Monday, October 29, 2007

From A First Lady To A President

Not Hillary Clinton (heh), but Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner:

First lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will become Argentina's first elected female president after taking victory in Sunday's election.

A center-leftist senator, she is expected to continue the policies of her husband, President Nestor Kirchner, who has overseen an economic boom following a deep crisis in 2001-02.

Do we see dynasties being built? We in the industrialized North do not carry out such nepotistic games, do we now?

That is the angle I've seen to this piece of news in some places. But a different angle has to do with the preconditions which allow a woman to gain power in societies where women are not usually allowed to wield power, and the most important of those preconditions is the blood tie: she must be the daughter or the widow or the wife of an important politician. It is as if the respect given to family connections can outweigh the contempt given to women because of their sex.

This is one of the reasons why countries which we don't usually regard as feminist paradises (Pakistan, say, or the Philippines) have had female leaders, whereas the good ole U.S. of A has not. That such female leaders have existed does in no way mean that those countries are more feminist in their values. It just tells us that the myth of a family dynasty may be stronger than the other social norms.

Note also that one of the most basic ways for women to learn a trade or a profession has always been through their family connections. The few "Old Mistresses" we have in arts were largely women who were the daughters or wives of painters and lucky enough to be related to someone who was willing to teach them. Most schools of paintings did not take female students. Applied to politics, this means that nepotism may be one of the few paths open to women who wish to engage in politics as a profession in male dominated societies.

And what about here in the U.S.? Anyone studying old membership histories of the Congress will soon find that being the widow of a Senator or a Representative used to be the normal way a woman got a political post with any power. Even Nancy Pelosi comes from a political family.

Any discussion of the dangers of family dynasties in American politics is incomplete if it does not address these aspects of the phenomenon.