Posted by: sarahtroxel12 | April 9, 2015

Is It A Cultural Thing?

In class we have talked a lot about women in the USA, specifically white, middle-upper class, highly educated women in leadership positions. They give us a perspective to which many of us, who are privileged to take a college course on women and leadership, can relate. However, it would be nice to see how many of our concepts we learn in class, like opting out and having it all, affect the lower classes in America or even different cultures.

The United States is in a time of peace, where there are no serious troubles affecting our country (like to the extremes of the Great Depression or World War II). However, there are other countries that are dealing with civil wars, mass unemployment and oppressive dictatorships. It is hard to be a leader in this situation regardless of your gender, but what about being a leader in a culture that devalues women and does not think they should be leaders? There has also been discussion of how women are usually brought in to the top positions of businesses or nations during a time of turmoil. Either the companies or nations are setting up these women as scapegoats in case their efforts fail, or they truly do realize that women can bring a different perspective to the situation and may actually be able to solve the problem.

Benazir Bhutto was the first elected women Prime Minister of Pakistan in a culture that did not necessarily view women as competent to lead a nation. Especially since this nation was currently under the rule of an oppressive military dictatorship. Here are a few clips to give some background on Benazir and her culture:

There is a trailer to a documentary about her and three clips to highlight parts of her life and leadership. I encourage you to watch all four clips.

It is interesting to think about how an adverse situation can bring about a leader or even have followers call for one. The people of Pakistan elected Benazir to be leader. Do you think they are realizing that men usually destroy their nation so maybe a woman should lead, or because they wanted to use her as a scapegoat in case she failed? Do you think gender is even on their mind or they are just looking for qualities of a great leader in general? America is a more mixed gender role society, but we can’t fathom a woman leading our country, where as other countries, who do not mix gender roles and even devalue women, have women presidents and prime ministers. Why do you think this is?


  1. I want to think and I hope that women are put in high ranked positions when a company, organization, or country is in turmoil because they are trusted to be problem solvers and can get work done while maintaining relationships. We have seen it not work out and women get the blame or don’t get credit if it ends well. Women are sought out to bring new change. I know from personal experience (I know this is very different) but when there is a major problem the first person I call for help is my mom. Not only because she is my mom but she responds in a nurturing and informative way. She does not solve the problem for me, but helps me organize my thoughts, creates a plan with me, and sets me up to be successful (I had a hard time doing taxes). Knowing this to be true about many female leaders, I see organizations in turmoil looking for a solution, and women lead differently. Differently is also a good quality, it does not mean better or worse just differently. I think there is hesitation when a different form of leadership is considered. As Americans we are very familiar with a male leader. Many other countries have had a history of kings and queens leading, but our history is not as rich. I hope the American mindset can grow and change of course and it is in some ways but it will take more time.

  2. It is hard to say that America isn’t currently facing problems in that we are going into absurd amounts of debt, and are waging multiple battles and wars throughout the entire world, all while trying to override our previous healthcare systems and figure out what in the world to do with illegal immigration. Although these problems aren’t always visible to all of us, especially in our CNU bubble, I am willing to make the statement that we are facing issues within our own country that are affecting the ability of females to obtain high-level leadership positions in every class, or facet of society. Although countries may be facing more “radical” changes that are literally in front of their eyes, female leaders in these places still experience some of the same issues as female leaders in the US.
    We have talked in generalized terms about how hard it is for female leaders so rise to the top at all. However, when you have countries and societies that believe, on top of that, that women should be devalued and don’t believe that they have rights, yes I do believe it is harder. It is kind of a blatant prejudice vs. subtle prejudice, as we have also discussed in class.
    When these female leaders, such as Benazir Bhutto, are allowed into hierarchical leadership positions, it may be for a combination of both factors. Such as we saw in the TED Iceland video, these women are being brought into the high ranks of society because they have the ability to bring the country out of debt. However, when we talk about tokenism, this idea also applies. Women are also put into these positions by men to make an example out of them, knowing the woman has been set up to fail. This allows for the continued repression of women from these roles, and allows for males to continue to dominate a culture or society. Maybe the reason we cannot pull ourselves together is that we are not blatant about things, and other countries are so desperate, that they are willing to change their entire society in order to create hope.

  3. I do not think that Americans necessarily can’t fathom a woman being President, I just think that is has not happened yet. Maybe I go against the norm, but I feel that it will happen one day, it is just not a norm or something that is seen a lot in society yet; it is the same with President Obama taking office and breaking the norms that had been seen before. I think in other countries women may be leading because there is turmoil or times of need, but I think that it is not necessarily to see them fail. When countries are in turmoil their citizens are looking for a way out and for someone to bring peace. If things are not working then there needs to be a change and I think this is what the women as Presidents in these other countries have been for the citizens of those nations. It is interesting to see that difference between our country and others, especially since it is not quite what we would expect to see. In class and in readings there has been information on how some women are not moving into top-level management jobs in part because there are not many women that actually want that position. It is like the mountain illustration, there is not room at the top for many people to begin with and some women just do not want to be there. We are having more representation by women in politics in the US now and hopefully they will be able to have a strong presence in order to become President. In the countries that do have women in power it seems as though they had ties to politics through family members already. Many women in power either had a father in that leadership position beforehand or a family member was in an influential political party. I think this makes for those women to be more of a household name, making them more familiar and easier to relate to.

  4. In Bhutto’s case, I think that she was elected because women are now coming to the realization that they have the right to have a voice. I definitely think that gender is on people’s minds since she was the 1st women to be elected prime minister. There is no doubt that gender has played a role in her being elected. As for American culture, I respect that we haven’t elected a women leader yet. Don’t get me wrong I HIGHLY support a woman leading our country. However, I would rather not have a woman lead if she is not going to have any positional power. In what I studied with Bhutto, it was evident that she had some power, yet is was highly regulated and ostracized. If a women is going to be in power, she much actually have power! Finally, as for why other countries have elected women leaders, yet devalue women in society is beyond comprehension for me. My best guess would be that countries want to put on the image that they value women by electing women to high leadership positions. I respect the United States for not putting up this facade.

  5. I have to say I agree with Melissa’s point. I believe our country is dealing with multiple problems, perhaps it’s hard to notice since we are in school and are not on top of the news as we would like to be.

    I also don’t think America “cannot fathom” having a woman president. Our history is rich with our “founding fathers” accomplishments and achievements. Perhaps this is why having a woman president is “strange” or different…not saying that a woman cannot be president, I honestly believe a woman is just as capable as any man in running our country (maybe even more capable 😉 ). But perhaps because our history has had so many male presidents and leaders, it is a “cultural” thing, its almost ingrained in us that we “feel” we must elect a male president. That being said, I think our nation is making great steps towards the election of our first female president. After all our nation did elect the very first black male president to office almost eight years ago. So I definitely think our nation is open minded in the possibility of electing a female president. I’m personally interested to see how the upcoming presidential election will turn out this year with Hillary Clinton’s strong presence in the media.

    As for other countries, I believe that it encompasses both parts of your argument. I believe foreign nations elect female “leaders” or politicians because they honestly believe they can create positive change or bring a different perspective to the countries government.. I can also see why they elect female leaders/politicians to make an example out of them, but perhaps for positive reasons. I would like to think other countries vote for female leaders/politicians because it provides an example for young women in that specific culture. Like we’ve said in class multiple times, it all stems from education and setting examples for young women in order to motivate them to achieve such high positions.

    Finally, I would also like to see how women of other social classes are affected by the “opting-out” and “having it all” concepts. If I had to guess, I would believe it would be even harder for such women. The women we’ve studied or read about were of a higher social class, and having extra money and extra time to devote to family make’s it a little easier for these women to cope or handle these life challenges. What about single mothers? What about homosexual couples? I’d be interested in researching how these concepts affect them.

  6. In the American society I will as if their is a split in our nation who consider the idea of a woman present to be either something that will happen in the near future or that they could never bring themselves to vote for a women because that go against the grain. In the idea that countries are facing large more difficult problems than America therefor they don’t think about gender could be sort of compared to Maslow hierarchy of needs. When they are at war or depression they are just trying to survive in anyway that they can. But for America we are pass survival and now have focused more on self-actualization, so trying to find equality for everyone.

  7. I believe that the rise of women leaders in societies such as Pakistan, Liberia, and other areas of high tension where there is a belief in a traditional patriarchal rule is largely due to a hunger for democracy and change. For decades these countries have experienced the ruling of dictatorial governments which have limited their freedoms and in many cases violently silenced opposition. These dictators are are male leaders, and I believe this has led to a desire to see change, even if that means changing the traditional gender hierarchy in the society. I would also argue that the change has been influenced by the leeching of western ideas and principles into the regions, of which the population, especially women, have launched onto and have tried to pursue. The pursuit of these democratic and egalitarian ideals have created the arena for societal change, at least in the realms of politics. I also think that the women who feel these roles do a good job of balancing the level of progression they allow themselves to embody by remaining faithful to certain cultural norms regarding traditional gender roles.

    I would also disagree with the idea that America “cannot fathom” a woman leader, as though we have not had one elected yet there have been several women including Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin who have entered the realm of politics as serious contenders. In many cases I believe that America is in a position now that in the next several presidential election cycles a woman will be elected President of the United States, especially with the changing notions of women as leaders that is occurring in society.

  8. I found it really interesting when we discussed women being asked to lead in times of crisis. The “glass cliff” so to speak happens more often than we realize. I do not think that the intention is to set a woman up for failure, but rather maybe it is a blessing and a compliment to turn to a woman in times of trouble. I would hope that women are never used as a type of “last resort”, but it is difficult to say for sure what is going through the minds of the electors. I think that in times of crisis, gender is not, or at least should not, be given much attention and therefore mainly the traits of a person should be the main focus.
    I also firmly believe that the U.S. is headed towards the direction of more prominent female leaders in the near future.

  9. Women are promoted to the top leadership roles in companies for a variety of reasons, but they are often hired for the most prestigious positions in times of turmoil. When companies are failing, they tend to choose revolutionary individuals to fill leadership roles, because they realized that past leadership has failed in some way. Women are often chosen to fill this void because they are they are visibly different from men, and tend to have different leadership skills. Women are not chosen for higher risk positions to become scapegoats, but because they tend to be hired during times of turmoil, they become scapegoats. When people are hired in times of crisis, companies are looking for someone different from existing management. Thus, whether they mean to consider gender or not, women will likely get the job because they clearly (visually) deviate from the norm.

  10. I don’t think that it is as simply as America not being able to “fathom” a woman as president but it is hard to argue against the fact that there has never been a female president. I don’t think that this is because we as country can fathom a woman leading but we have no previous experience with female presidents. When a country had done something traditionally for more than 200 years, it is hard to break this norm. We have only seen male presidents so far in our nation’s history therefore when Americans envision a president their minds are conditioned by repetition to think of a man. We have to recognize that women are running for president now, providing that at least some of the country have change their vision of the next president to a woman. The fight for equality has made many great strides in recent years include electing the first black president 8 years ago. We are closer than ever to having a women president.

  11. I don’t know if America can’t fathom having a woman leader but maybe we are just so used to having men in higher positions that we don’t initially question why there aren’t more women in power. It is interesting to think that in other countries who are currently in the middle of civil wars are giving women a chance but here, in America, where we boast about being the land of the free are still holding women back from being leaders. In other countries I think some parts of their thinking are that they have nothing to lose because of the situation they are in so they give women a chance. When you are in trouble you will except the help wherever it comes from. Another aspect maybe the different cultural dimensions. some countries are more feminine and value female values.
    I do want to highlight what you said at the beginning of this post. We study a lot about women who are privileged and are given the opportunity to learn about leadership, go to college, and raise a family in a good environment. What would it be like to be not as well off and ethnically diverse? How much harder do those women have it to make it to the top? It has been shown that women of color are at a disadvantage than white women. How do we empower and help those women who are at this disadvantage? It would be interesting to see statistics on women of color who are in higher up positions. How do we get those women in leadership positions?

  12. It’s so hard to know about other cultures because we don’t live there and we haven’t studied them. We are also, ourselves, in a place of privilege by attending college and getting a very solid education. I think it is important that we talk about this issue in the gap of what we have been learning, though, because it can really have a huge effect on leadership in a multicultural context. I honestly these countries aren’t really thinking about choosing a woman or man in a leader or even realize the context of that, but are rather choosing the person they think is best for the job and all that the position entitles. Because Americans are so aware of this gap in leadership between men and women, when choosing leaders, voters become very aware of who they are choosing. But, it’s hard for gender to not play a role in choosing a leader. In these other cultural contexts, it’s just too hard (I think) to really delve too much into the issue because they are in such a state of uproar.

  13. I wondered a lot of the same questions when I was doing my research on Johnson-Sirleaf. It was difficult for me to understand how nations that are far worse off than America, and devalue women to much higher extremes, can have women as their head of state, but in America, we haven’t reached that level of equality yet. Especially in places such as the middle east, where the majority of the time, women aren’t even supposed to show their faces. I don’t think there’s a simply black and white answer because there are so many factors that play into each culture and political structures.

    I would also be very interested to look at women in lower-class America and the specific challenges they face in terms of leadership. Especially in today’s economy, sometimes a woman just doesn’t have an option to stay home because there needs to be a supplemental income. Or she simply cannot go to work because it is cheaper for her to stay home with her children than send them to daycare. The biggest factor in America at this point in time when it comes to women and leadership, I would say, is the economy.

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