Posted by: hannahhum | February 5, 2015

Olivia Pope for President

This semester, all thanks to Dr. Shollen, I became somewhat addicted to the hit television show Scandal. The dramatic, political series focuses on the work of one woman, Olivia Pope. Pope leads a team of associates in a high paced career, dedicated to protecting and fixing the lives of the world’s elite. In this position of leadership, she must be effective in more than results. Power, style, and characteristics, all play a part in her effectiveness. Here are some videos that show some of her leadership style. Also it’s on Netflix. I recommend it.

In class, we have been talking about the effectiveness of women leaders and whether or not women are better at leading then men. We have read and discussed the role of power, style, and specific characteristics. As we have discussed in class, there are specific characteristics that have been deemed “masculine” and “feminine.” These traits may or may not lead to effective leadership. Olivia Pope is seen with both masculine and feminine traits, and she is extremely effective. Yes I understand it is a script, but does the double bind the idea that a women leader must balance both at the same time lead to better effectiveness?

Olivia Pope as an example of this double bind, she holds an extreme amount of power and is not afraid to use it. In many episodes she is seen using presidential power to win cases. Her assertiveness and ability to warrant power would be seen as very “masculine” traits. She leads a team that demands her to cast a vision and quickly create a strategy. Yet, she depends on her team to give her feedback, asking input and almost falling right into the “female” role as collaborator and communicator. She maintains connected to her team while also preserving her ability to make the final decision. This all creates a situation where her associates to have the freedom to operate for the best of the client. Pope seems to balance the double bind very well, but is having both the ability to communicate while being assertive mean you are balancing a double bind or just being an effective leader? Is she adapting to the situation or would she be more effective if the was “playing the game?” If we degendered terms and just used characteristics to describe a leader would the gender of the leader matter? Degendering leadership might start as degendering the term not the human. Using feminine or masculine to describe traits is only making the problem persist. I would argue her use of power, coupled with communication and collaboration would be essential for any leader in a high paced, constantly changing environment- much like politics or business operations.


  1. Seeing the balance between assertiveness and collaboration as navigating the double bind, versus being an effective leader, depends on how much you are willing to play into gender. There is a very obvious overlap between traits that arise in women in higher leadership positions and traits that are found in effective leaders. However, the degree to one perceives these as overlapping depends on how gendered your world lens is. That being said, it is hard to separate situational leadership from “playing the game”, which leads to the question of if this is even possible at this point in society.
    If we are going to de-gender leadership, I would argue that it goes further than not using masculine or feminine traits. I would argue that we have to stop seeing those traits as masculine or feminine. Our societal gendering of leadership goes to a deeper level than we recognize, and in order to recognize the fact that Olivia Pope is successful because of her effective leadership style, we have to change the root of where we begin to filter leadership in terms of gender.

  2. I feel that if a leader, whether male or female, is able to communicate well and effectively with others while also being able to be assertive in situations where it is needed, then they are just being an effective leader. In other leadership classes we always talked about how keeping a balance of different theories and not falling to the extremes was the best way to be effective. It was brought up in class about how effective leaders are seen to adapt to the situations they are in at any given moment. The character from the show sounds like she understands what is needed of her for her followers and for reaching a certain goal. When thinking about the double bind, I always wonder what combination of things a woman or even a leader in general would need in order to not only be perceived effective, but to actually be effective. I see it as a device that has many different categories with tons of options under each one and there is a perfection combination for each situation, but one has to go through failed combinations to find exactly the right one. To overcome the double-bind, women have to decide what combination of categories they will use and that will take time to figure out. I hope that if degendering is possible then learning about leadership and what makes one effective will focus on the characteristics of what effective leaders have done and that the only place that gender will play a role will be when writing the leaders’ names and whether a Ms. or Mr. is placed in front of the name.

  3. I think the idea of Olivia Pope walking the double bind well is interesting. I don’t watch much Scandal, but I have seen a few episodes and I have been really intrigued by her character. She is incredibly feminine, but in her leadership she almost acts and feels like a man. But honestly, that doesn’t matter very much because she’s a good leader and that’s what matters.

    It’s interesting because I’m in Into the Woods right now (playing a female obviously) and it’s hard not to examine the female leadership in that area of my life, too. The character I’m playing a “leader”, I guess you could say. She is old and ugly in the first act and has magic powers. She loses her magic powers, but becomes beautiful, but she still has an incredible amount of power of other people, despite that she lost her powers. Her leadership style is abrasive, but honest, much like Olivia Pope’s. Both of these “characters” I can’t help but feel that they are not the realest though, because what would make anyone respect a woman if they didn’t have to (honestly) because of the contracts of society.

    I am interested to see other female characters and see how much their portrayals accurately reflect what female leadership actually looks like.

  4. I really need to start watching this show! I really think that you are on to something with your idea to begin degendering leadership with the terms rather than the gender. When we as a society label terms as feminine or masculine it automatically gives them power and they become a label that binds people. Using this concept I believe that a leader should be evaluated based upon who they are as a person, how effective they are, and how well their followers respond to them. Currently this is done by labeling men and women leaders differently solely because we have characterized masculine and feminine traits into societal stereotypes. I honestly (even thought I might be a little biased) believe that women leaders have a certain edge over men leaders because of some natural traits that we inherently carry. For example, you using Olivia to describe how she uses both masculine and feminine leadership styles in order to meet her objective. Because women do have a consciousness for collaboration I believe that this can make them more effective in faster paced work environments. However her ability to balance both stereotypical traits is solely just good leadership. You say that she is “balancing a double bind” because you have grown up in a society that has taught you how to label things as feminine or masculine. I think that your thoughts on how to begin to degender leadership are brilliant and valid. Because if a man were being evaluated on his ability to balance different leadership styles they would just call him a good leader; so why can’t it be the same way for a woman?

  5. I would agree that certain characteristics/traits need to be degendered. We fall into the trap of believing that because women tend to act a certain way, and men another way, that means certain traits are “feminine” and others “masculine.” The reality is that these are human traits that we can all possess. I think it is okay to acknowledge that men lean more towards some and women more towards others, but we do not need to label them either way. This restricts men and women alike as leaders and as people. I think that Olivia Pope is an example of a woman leader who is adapting to the situation, and leading fearlessly without allowing gender stereotypes to dictate how she is “supposed” to lead. I do not think she is necessarily navigating the double bind because that would imply she is finding a way to please others who do not want her to be too “feminine” and at the same time not too “masculine.” It is clear in the two clips you shared that she would probably offend others with how aggressively she behaves at times.

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