Saturday, June 2, 2007

Does sex matter?

'Way back on February 12 Chris Brummer asked at (our newest "connections" link) "Is there such a thing as an 'African-American' foreign policy position?" News this week prompts a question in the same vein:
Is there such a thing as a 'woman's' policy position?
Arguments in the affirmative are well known. There's Carole Gilligan's A Different Voice, as well as the widespread though less erudite sense that women are better listeners, more caring, more nurturing. The notion seems consistent with the "Refugee Roulette" findings that, as Lakshmi Bai wrote, women immigration judges granted asylum 44% more often than men. And yet a look at individual women who've led their countries reveals many counterexamples -- "Iron Ladies" like Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, who, for good or ill, pursued policies as tough as those of any tough man.
Swanee Hunt (right) has answer to this enigma. A former U.S. ambassador to Austria now at the Kennedy School, Hunt urges readers of the May/June Foreign Affairs to "Let Women Rule." Though contending that women do govern differently, her essay acknowledges the "'masculinity'" of some past women leaders. What's needed to "change norms," Hunt argues, is a cohort, a "critical mass of female leaders" -- "approximately 30 percent of officeholders have to be female to for a significant effect to be felt on policy."
Surely there's comfort in numbers. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg admits to being "'lonely'" since Sandra Day O'Connor retired last year, and Ginsburg's oral dissents in cases that've cut back on women's rights underscore the new singularity of her voice.
But will reaching 30% make policy different? What do you think?

1 comment:

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

I like the argument, indeed, find it persuasive. I admit that whenever my students say, "If a women were x..." that I respond with the "Iron Ladies" counterexamples which are, after all, rather disturbing. And I think Hilary Clinton, at least with respect to foreign policy, strikes me as someone out to prove she can play hardball with the big boys, when I believe she'd be better of exemplifying the virtues of softball. In any case, I'm prepared to do my share in bringing about the 30 percent tipping point, provided, that is, the women are on the order of a Michelle Bachelet (or, from my state, a Barbara Boxer on her best days, or a Lois Capps).