Do women make better leaders?

Women aren't intrinsically superior leaders -- but if we had the chance, we might at least screw everything up differently.

Published October 24, 2008 5:37PM (EDT)

I was prepared to hate this opinion piece by Elisabeth Eaves, given that the headline is "Women Don't Make Better Leaders," and it appears in Forbes, which is not so much at the vanguard of feminist thought. Fortunately, for once, my expectations were too low -- I actually think Eaves is pretty right on.

"In tough times, it's tempting to think that there must be some whole class of people who wouldn't have screwed things up as badly," Eaves writes. But we must remember that the kind of person who would be interested in leading the free world is usually not the nurturing earth mother type. "Power attracts people who like power, and they share certain qualities with one another regardless of gender. There's no reason to imagine, for example, that if women ran Wall Street it would all be different, because you wouldn't work your way to the high reaches of high finance if you didn't possess a certain amount of greed and ruthlessness to begin with. If you are a woman driven to run for high office or make billions of dollars, you probably share leadership traits with men who have those same goals." Or, as Gore Vidal put it, "Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so."

The idealization of women, Eaves notes, can also be problematic for women politically (people on pedestals get knocked off) and dangerous to us personally: "In cultures where it makes women the bearers of male 'honor,' it can be deadly." And of course, there's the obvious problem that believing women are intrinsically superior leaders suggests that Sarah Palin would be preferable to any male candidate. Yikes. Women don't need this patronizing fantasy that our maternal instincts would prevent war and our "natural" modesty would prevent sex scandals. What we need is an equal chance to screw it all up on our own terms.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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