Tag Archives: leadership

Day 13: Will Leadership Ever Feminize?

24 Feb

About a week ago, I ran into an opinion piece by Joseph Nye on Al Jazeera English titled “When Women Lead the World.” I assisted a research on women’s leadership in Asia briefly while I was in graduate school, so I was intrigued by what this international security guru has to say. This article was prompted by the recent book by Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and I would one day love to read the book on how a psychologist would put the current gender gap in women’s leadership.

Although I thought the article was OK (and I wasn’t disappointed), I still felt like something was missing. I mean, he isn’t the first person who has talked about the importance of more “feminine” style leadership and more women’s participation in leadership roles. Numerous people have already said that “we need more women in leadership positions” and “we need more people who have soft skills and feminine leadership styles,” and why does it ring a louder bell amongst people when a male leader speaks of the issue? (Answer? It’s a MAN speaking of a “women’s issue,” gasp! Well, you all know that it’s not just concerning women when it comes down to talking about a CEO of a global corporation or a prime minister of a country.)

I also thought that he was combining and mixing up two different –although often overlapping and difficult to separate– concepts: “feminine” style of leadership and women leaders. It seems like he’s talking about two different problems as if they are the same one: 1. There are not enough women leaders (hence we need more), and 2. Leaders need more “feminine” skills. Here, his assumption is that having more women would help feminizing leadership.

What Nye referred as “feminine style of leadership” is the antithesis of the old (and masculine) concept of leadership, a style (or multiple styles) that is more collaborative, conversational, participatory and soft skill-oriented, hence feminine. Yes, it is more likely that a woman leader tends to have more feminine style of doing work and going about her businesses, mostly because of the way that she has been educated in terms of how to perform her gender on everyday basis. But I believe that the current female leaders’ leadership styles are more likely to be masculine than feminine, because of the greater societal structure that still favors the masculine style more, and if she wants to be a top dog, she still has to play “fair” with the boys, with the rules that men have set within their club for ages.

I cannot help but thinking that the concept of leadership itself is already masculine but now it just wants to have some sprinkles of “feminine” elements, while it will fundamentally never change its masculine nature. In my radical mind, I believe that without the effort to completely challenge and uproot what it means by leadership, the gender binary will continue to exist with the constant challenge of how to feminize leadership. And let’s not forget that in the world of binaries, the elements that have been identified with masculinity have mostly held positive connotations (think of words like “strong,” “power,” “charisma,” etc.) while elements identified with femininity have been associated with negative connotations (words like “soft,” “indirect,” “peace,” mostly considered weak hence not proper for leaders) especially in leadership sphere.

So back to my point earlier. Here’s what I think.

The reason why we need more women in leadership positions is because women, for ages, have been systematically prevented from making effective political, financial, social and other major decisions that concern the wellbeing of greater population, including both women and men. Often the decisions concerned the wellbeing of free men (excluding women, men of lower classes, people of certain ethnicity/race, people of disability, etc.) and overlooked the concerns for “the others” whose lives were still very valuable.

The reason why we need more “feminine leadership” is because the old concept of masculine leadership is not properly functioning within the more diverse, rapidly changing society and population (with more women participating in various functions of the society) where ideas are constantly challenged and are in need of changes. The “old” concept of leadership has been generated mostly by men, and the leadership skill sets they held have not necessarily corresponded to the needs of the greater human race.

Yes, there are overlapping elements in between, but the two are distinguishable as well.

Also as a side note… I believe that there are plenty of women leaders around the world, especially at the grassroots level. Unfortunately, they are often underappreciated, which is another proof that the definition of leader and leadership is often limited by male discourse. For example, what about Somaly Mam of Cambidia who was sexually enslaved while she was a child, yet overcame her past and established an organization advocating for many children who suffer the same brutal sexual violence because of poverty? What she has done certainly requires tremendous courage and leadership. While new leaders have emerged from these “soft power” sectors (the arts, academia, NGOs, education, etc), the way that society still defines leadership is very much confined to politics, corporate sector and military where the real power lies (talking about the very real presence of patriarchy everywhere).

Hmmm… there’s simply too much to think about, especially when it’s on gender and power relations. I think the world would be a better place if women have ruled the world from the beginning , haha –or at least easier on my brain. Let me leave you with a humorous writing written by Gloria Steinem, “If Men Could Menstruate.” I think this is my favorite piece written by her.

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