Wednesday 22 March 2017

Hillary aims to hold up the sky - and rule the earth

Mary Riddell

Women may hold up half the sky, as the Chinese proverb has it, but they do not traditionally run the earth. That assumption may no longer hold true, though, if Hillary Clinton fulfils her dream and becomes the next president of America (REUTERS/Joshua Lott)
Women may hold up half the sky, as the Chinese proverb has it, but they do not traditionally run the earth. That assumption may no longer hold true, though, if Hillary Clinton fulfils her dream and becomes the next president of America (REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

Women may hold up half the sky, as the Chinese proverb has it, but they do not traditionally run the earth. That assumption may no longer hold true, though, if Hillary Clinton fulfils her dream and becomes the next president of America.

Many obstacles stand between Ms Clinton and the prize she came so close to claiming in 2008. She stands on a wrinkle of history, not knowing if she will be remembered as the nearly woman or as the first female leader of the free world.

The only certainty, as her Rolls-Royce of a campaign machine purrs into action, is that she will not be defeated by gender prejudice. Far from being a trailblazer, the second President Clinton would take her place in an America and a world in which a female pantheon is now embedded.

By some counts, there are more non-royal women serving as heads of state or government around the world - 22 in all - than ever before. From Liberia to Brazil, from Chile to Denmark, women preside over vast tranches of the globe. Angela Merkel rules unchallenged as Germany's chancellor and Europe's queen. With Janet Yellen overseeing the US Federal Reserve and Christine Lagarde running the International Monetary Fund, the levers of global finance are in female hands.

Should Ms Clinton's star be added to this galaxy next year, she would simply be joining a sorority of unparalleled power. And yet, despite such precedence, the first female president of the United States would offer a singular symbol of progress. Quite what that advance would signify is another matter. In countries such as Britain, still taking baby steps towards women's promotion in politics, industry and public life, the assumption has long been that more women lead automatically to kinder and fairer democracies.

As increasing numbers of women reach the very top, however, that assertion becomes ever harder to sustain. When I met Hillary Clinton, some years ago, she was at pains to underline the old myth that women have a grip, if not a monopoly, on empathy. I was interviewing her for a women's magazine, and it was possible to imagine - if you disregarded her Secret Service bodyguards - that she was the Mary Berry of US domestic policy.

She has become increasingly insulated, of necessity, she has also become unreadable. To those on the left, she has emollient words on fairer healthcare and tackling inequality. Yet her natural constituency suspects that she harbours the instincts of the right, hugging Wall Street close and so eliciting the support of rich America.

The prediction that her election campaign will raise $1bn has done nothing to shift the perception that she does not understand the rhythms of ordinary struggle. Nor is her undoubted personal warmth borne out by her foreign policy stance. More hawkish than US President Barack Obama or the dovelike vice president, Joe Biden, she backed the invasion of Afghanistan, while US action in Libya has been described as "Hillary's War".

Though the detail of Ms Clinton's plans for domestic and foreign policy remains opaque, it seems fair to say that she would not deploy a softer touch than her predecessor. That grit, unsurprisingly, is a thread that binds together many of the world's female leaders. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, did not know when she took over that trying to resurrect her poverty-stricken nation would include steering it through the existential crisis of Ebola. Nor did Ms Merkel foresee what convolutions she would face as the problems of the euro brought the EU to the brink of collapse.

When Dilma Rousseff hosts the Olympic Games next year, the world may be mostly oblivious to the fact that Brazil's "Iron Lady" endured imprisonment, torture and a brush with death (she was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 2009) before being elected as president of an emerging superpower. Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, is a karate black belt and the champion of conscription, as well as the fiercest critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin's expansionism.

If trickle-down economics is a phantasm, then so is trickle-down feminism. Women leaders, welcome as they are, should be judged strictly on their merits. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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