Woman and the Executive

The importance of women as fundamental building blocks in any society
cannot be gainsaid. Indeed, there has been an increase in the roles that
women play both in the family background and in the society at large,
especially in the political arena. Nevertheless, it is well acknowledged
that the presence of women in the political is dismal, to say the least.
This is especially considering the highest echelons of power, that is,
the executive. Scholars have underlined the fact that a large number of
countries have been led by men since time immemorial. Indeed, from 1960
to 2009, only about 67 women had taken up the highest echelons of power
such as prime ministerial posts and the presidency, some on a temporary
or interim basis. Indeed, some countries have had as many as three women
as presidents or prime ministers within that duration, an aspect that is
considered quite a feat. Unfortunately, the United States, despite
having had brilliant women leading crucial dockets, including Secretary
of State, is yet to have a woman presidency. Indeed, the highest
position may be said to be that of a First Lady, who, despite the
apparent non-political nature of her post, still wields immense power.
Of course, the question remains whether first ladies can maintain an
identity separate from that of their husbands. While there may be
differing opinions, First Ladies have shown immense capacity to maintain
separate identities to the extent of pursuing political careers separate
from those of their husbands.
Robert Watson notes that, while first ladies often derive their
influence from their marriages, they have, as group and individually
transcended their identities as mere spouses or dependent on the
presidents. This has been aided by the fact that most of them have
impressive traits and capabilities (Watson 2004). Indeed, a large number
of them have emanated from prominent families or had impressive careers,
were well educated and held deep convictions pertaining to fundamental
issues such as justice and equality, and showed immense political
suaveness. This is the case for Hilary Rodham Clinton among other first
In addition, some first ladies have held on to their careers even after
their husbands acquired the presidency and bestowed on them the title of
a first lady. Such was the case for Eleanor Roosevelt, a journalist who
had a radio series and columns. Her bold and unprecedented statement
that she could not cut links with the varied organizations for which she
worked or sever the many pleasant connections that she had proved that
first ladies can maintain independent personalities (Winfield, 1997).
Nevertheless, these factors do not eliminate the possibility that first
ladies are viewed from traditional roles pertaining to motherhood and
womanhood. Abraham states that first ladies have been implicated in
debates pertaining to gender relations. In fact, research shows that in
instances where the media portrays First Ladies as mothers and wives in
the conventional sense, they attract positive attention and affection
from the public, while the contrary happens in instances where the
portrayal deviates from this aspect (Abraham, 2004). Indeed, the
portrayal of the First Lady as a “First Housewife” attracts more
positive feelings from the public than in instances where they are
portrayed as “First Political Partners” (Abraham, 2004). This,
however, should not be worrying as comparative research shows that
gender stereotypes have little or no impact on the voting patterns.
Indeed, sexism will usually be countered by voters that are often
mobilized to vote for female candidates simply because they are women.
Abraham, J (2004). Media Frames, Public Opinion, and the First Lady. New
York: University of Virginia.
Winfield, Betty, H (1997). “The First Lady, Political Power, and the
Media: Who Elected Her Anyway?” in Women, Media, and Politics. Pippa
Norris, ed. New York: Oxford University Press,
Watson, R (2004). First ladies and their influence on politics, policy
and the presidency.

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