COVID-19: Women Leaders and Coronavirus: Find the Secret to Their Success – Kate Maclean | The Conversation

Look Beyond Stereotypes to Find the Secret to Their Success

Kate Maclean | The Conversation

JACINDA ARDERN OF NEW ZEALAND, TSAI ING-WEN OF TAIWAN AND ANGELA MERKEL OF GERMANY HAVE ALL BEEN SINGLED OUT FOR THE WAY THEY HAVE HANDLED THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC.

They have been praised for demonstrating care, empathy and a collaborative approach. These skills – stereotypically described as “feminine” – have enabled them to listen to scientific expertise, work with local authorities and communicate effectively with the public. It has made them come across as transparent and accountable at a time of mass confusion.         

IN STARK CONTRAST, MALE LEADERS IN SOME OF THE WORST PERFORMING COUNTRIES – THE UK, THE US AND BRAZIL – HAVE ADOPTED A LEADERSHIP STYLE OF BELLIGERENT RHETORIC. They have taken guidance from entourages of confidantes, often instead of experts. Their inconsistent, unclear communications have been compared to “gaslighting”. Their tendency to follow this path perhaps isn’t surprising. After all, the “hyper-masculine” style – a maverick leader who establishes authoritative power by aggressively rejecting “feminine” traits like collaboration, empathy and respect for due process – proved a successful electoral strategy for these leaders.

There are many men of course who are not like that – just as there are women who don’t consider themselves particularly empathetic or collaborative. So, while it is wonderful to see women leaders and feminine leadership being praised so widely during the pandemic, emphasising the stereotypical characteristics of the leaders themselves may reinforce the gendered thinking that helps put macho populist leaders in power.

BREAKING THE MOULD 

To understand the success of these women leaders in handling COVID-19, the focus should be on the political culture and institutions which allowed women who adopt a “feminine” approach to leadership to come to power. More representative systems create styles of leadership which inherently involve COMPROMISE and COLLABORATION rather than AGGRESSION and DOMINATION. This can create a political culture in which femininity and power are NOT in contradiction. 

We can see the perpetuation of stereotypes in the way that women leaders have been praised for their management of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, beyond that, we can also see how these women are breaking the mould.

Ardern is only the second premier in the world to give birth while in office. She has placed empathy and care at the centre of her personal style of authority. This, in itself, is a breakthrough, but it is notable that when she exhibits the traits of strength, decisiveness and military command, which have also been prominent in her management of the crisis, these too are seen through a maternal lens. One religious leader accused her of implementing a “nanny state”, being an “overly controlling parent” and even BBC Newsnight described her as “putting the entire nation on the naughty step”. 

Merkel is not a mother herself, but she is known in Germany as “mutti” – the “mummy” of the nation. Her route to power is a study in the discourses which frame the way women in politics are seen. Her mentor Helmut Kohl famously nicknamed her his “Mädchen” – his girl – and she demonstrates her economic credentials by evoking the thrifty “schwäbische hausfrau” (Swabian housewife). It has come to the fore in this pandemic, however, that Merkel also has a PhD in quantum chemistry. 

Tsai, who also has a PhD, has been praised for her swift action to protect citizens’ health during the pandemic. She has also sent humanitarian aid to other countries, including the US. However, while similar action by Ardern was attributed to her compassion, Tsai’s response is more consistent with her strong assertion of Taiwanese independence. There were fears that if the virus spread, China would be able to take geopolitical advantage.

CHECKS AND BALANCE PRODUCE GREAT LEADERS 

These women are good leaders because they are highly skilled, qualified and experienced. Crucially, though, they have come through political systems in which their kind of skills can be valued, which are explicitly designed to keep strong-man populist leaders at bay. New Zealand, Taiwan and Germany all have multiple institutionalised checks and balances on executive power. They have strong local institutions of governance which favour local participation in politics, rather than a top-down approach.

These nations also have electoral and party-political systems which adopt elements of proportional representation. Such systems frequently give rise to coalition governments and hence necessitate collaborative leadership. To counter perception-biases in voter choice, electoral systems in these countries use party lists, where votes are cast for a party and positions are allocated proportionately to listed individuals. This is how Tsai, Merkel and Ardern were all first elected. 

Of course, these systems are not perfect, but the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted both the dangers of systems that promote mavericks and the need for strong institutions to check their whims.

The pandemic has also placed in sharp relief the need to invest in care and social infrastructure – “feminine” areas of the economy that have been overlooked for too long. The experience of women leaders who have reinvented both political leadership and femininity and the institutional contexts which have allowed them to get to the top, can help reimagine inclusive political processes in the wake of the crisis.

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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On October 4, 2020 at 4:49 am

    Interesting take….long on rhetoric short on
    specifics. Suggesting a pandemic and the feministic approach to it superior to the
    macho male one.
    Using statistics of three of best performers
    and worse performers to draw conclusions.
    NZ Korea Germany v UK USA Brazil.

    Leaders of these 6 should not be suggested
    as reasons for success or failure of how a pandemic is addressed by ROW.
    Statistics when used to promote or demote
    an idea is political not economical.
    Politricks v Economics with truth.

    Sorry my jury is out on the ying and yang
    mars and Venus idea.

    Kamtan uk-ex-EU

  • Clyde Duncan  On October 4, 2020 at 1:04 pm

    THE OVERWHELMING RACISM OF COVID COVERAGE

    Western media cannot write western failure

    INDI SAMARAJIVA | MEDIUM.COM

    THAILAND WORKED HARD AND FOUGHT BACK COVID-19 WITH PUBLIC HEALTH. Instead of seeing that, however, the NYTimes asked if it was something
    in their blood. We’re talking about oriental blood magic, in 2020. I’m serious:

    Is there a genetic component in which the immune systems of Thais and others in the Mekong River region are more resistant to the coronavirus? Or is it some alchemy of all these factors that has insulated this country of 70 million people? (NYT)

    THIS IS LITERAL RACISM. Instead of looking at what Thai people did, they are asking if it’s something in their veins. Because Thai people couldn’t possibly just be competent, it must be alchemy. This sort of coverage is awful, and it is endemic.

    Recently the NYPost said: Scientists cannot explain puzzling lack of coronavirus outbreaks in Africa. Well yes – they can – it is bog standard public health. THEY HAVE EXCELLENT SCIENTISTS IN AFRICA – IF YOU WOULD EVER LET THEM GET A VISA FOR CONFERENCES.

    THIS IS JUST RACISM, AND WESTERN COVERAGE IS ALMOST ALL LIKE THIS. They attribute AGENCY to rich/white nations like Germany or New Zealand but LUCK to anyone poorer or dark. And it is just NOT true.

    Poorer nations have done better than the rich because they had robust public health responses. Because they worked together. Because they reacted early.

    These are all lessons worth learning, but the west is unable to learn them because they are simply too racist to see.

    FOR ONCE THIS RACISM ISN’T KILLING US IN THE DIRTY SOUTH. WE’RE LIVING. THIS TIME IT IS KILLING YOU.

    THE REAL WORLD

    WHEN THE NYTIMES OR WESTERN MEDIA TALKS ABOUT THE WORLD, THEY’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT THE WORLD. THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT WHITE PEOPLE OR – AT A STRETCH – THE RICH.

    For example, David Leonhardt imagines the world in 2022… and only talks about America. Some more generous writers include Europe in the world, and thus dub Europe’s COVID response excellent. BUT IT IS NOT. It is a burning trash can next to a dumpster fire, good only in comparison. The rest of the world is actually eliminating or suppressing this novel virus, but you cannot see that if you only see white.

    The white world, of course, stretches to New Zealand, and there they have found their great white hope. But that is where the world ends. EUROPE, HERE BE DRAGONS, THEN NEW ZEALAND.

    At a stretch, white people can also see money, so they might extend the world to South Korea, Japan, UAE. But that’s it. That is the end of the world. People are either white, rich, or they don’t exist.

    THIS, HOWEVER, IS NOT THE WORLD. JUST OPEN A MAP. The world is full of people and the humans you ignore are actually a majority. We are human, we exist, and, stubbornly, competently, brilliantly; we persist.

    Western media is literally missing most of the world because they’re so structurally racist and that means they’re missing most information as well.

    THEY ARE MISSING THE REAL STORY OF COVID-19.

    THE REAL STORY

    THE REAL STORY is that ‘developing’ nations have done remarkably better at fighting COVID-19 than the rich and the white.

    THE REAL STORY starts precisely where the western map ends. Here be dragons. We be dragons.

    THE REAL STORY is that places like Vietnam and Mongolia have completely kicked COVID-19’s ass.

    THE REAL STORY is that places like Rwanda and Ghana have innovated and survived.

    THERE ARE COUNTLESS STORIES LIKE THIS — FROM SRI LANKA TO TRINIDAD & TOBAGO, BUT YOU WOULDN’T KNOW BECAUSE WE ARE NOT RICH OR WHITE. But you should know. This information could save your life.

    Instead, however, the western media anoints white Germany a COVID leader, despite having an outbreak the size of Iraq’s. They should be looking at Vietnam. Vietnam has the same size population, much less wealth and has had a dramatically better response. NEARLY 10,000 PEOPLE HAVE DIED IN GERMANY, COMPARED TO 35 IN VIETNAM. What are you learning here? To feel good about your race while dying? Why not learn from the best?

    THE OTHER GREAT WHITE DARLING IS NEW ZEALAND, WHICH HAS HAD AN EXCELLENT RESPONSE, BUT IS ALSO THE MOST REMOTE PLACE ON EARTH.

    Meanwhile there are places which shared a land border with China — like Mongolia — that nonetheless survived, and densely populated nations in Africa, like Ghana, or Senegal, or Rwanda that all did well. How? You don’t know? You’re like ‘wait, what if we try a white woman’? YOU’RE MISSING THE POINT.

    Worst, countless column pixels have been devoted to abject failures like Sweden, as if they’re somehow a model. A model of what? Killing your people, economy and reputation at the same time?

    Real models in the Caribbean or Africa are ignored while people debate whether everyone should just get the disease. Honestly, what is wrong with you people? Just get the disease? When poor nations like mine have just eliminated it and moved on? There is a real story happening across the world which you can’t see, because you define the world so narrowly.

    THE WORLD IS THE WORLD

    In the Dirty South, we are constantly excluded from the world via euphemism. You talk about ‘developed’ world or the ‘industrialized’ world or ‘advanced’ nations. But what does that mean? How developed are you if you don’t have public health? How industrialized are you if you cannot distribute tests and PPE? How advanced are you if your people won’t even wear a mask?

    THESE WORDS ARE NOW JUST NAKED EUPHEMISMS FOR RICH AND WHITE. They are codewords for racism and classism. ‘Advanced’ and ‘developed’ have been obliterated by COVID-19 and if you don’t see that, COVID will happily obliterate you.

    We are advanced. We are developed. We are the world.

    For your own health, see us. Learn about how early, aggressive action in Mongolia prevented them from having any local transmission at all. Learn about how Ghana used pooled testing to make the most of scarce resources. Learn how Sri Lanka shut down completely for two months with just 100 cases, and is now completely normal.

    I understand you’re used to seeing us as disaster areas, but this has made us disaster masters. Poor nations have almost uniformly reacted quickly, decisively and survived. We have a lot to show you, if you could take the racist scales from your eyes.

    The racism of COVID coverage is overwhelming, and for once it’s not overwhelming us. We are fine. My kids are in school. We’re having birthday parties. We’re living. This time, your racism is overwhelming you.

  • Jo  On October 5, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    That was a long one, Clyde, but gave a lot to ponder on. You’re absolutely right that the “white world” is the measure provided as the greatest focus and the lessons of the “other world” are not even in view.
    I’m glad that G/O however included this article because I queried one post that only looked at how macho types had failed in dealing with Covid. The story of women leaders had been completely ignored. So the article does provide food for extra thought, beyond gender issues, about different systems of government that facilitate better health responses, which of course is now amplified by your letter.
    Thank you for taking the time to write at length.

  • Clyde Duncan  On October 5, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    Jo: The author was born in Vancouver, Canada and at 3-Years old his parents re-located to their original homeland – Sri Lanka – they subsequently moved to the USA where the author attended high school; the author ended up at McGill University in Montreal …. I suspect he is back in Sri Lanka.

    INDI SAMARAJIVA is NOT me – I was born in Alberttown, Demerara, Guyana

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