The Myth of the Iron Lady

November 13, 2007

Attila the Hen, the Old Witch, the Iron Frau. No, these are not fairytale characters. These are actual nicknames of some of the first female leaders around the world. Women leaders are perceived as masculine by both men and women because of the misconception that the only way a woman could last in the political arena was by being tough. Experiments have shown that women are not more ruthless than men who rise to the top, but women leaders are perceived as being more ruthless because of society’s stereotypes about women and leadership. They are either seen as friendly and incompetent or cold and competent. The women who are friendly and incompetent could not possibly be leaders. However, those with leadership potential must be stripped of all their personable traits because it is a man’s world. While both men and women are aggressive, this term is associated with women leaders simply because they are women. This is the argument made by New York Time’s writer Shankar Vedantam in his article “The Myth of the Iron Lady”.

Reading this article made me question my own perceptions about women leaders. While I am all for “girl power”, I realized I have made statements about women leaders, such as Hillary Clinton, in the past that invoke these stereotypes. I remember losing my cool when I had learned that Hillary Clinton had been elected Senator. I thought to myself. “what’s the next step in her quest for world domination, the Presidency?” I also remember my college professor made a joke when my classmates and I were taking our Recent U.S. History final last semester. He said, “whoever comes up with the best nickname for Hillary Clinton will get extra credit. Write it on the last page of your blue books.” It gave us a good laugh and some of us even came up with some witty nicknames (let your imagination run wild) even though we knew we would not be getting the extra credit. I now ask myself “how can I be for girl power yet uphold society’s stereotypes of women?” “I can’t,” I answered myself.

So the next time I see Hillary on TV campaigning for the Presidency, I will think to myself “ I am sure she is a friendly woman; she just appears so cold on TV because she has to prove to the American people that she’s not incompetent and she cannot have her male running mates thinking she is weak. She’s not trying to take over the world. She’s trying to make history. Girl Power!”

-Ashley

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