Indeed it doesn’t. But supposed differences can be used to set limits and expectations for people, based on gender. The problem with limits and expectations is that when everyone says that you can’t do something, or that you are meant to act in a certain way, it is hard not to believe them. The answer to ‘you can’t’ should always be ‘yes I can!’

Word Watch

Hanna Rosin
Hanna Rosin is an American writer. In her most recent book, The End of Men — And the Rise of Women, she argued that men in the West were facing a ‘crisis of masculinity’. Traditional male advantages (like physical strength) have been made obsolete by machines. Female advantages (like the ability to cooperate with others) have become more and more important.
Republicans
The Republican Party represents the right wing of US politics. Republicans favour conservative policies and want to see a smaller government and lower taxes. They want to see the USA reduce its deficit as fast as possible. Republicans currently control the House of Representatives, roughly equivalent to the British House of Commons.
Democrats
Democrats represent the left wing of US politics. They typically want to see higher taxes and higher government spending. President Barack Obama is a Democrat, and is supported by a Democratic majority in the US Senate, roughly equivalent to the British House of Lords.

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