During the pandemic the media has often claimed that many of the countries that have dealt with the crisis successfully have had female leaders. Dr Jessica Smith, a lecturer from the University of Southampton has studied the role of gender in politics and on the 27 January gave a lecture to the Sixth Form answering whether a leader’s gender can really influence how successfully they deal with different issues.
Due to the school and the GDST encouraging girls to not allow our gender to stand in the way of our career ambitions and not to feel pressure to conform to gender stereotypes, I was dubious about the claim that the leadership of men and women was overtly different. Our society encourages us to be gender blind to improve social mobility. However Dr Smith revealed the way in which masculine images (for example visiting a manufacturing plant) and feminine images (visiting a hospital) are key to a leaders campaign and emulate their leadership style. Despite the attempts to move away from gender defining a leaders political career, this type of branding is still applied to all leaders and can this effect the leaders decisions as they try to maintain their desired image.
Crises are usually associated with voters supporting male leaders, as they are stereotyped as portraying strength and power. However as the Corona virus pandemic is primarily a health crisis, which is usually viewed as more feminine area, it has needed a more compassionate and cautious approach. Dr Smith suggested that the difference in leadership between genders has been pronounced in this crisis. While male leaders have used phrases such as ‘going to war with the virus’, the rhetoric of female leaders has been to promote a communal and societal approach which has proved more appropriate and thus more effective. Although Dr Smith also wanted to emphasis that those female leaders who had been successful had come from wealthy democracies, which may have effected their abilities to deal with the virus. As the pandemic advances Dr Smith predicts that the gender of leadership desired may revert back to male, as countries face the more traditional crisis of recessions and high unemployment.
Dr Smith encouraged us not to sideline our gender due to the broad implications that it has on the decision that we make and the experiences that we have. She fears that female leaders face expectations of radically changing the political landscape and that often they attempt to masculinise themselves to fit in with the traditional image of leaders. Her message to use our gender to shape the type of leadership that we wish to embody but not to let it define us as we attempt to achieve unrelated goals, adds to the complexity of the evolution of role of gender in society. However her message is an important one, as it implies that we are best able to succeed when we embrace our identities and that sometimes a different approach is what is needed to tackle the unprecedented issues we face today.
By Ruby Newport Spiers, Year 13