Monday, February 25, 2008

Has the Women's Movement Made Life Easier for Another Man?

No, I still haven't made my mind up about the Oregon primary in May. I continue to be a Hillary Clinton supporter, based on her solid experience, maturity, strong leadership skills, and intelligence. However, overruling any support for an individual candidate is my strong desire to have a Democrat in the Oval Office...so I will vote for the person who has the best chance at beating John McCain. At this point, it looks like that might be Obama.

It would pain me to vote against Hillary Clinton, because I truly believe that she has had a bum rap and would be an excellent president. She is a classic example of the "Dress for Success" era, when women needed to be more like men to be successful. Now she is suffering for that approach and the persona she had to cultivate to get where she is now.

Ellen Goodman wisely explains Hillary's conundrum and makes the interesting point that Obama has been more successful precisely because he has approached the campaign and the populace with more of a traditionally "female" approach.

As a personality type and as a leader myself, I'm more like Obama than Clinton. I tend to be the rose-colored glasses, cheerleader type...with lots of ideas, but not always fully developed ones. I have a lot of positive energy, but sometimes lack the follow-through and detail-oriented perspective needed to accomplish great things. I like the fact that Obama has been consistent about sticking to his principles (on the war, for example), and I like the fact that he's inspirational, motivational, and committed to giving tired Americans hope for a better life and a better country.

However, I generally vote based on the issues and candidates' experience (unlike the rest of the country, it seems...judging from Reagan and both Bushes!). Clinton is much better prepared to start as president on Day 1. She has far more depth in her programs and plans to solve the country's problems.

Alas, she is a product of women's battle against sexism in our society. She tried to keep her own name when she got married. Slam! She had to present herself as tough and aggressive to be taken seriously as a lawyer. Slam! She was the first First Lady who had a robust professional career and declared herself committed to women's and children's rights. Slam! She said she wouldn't stand by her man and stay home and bake cookies. Slam! She tried to work side by side with her husband in a partnership on issues that matter. Slam! She ended up standing by her man when he betrayed her because she loved him. Slam! Yes, unfortunately she voted for the war (as did practically everyone in Congress) because to not do so, she would have been considered weak. Slam! She is a professional, intelligent, and strong woman and comes across that way in debates and appearances. Slam!

In the business world, I've often seen women leaders fall into the same trap and be judged harshly for the same reasons as Hillary Clinton, but it's extremely difficult to avoid if the woman was trying to climb the corporate ladder in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and even now. Men who adopt collaborative leadership styles are much more likely to be rewarded with kudos, promotions, and admiration than women with the same approaches; conversely, women with hard-driving leadership styles are judged much more harshly than men. I feel very sorry for Clinton, because I think she's screwed and there's nothing she can do about it. If she had more of a motivational, feel-good style, she wouldn't have a hope in hell against war hero John McCain because she'd be targeted as "soft." Obama just might be able to beat him. (ALTHOUGH THAT SPOILER RALPH NADER IS NOT GOING TO HELP ANYTHING!!)

I find this whole thing very, very depressing, but I completely agree with Goodman. The first president to adopt more of a female, collaborative style (excluding Jimmy Carter, who didn't have Obama's charisma and oratory skills) probably will be a man. Certainly, worse things could happen. Like four more years of Republicans in the White House.

I saw a wonderful suggestion in the letters to the editor in the Oregonian yesterday. If Obama wins, he needs to tap John Edwards as his VP and Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State. Unlikely, but that team would be very difficult to beat!

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