Posted on 14-04-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

"In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman," remarked Margaret Thatcher, UK’s thrice elected Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, who died last week. Yet she didn’t promote a single woman from the Commons to her Cabinet. In her 11 extraordinarily powerful PM years, she dominated over all men and the political landscape. Is it too much to expect from such women in power that they help other women rise out of their subservience?

Take a look at India’s very own Indira Gandhi, the world’s longest serving woman Prime Minister for 16 years. Addressing Delhi’s Indraprastha College for Women in 1974, she narrated how in childhood, she was never allowed to walk Delhi’s streets; women then had to be carried in a covered doli. She was aware that, “Women are not weak… it’s because they are handicapped from birth by customs and social attitudes that they have no chance of developing their innate strength.” Yet she did not undertake significant paradigm changing projects to uplift the lot of women. Instead she said, “I am not a feminist. I do not believe that anybody should get preferential treatment merely because she happens to be a woman.” In a country where women are so suppressed, could she not have considered bringing them upto a certain level of equality?

An American woman’s magazine did a pictorial cover story when Indira Gandhi first came to power in January 1966, taking a full page advertisement in New York Times. She appeared displeased, “I do not regard myself as a woman. I am a person with a job to do.” Her idea of Indian women’s emancipation was, as per Eve’s Weekly magazine, “An honourable status in life. She should be able to exert her influence for the good and benefit of the community.” Isn’t this a statement with no actionable point?

Both the Indian and British Prime Ministers were separately nicknamed “Iron Lady” for successfully taking tough decisions. Their outstanding leadership undoubtedly deserves a cheer; it’s aspirational for women across the world. Mrs Gandhi abetted Pakistan’s break-up, nationalized banks, donned dictatorial robes by declaring Emergency, then staged a spectacular comeback. No Indian leader since has connected so effortlessly to people. Mrs Thatcher broke the UK’s trade union hegemony, thawed the USA-USSR Cold War, denationalized industries, fought and won a war faraway in Falkland Islands to re-establish Britain’s supremacy as a world power. Unlike Mrs Gandhi who entered politics in a dynastic relay race, Margaret Thatcher courageously struggled to win in a male preserve, believing she “owed nothing to women’s lib.” However, I cannot admire some of her brusque characteristics such as dubbing Nelson Mandela and African National Congress as “terrorists” in their 1980s fight against Apartheid. PM David Cameron later admitted that was a big mistake and apologized.

Of 196 countries today, only 15 have woman heads of nation. They are Bangladesh, Germany, Liberia, Argentina, Iceland, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Denmark, Jamaica, Malawi, South Korea and Slovenia. Historically, Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the world’s first woman PM in 1960 when her husband was assassinated. Israel’s Golda Meir, the world’s third woman PM, was chosen to avoid a power struggle between two men when PM Levi Eshkol suddenly died. She didn’t identify with women either, nor helped in their development. She was referred to as “queen bee” for pulling up the ladder after climbing to the top.

Rarely have women wielding political power used their high political office to advance women’s causes. Is it because they’ve been too busy fighting, surviving and retaining positions in male dominated societies? Or were they reluctant to open the “woman card” for fear of displaying a hint of weakness and bounty of emotion?

Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir is a clear exception of not shying away from promoting women. Openly declaring she’s lesbian, she’s made her 320,000-population country world leader of feminism. Almost 50% Parliamentarians are women. Feminism essentially is consciously creating a social order that’s free of inequality, domination and injustice that characterize our contemporary world. Iceland, fourth after Norway, Finland and Sweden in the international gender gap index, has passed a law to ban the sex industry and criminalize purchase of sex. There’re no strip clubs, lapdancing or brothels; there’re strong campaigns against rape and domestic violence. In a 2007 poll, only 10% Icelanders were against this law.

It’s a unique contradiction in women’s history that a woman who’s acquired a commanding position can be both inspiring and disappointing; a source of immense pride for other women yet of deep frustration for feminists trying to advance gender equality. Having suffered from centuries of brutal patriarchy, women’s condition is an offshoot of insecurity. Unfortunately, patriarchy shows no sign of getting wiped out in a hurry, so women leaders always feel compelled to act like men. Women’s survival as leaders can only be propped up by chauvinistic male society when defeated by a strong personality. So women leaders become like all-pervasive queen bees who never uplift other women.

To download above article in PDF Queen bee syndrome

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/queen-bee-syndrome/1102061/0

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