What would the world be like if it was ruled by women? We could be about to find out...
Published 04/07/2016 | 02:30
What would it be like if women ruled the world? The proposition has been made both as an ambitious feminist dream and as a misogynistic nightmare. There used to be at least one running joke about the dangers of a menopausal female head of state hitting the nuclear button in a hormonal bad mood.
On the more utopian side, there has been a pretty belief that if women were in charge, we would have a more sharing, caring, consensual and peace-loving political and economic order.
We may soon find out. By the autumn of this year, a significant slice of the Western world may be run by women: Hillary Clinton in the United States, Theresa May - the bookies' favourite to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom - Angela Merkel still in place in Germany, and not forgetting Nicola Sturgeon as the most visible Caledonian leader since Mary, Queen of Scots.
Later this year, there will almost certainly be a woman secretary-general of the United Nations - with at least four women in line, including Helen Clark of New Zealand, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria and head of Unesco, Vesna Pusic of Croatia, and the current favourite, Susana Malcorra of Argentina.
Suddenly, it seems, there is an international outbreak of gifted, confident and experienced political women at the helm as the next generation matures to take the reins of leadership. And who'd have thought the macho Ulster loyalists would produce a female leader, in Arlene Foster?
For the most part, this has not occurred through rigging the ballot papers to ensure gender balance: female leadership has emerged through merit, hard work and commitment. Yes, these women had opportunities, and they often had a fair wind behind them through some helpful lobby groups: Theresa May, the Conservative most likely to step into 10 Downing Street (though she will be given a run for her money by another woman, Andrea Leadsom) was supported in her political career by a pressure group called Women2Win, which nudged David Cameron to be more open to promoting women.
Yes, Hillary Clinton hugely benefited by being married to Bill, but Washington insiders will assure you they were always joined at the hip, politically, and neither could have advanced without the other. Their conjugal relationship as husband and wife was less significant than their duo as a political team. And there is some speculation that Hillary could choose as her vice president another woman, Senator Elizabeth Warren. So the United States would have not just one, but two women at the helm.
But there are internal conflicts. Ms Warren is rather more left-wing than Ms Clinton and could scarcely endorse Hillary's Wall Street connections. The Massachusetts senator is also considered to be a more inspirational speaker, and you can't have the vice president being more of a star than the president.
There's also a smidgeon of doubt as to whether America is ready for two women in charge. One seasoned Democrat told me: "Old white male voters are angry enough as it is - they'd just about bust their tops if they had to accept the leadership of two females in tandem!"
Nevertheless, the emergence of so many female leaders is surely something to be celebrated: if you look at the historic photograph, for example, of the signing of the Treaty of Rome in March 1957 - the founding act of the European Union - it is, literally, wall-to-wall men. It's gratifying to note that this couldn't happen today - and that women in politics are so assertive about believing in themselves, too. Asked why she was running for office, Ms May said that she was simply the best person to be the prime minister of Great Britain. On the Labour front benches, Angela Eagle - a superb parliamentary performer and a gay woman - is likely to be the most popular challenger to Jeremy Corbyn's failing leadership.
However, it has been observed that while there are ever more opportunities for women in politics, it still seems that women as mothers remain disadvantaged. It is striking that many women who rise to the top are childless.
In Scotland, all three women political leaders - SNP, Labour and Tory - are childless. Frau Merkel is childless, as is Ms May - although we know that she and her husband were disappointed not to have children, and it remains "a sensitive subject". (Theresa May was herself an only child and sub-fertility can occur for only children.)
Ms Clinton wrote in her autobiography that she was bitterly disappointed not to achieve a second pregnancy, after the birth of her only child, Chelsea.
Andrea Leadsom, the Brexiteers' favourite for the Tory leadership, is, unusually, the mother of three offspring (aged 20, 18 and 12), as is Arlene Foster.
So, shall we have a more caring, sharing, consensual political world with more women at the top? Maybe, or maybe not. The new female political class - just like men - range across the spectrum of personality types, political affiliation and effectiveness. They also vary in presentational style: Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton are never out of trousers, whereas Nicola Sturgeon makes a point of wearing elegant high heels to display a shapely pair of pins.
And there is another woman who may figure prominently across Europe next year: Marine Le Pen, the French presidential candidate for the National Front. She is unlikely to be embraced by an international sisterhood of feminists, but she proves the rule that women politicians come in all ideological colours.