women at the helm

Women are not pro-woman by nature of being women. The structures within which we navigate are intensely patriarchal and anti-feminist. Stronger women than you and I have tried and failed to break free of them. They have infiltrated our expectations and thoughts and behaviour and we have internalised the arbitrary boundaries of what is possible, feasible and achievable in gender equality. This does not change when one is in a position of power – especially political power. The political straitjacket is perhaps tighter still as she must prove that she belongs in this male-dominated sphere. God forbid the female leader be seen favouring her own kind – never mind that male leaders have been favouring their own for all history.

The UK is poised to get its second female prime minister. The three largest parties in the UK may soon be headed by women. Across the pond, the US may get its first female president and maybe, just maybe, its first female vice-president. Germany and the powerful IMF  are led by women. The next UN Secretary-General could very likely be a woman. Suffice it to say, there are more women in the upper echelons of politics than ever before.

Does this mean anything? Do these women represent other women? Or do they adhere to the same established unequal gendered structures as those cast in written laws and unspoken norms?

Ceteris paribus I’d want a woman at the top. The sound of a glass ceiling shattering is the music of victory, regardless of whether the falling shards cut the rest of us standing underneath as we look up. But imagine the day when we are spoiled enough for choice that we can do away with this primal need to cheer indiscriminately on every rare occasion a woman takes the political reins! That will be the day when we can opine guilt-free that a woman is unfit and undeserving to lead because of her anti-feminist policies and views.

Until then, here we still are, too often trapped in a frustrating compromise between superficial and true representation.


When all has been said
when the problems of the world
have been dissected discussed and settled
when eyes have met
and hands been shaken
in the gravity of the moment
—a woman always arrives
to clear the table
sweep the floor and open the windows
to let out the cigar smoke

It never fails

– Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir, translated by Salka Guðmundsdóttir

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