'Ranking women leaders tend to behave the way men do'

Last Updated 30 July 2010, 17:47 IST

 If the sight of women occupying the highest positions in organisations is any evidence, IT revolution has created the momentum towards bridging the chasm between the genders. It is certainly not odd to think of women leading this revolution, not only sitting at the highest echelons of IT research and development, but also making the most of the devices adding quality and excellence to the areas they work in.

According to Dr Lisa McLaughlin, associate professor in media studies and women’s studies, Miami University-Ohio, United States, technology such as the iPad may have enabled women to get out of their shackles, but social attitudes need to change for making them true partners. In an interview with L Subramani of Deccan Herald, Lisa, who has been spending the last two months in India working with a Bangalore-based NGO, spoke of the need to empower women to make their own choices, be it running families or larger enterprises.

Do you think advancements in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has brought about a change in ‘gender politics’?
I think it is always in a flux. I would not go so far as to say that there is a transformation, because transformation would mean changing the very nature of the system and social relations between men and women. I think it is still the case that women in most societies and most cultures are subordinated to men. And it is still the case with ICT and technology, wherein women, for various reasons including discrimination, are lagging behind men at work. Even in terms of using technology, it has been documented that men not only take control over the remote control — which is a form of technology — but also the computer and most other forms of technology. Indeed, technology has probably helped women to make connections with one another and given them the choice to collaborate and fight together instead of carrying it on as individuals.

For someone from a developed country, how does the ‘gender politics of South Asia’ appear to you?
India, amongst the whole of South Asia, is a very complex country. It is a country of many cultures. But it appears to me that gender politics are similar across national boundaries, though they are never precisely the same. Watching the news here, I could see that there is some determination amongst women to change the situation here. They seemed to report domestic abuse and follow it up with the courts. Women leaders in the region have not made much change because they often belong to a dynasty that has a recognisable male figure, be it Benazir Bhutto or Sonia Gandhi. The ‘irony’ therefore is that women leaders who go to the top behave more like the way men do.
In recent times, there’s a feeling that ICT has made a real impact since women no longer think about participation, but progressing towards leadership...
It signifies the kind of individualism that happens under our particular capitalist system. Leadership is about individuals, while participation is about working together. In participation, other people’s views actually matter and each group is there to support other marginalised groups. The emphasis by some corporates on women leadership would only help a handful of women, and not most of them.

Do you think slip-ups by women leaders like Sarah Palin are being exaggerated because of gender?
Sarah creates most of her own problems. She is in constant state of explaining herself. Her vice presidential opponent in 2008 elections, Joe Biden, who eventually emerged successful with President Barack Obama, had decades of political experience. During and after the elections, we have seen him get into gaffes by telling the truth where he shouldn’t. Sarah tends to mess up by being uninformed. I think she has a great deal of support from men, but undermines herself.

Do you think in the tension between race and gender in the US, race proves to be more powerful? We have seen examples in O J Simpson verdict and also during the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008...
It is extremely unfortunate that there is tension between race and gender and people sometimes have to side with race than with gender. This is particularly unfortunate in the case of coloured women. But in Obama vs Clinton, though it was perceived as race-gender tension, it was more of ‘insider’ vs ‘outsider’ issue.
Do you think America is closer now to having its first ever woman president? If it happens how profound a change that would be?
It looks unlikely at least for now that we will have a woman as president. As for the question of a ‘woman president’ making a change in the world, it would probably provide an example, but whether the choice of a woman leader would make a profound change would depend on the kind of change the leader would like to introduce in terms of policies.

(Published 30 July 2010, 17:47 IST)

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