WOMEN 2000: WOMEN AND DECISION-MAKING OCTOBER 1997 THE PERILS OF STEREOTYPES Almost every class in every culture around the globe has projected an ideal of the woman who endures and sacrifices for her children, her family or her people. But worldwide there are also other visible images of women. In Viet Nam 1,000 years ago, legend has it, two princesses overthrew Chinese oppression for the first time in that country's history. In seventeenth-century Jamaica, Nanny of the Maroons is reputed to have outwitted the British for three decades. And from contemporary India comes the modern folk heroine Phoolan Devi, the "Bandit Queen". Despite adverse circumstances, she fought for the oppressed and later became a Member of Parliament. When we look at stereotypes of male behaviour, exceptions can also be cited. What does modern science say? According to a number of experts, the vast outpouring of research since the 1980s has shown fewer differences between men and women based on gender than differences that grow out of disparities in income, household responsibility or access to power.5/ Despite such examples, the belief that any one group of people is inherently predisposed -- usually by heredity --- to perform one or another function in society, such as to rule or to enjoy whatever a culture considers privileged, has persisted in some quarters and has been described by scholars as "essentialism". The idea of essentialism probably reaches back into prehistory. The oldest and most universal essentialism concerns the "nature" of women as distinct from the "nature" of men -- with whom "human nature" is generally associated in western culture. Some scholars have subscribed to an essentialist philosophy to defend women as having a particular style or approach. Problems arise from essentialism. One is to equate identity with beliefs and behaviour. If a person is defined by any trait that is considered dominant by those who do the defining, he or she is also expected to hold certain convictions, exhibit certain behaviour patterns and take certain actions. Whether these convictions, behaviours or actions are judged good or bad, beneficial or destructive, essentialist perspectives tend to deny or gloss over differences within a given group -- even a group defined by a set of ideas, such as a religion or a political philosophy. All Christians, for example, might be presumed to adhere to a particular creed -- or all socialists or feminists; the creeds or behaviour themselves are at best represented simplistically, one or another element eclipsing the complex whole. One analyst points out that if we reduce human beings to one or another facet of their identity, we reduce enormously the possibility of human change -- whether of groups or individuals -- through education and experience.6/ Essentialism thereby endangers reform as well -- certainly to the extent that it aims at reforming values, attitudes and behaviours. It is just as dangerous to champion women in terms of immutable biological traits as it is to ignore the needs that arise from these traits or to subjugate women because of them. Since women inhabit the globe in much the same proportions as men, it is not surprising that they are as diverse as men. Over and against any concept of an inborn and universal female identity, the Fourth World Conference on Women set gender issues in the context of the evolution of societies and characterized women's diversity as an asset to all aspects of human development. A major message of Beijing was that stereotypes should be avoided -- particularly those that make assumptions about female and male traits. Issues and Styles: Gender Dimensions Despite their diversity, however, there appear to be specific kinds of issues women tend to champion, and they appear to bring distinctive styles to leadership. Arguably, such similarities can be traced to the different positions women hold in society, the ways in which different societies constrain women or enable them to fulfil their human potential and the distinct roles that society expects them to play in relation to men, rather than any supposedly "innate" female or male qualities. Whether as mothers or caregivers concerned with basic needs or, in times of war and conflict, as protectors and mediators, women are often directly responsible for the immediate survival of their families. Although their particular concerns and styles may vary from one society to another (and within societies), they tend to bring to governance and other public-sector affairs a perspective that in some measure reflects their social and cultural position and the prevailing gendered division of power. The differences displayed by women and men must therefore be examined in relation to enduring social structures. Gender socialization begins in infancy for both girls and boys. The power relations between women and men are enforced and reinforced throughout their lives. As two social scientists have remarked, "The gender dimensions of multiple social structures interact and, in effect, 'discipline' individual behaviour to conform to stereotypes."7/ So it is that women in authority have often assumed male attributes, even male dress. In Egypt 3,500 years ago, the only woman Pharaoh, Hatshepsut, had to put on a beard of lapis lazuli and a male kilt for ceremonial occasions. It was the only way she could perform the central ritual of Egyptian kingship, by which the god-monarch every morning celebrated the sun's rebirth and re-transmitted life to the people of the Nile valley. In literature, Shakespeare's Portia, in The Merchant of Venice, amazes everyone with her legal skill -- by which she "tempers justice with mercy" and outwits the villain in his lawsuit for a pound of flesh. But she does so disguised as a man. Similarly, both Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher were termed "statesmen" and contemporary women executives wear "power suits". The reverse, a man imitating a woman, is less frequent, particularly if the aim is to portray public power and influence. Attributes women brint to public life: One expert group view - A particular concern for justice and the ethical dimension of politics, derived in part from their experience of injustice - A talent for setting priorities and accomplishing complex tasks learned in the course of balancing competing demands for their time and attention in the family, at work and in the community - An awareness of the value of consensus and agreement, because of their central role in social relationships - A concern for future generations8/ In the early 1940s, a British diplomat summed up his view of women and political life that is still widely believed. There were three feminine qualities -- "zeal, sympathy and intuition" -- that he considered dangerous in international affairs unless kept under the firmest control. The ideal diplomat, in his view, needed "male" qualities such as "impartiality and imperturbability", and, he surmised, needed to be "a trifle inhuman".9/ Recently, an exit poll conducted by the University of Namibia in that country's regional and local elections found that about one fourth of the respondents said they would find it difficult to vote for a woman candidate because "women are not suitable".10/ By contrast, in many countries today, some transnational corporations trying to survive in a highly competitive world appear to be "finding common ground with the values that women have been raised and socialized to hold".11/ These so-called "female principles" according to Anita Roddick, who founded a transnational firm, include: "principles of caring, making intuitive decisions, not getting hung up on hierarchy or all those dreadfully boring business- school management ideas; having a sense of work as being part of your life, not separate from it; putting your labour where your love is; being responsible to the world in how you use your profits; recognizing the bottom line should stay there -- at the bottom."12/ Notably, trends towards democratization and greater participation in both business and government point towards valuing traits that women acquire through socialization. "Organizations of different kinds are now going through a 'feminization' of their structures, some more rapidly than others, creating more space for the discussion and valuing of personal issues and problems, as well as reconsidering a more intuitive style of decision-making. Some of them are relying on more inclusive and horizontal schemes of power and responsibility. Team-work and organization-wide communication processes are becoming common in business organizations and governments . . . ."13/ As early as 1932, psychologist Jean Piaget observed that girls showed a greater tendency than boys to make exceptions to the rules and were better able to adapt to innovation.14/ Exploring this view further during the 1970s, sociologist Nancy Chodorow observed: Girls emerge with a stronger basis for experiencing another's needs or feelings as one's own (or of thinking that one is experiencing another's needs and feelings) . . . . From very early, then, because they were parented by a person of the same gender . . . girls come to experience themselves as less differentiated than boys, as more continuous with and related to the external object-world as well.15/ In 1982, psychologist Carol Gilligan added her observation, echoed by many others, that men are most comfortable in hierarchical structures of organization, while women prefer weblike structures -- and that this largely unconscious difference in perception explains many of the tensions between the sexes. She noted that: "as the top of the hierarchy becomes the edge of the web and as the centre of a network of connection becomes the middle of a hierarchical progression, each image marks as dangerous the place which the other defines as safe. Men's wish to be alone at the top and the consequent fear that others will get too close contrasts . . . with women's wish to be at the centre of connection and their consequent fear of being too far out on the edge."16/ As one woman remarked of a London Borough Council, "It continually shocks me how male working culture is not about delivery. They're about status, position, about being, not doing. Women want to see results, are prepared to be flexible and make changes in themselves."17/ A prominent Indonesian woman business executive recently stated, "I'm more supportive than my male colleagues . . . . Clients relax and talk more. And fifty per cent of my effectiveness is based on volunteered information."18/ Some differences in women's and men's leadership styles Men's Leadership Styles - Maintained a complex network of relationships with people outside their organizations - Identified themselves with their jobs - Had difficultly sharing information Women's Leadership Styles - Maintained a complex network of relationships with people inside and outside their organizations - Saw their own identities as complex and multifaceted - Scheduled time for sharing information19/ Ireland's former President Mary Robinson, now United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, puts things somewhat differently: "Women speak from their experience and work outwards, and do so with increasing confidence as they find that what they are saying is at least as valid as what they're hearing from other sources. I do feel that women tend on the whole to draw more from their experience and to want to play a role in a power structure to influence change -- it's part of a whole different reference point. Women in most contexts are coming from a kind of minority, if not marginalized, position into one where they're trying to move nearer the centre, and that brings with it all the empathy, the listening, and the sense of questioning . . . .20/ Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a recent candidate for the presidency of Liberia, has stated her belief that: "Women's vision for their societies often differs from men's because they understand clearly the impact of distorted priorities on their families and communities. The vision of women is one of inclusion not exclusion, peace not conflict, integrity not corruption, and consensus not imposition."21/ Moreover, women's styles may be affected by the distinctive issues that they tend to support and fight for -- always allowing for individual points of view. For example, a 1997 survey of female state legislators in the United States, conducted by the Centre for the American Woman in Politics (CAWP) revealed significant differences of opinion between these women and their male counterparts not only on "women's issues", such as the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and proposed limits on abortion. More of them opposed capital punishment (49 per cent to 33 per cent) and the construction of new nuclear power plants (84 per cent to 71 per cent). They expressed greater scepticism about the ability of the private sector to solve economic, social and environmental problems (53 per cent to 41 per cent), and often voted across party lines. They also felt more strongly than men (57 per cent to 32 per cent) that legislative business should be conducted in public view rather than behind closed doors.22/ Gender differences in voting patterns have also emerged at the national level, and have been charted in the European Union. Women tend to oppose nuclear weapons, capital punishment and racial discrimination and are more pacifist than men; they tend to favour social welfare programmes and, in the world of paid work, shorter hours and reduced incomes for workers as a way of increasing overall employment. Gender preferences in issues addressed have been observed in the media. Although women have so far had little influence worldwide in altering mainstream media policy, growing numbers of women journalists in various countries have brought quality of life and social issues into front-page prominence. They have also expanded the range of "newsworthy" subjects to include women's health, family and child care, sexual harassment and discrimination, rape and battering, and homeless mothers. Further, as Margaret Gallagher writes in the UNESCO survey An Unfinished Story, women can change the way in which established issues are covered: "One obvious example is the coverage of the war in Bosnia, in which women reporters focused worldwide attention on the systematic rape of women as a weapon of war. Again, the issue of 'critical mass' is important. Women have been reporting war for decades, but the war in the former Yugoslavia drew women journalists in unprecedented numbers."23/ NOTES 5/ Cynthia Epstein, Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender and the Social Order, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1988. 6/ Dan Smith, "The Problem of Essentialism", a working paper prepared for the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Political Decision- Making and Conflict Resolution: The Impact of Gender Difference, 7 -- 11 October 1996. (EGM/PDCR/1996/WP.2). 7/ V. Spike Peterson and Anne Sisson Runyan, Global Gender Issues, Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press, 1993. 8/ Report of the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Women in Public Life, Vienna, 21-24 May 1991 (EGM/RWPL/1991/Rep.1). 9/ Spectator (London), 23 January 1942. 10/ Consideration of Reports submitted by States Parties under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women: Initial Report of States Parties: Namibia (CEDAW/C/NAM/1), 10 February 1997, p. 70. 11/ Sally Helgesen, The Female Advantage, Women's Ways of Leadership, New York, Doubleday, 1990, p. 39. 12/ Anita Roddick, as quoted in Helgesen, ibid. 13/ "Can Women Change the World?", in Ana Maria Brasiliero, ed., Women's Leadership in a Changing World: Reflecting on Experience in Latin America and the Caribbean, New York, UNIFEM, 1996. 14/ Jean Piaget, The Moral Judgement of the Child, New York, The Free Press, 1965. 15/ As quoted in Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1982, p. 33. 16/ Ibid., p. 62 17/ Virginia Willis, "Public Life: Women Make a Difference", paper prepared for the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on The Role of Women in Public Life, Vienna, 21-24 May 1991 (EGM/RWPL/1991/WP.1/Rev.1). 18/ Nancy J. Adler and Dafna N. Izraeli, Competitive Frontiers: Women Managers in a Global Economy, Oxford, Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1994, p.32. 19/ Marina Fanning, "Bridging the Gender Gap in Today's Organizations: Understanding the Cultural Differences of Gender", Management Systems International, Washington, D.C., 1995. 20/ Ibid., p. 111 21/ Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, statement in Empowering Women for the 21st Century. The Challenges of Politics, Business, Development and Leadership, A. Aderinwale, ed., London, ALF Publications, 1997, p.25. 22/ Centre for the American Woman in Politics, "Survey of Women State Legislators", Washington, D.C., 1997. 23/ Margaret Gallagher, An Unfinished Story, Paris, UNESCO, 1995, p.59.
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