While researching the lovable Lizzie Borden, I was surprised to find that Maggie Thatcher and Angela Merkel came out of a mould made in the USA by Victoria Woodhull and Belva Lockwood as long ago as 1872.
Both those redoubtable women were the Presidential nominees of The Equal Rights Party between 1872 and 1888. Although women could not vote in every American state until 1920, some states granted women suffrage before then, starting with Wyoming in 1869. Unsurprisingly, neither Victoria nor Belva got within a sniff of the White House in their four attempts.
In the succeeding 130 years, many women across the rest of the world have been elected leaders of their country.
As Presidents in: Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Finland, Guyana, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Malta, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Serbia and Switzerland.
As Prime Ministers in: Australia, Bangladesh, CAR, Croatia, Dominica, Finland, France, Germany, Haiti, India, Israel, Jamaica, Mozambique, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Peru, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, UK, Ukraine and Yugoslavia.
There are also two female prime ministers who ruled (horrendously) in non-democratic countries (CAR and Yugoslavia).
In 2011, twenty women were leading, or led, their countries: in Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Lithuania, Peru, Slovakia, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago and Switzerland.
A further six ruled symbolically as Queens or Governors: in Australia, Antigua & Barbuda, Denmark, Netherlands, Saint Lucia and UK.
In USA, no woman has successfully achieved nomination by a major party for Presidential Office, let alone attained that office. (British novelist, ex-convict and peer, Jeffrey Archer, was about the only one daft enough to think it possible – read ‘Shall we tell the President?’ On second thoughts, please don’t.)
In USA, no woman has even made it to number two. Two women have been nominated by a major party as vice-presidential candidates: Geraldine Ferraro for the Democratic Party in 1984 and Sarah Palin for the Republican Party in 2008. Their running mates failed them. Men, eh?
The nearest the US has got to a female political powerhouse is Condoleezza or Hillary.
There must be a reason why American women haven’t finished what they started two centuries back. I know as much about US politics as I do about pigeon strangling though I get the impression that the outcome is often similar. So anything I can suggest is pure conjecture.
In democracies with universal suffrage, women tend to represent at least half the voting population. The likelihood of gender empathy operating in leadership elections is therefore quite high and is currently working in the 20 countries detailed above. The intriguing thing is that democracy bloomed earliest and fullest in two countries which have never granted primacy to someone of the fair sex: America and France.
I can’t fathom France. Of all the great nations, France is the most proudly and impossibly feminine. The famous nouns of France, République, Liberté and Raison are all feminine. The statue of Marianne symbolises the state in town halls and law courts across the country. She represents breaking with the Ancien Régime, which was always led by men. Yet, as poor Ségolène Royal found out, France does not want to be ruled by women. She prefers little Napoleons. There was a small feminine hiccup when Edith Cresson made it to number two under the devious Mitterrand, only to become the shortest serving PM of the 5th Republic.
I should be able to understand the US much better but maybe this ‘divided by a common language’ thing goes deeper than I realise. I’ve met my fair share of American women and never got the impression they were particularly recessive. I’ve met my fair share of American men and I wouldn’t vote for any of them.
Why then has America never found a Maggie or a ‘Mutti’ (as Merkel has been affectionately called by her countrymen)?
- The Roosevelts, Kennedys or the Bushes never had any female children stupid or crooked enough to carry on the family dictatorships?
- American women spend too much time in therapy to think straight?
- Sarah Palin proved that no US woman politician should be taken seriously?
- American women are too intelligent to be Presidents?
- Who’d want to decorate an oval office?
- US women are too busy being apple-pie-baking mommas?
- Who in their right mind would wanna be Pres?
Somebody must have a better explanation.