Do Female Presidents or Prime Ministers Make Any Difference?

Female leaders who have risen to power through a male-dominated political environment may well need to be more aggressive than their male counterparts in crisis, argue Caprioli and Boyer.

Although differences exist in male and female leadership styles, women in positions of power may find themselves compelled to convey their strength in traditional male terms. And they may also work harder to ‘win’ in a crisis for the same reasons, because to respond in a more feminine way would be seen as ‘weakness’ and would be political suicide.

Caprioli and Boyer’s research suggests that we don’t just need more women in parliaments and legislatures, but also to live in societies that embrace more feminine values, so that women who succeed will feel less pressure to be more like men.

Feminine Cultures

This view is supported by Ruut Veenhoven of Erasmus University, a leading expert on happiness who recently published a study with Willem Arrindell, from the University of Groningen, also in Holland, that found people in richer countries are happier in more feminine nations.

In the study entitled, “Feminine values and happy life-expectancy in nations,” the authors define masculine cultures as those which expect men to be assertive, ambitious and competitive, to strive for material success and to respect whatever is big, strong and fast.

In these cultures, women serve and care for the non-material side of life, for children and the weak.

Feminine cultures, on the other hand, define relatively overlapping social roles for the sexes: men need not be ambitious or competitive but may go for a goal different from material success. Men may respect that which is small, weak and slow.

One sign that you are living in a more feminine society by this analysis is if there is less occupational segregation, for example, there are more male nurses.

So, the study published in the academic journal Personality and Individual Differences found that in more masculine cultures (such as Japan, Austria and Venezuela) political and organizational values emphasize material success and assertiveness, whereas in more feminine cultures (like Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands,) they accentuate other values, interpersonal relationships and sympathy and concern for the weak.

If people are happier in feminine societies and if these countries tend to get involved in less conflict with their neighbors, maybe the key enhancement that will produce most well-being in the future would be for us to become, in some sense, more feminine.

In the sense conveyed by this research, people would be more kind and caring, more aware of others’ emotional states and more able to influence our own and others’ emotions.

Social Roles

Another theory about the possible benefit of more feminine values in a country, argue Arrindell and Veenhoven, is that it may create greater opportunities for combining multiple social roles (employment, marriage, parenthood). The possibility of combining multiple roles is likely to make life more satisfying, in particular for women.

The occupation of multiple social roles has been found to be associated with good physical and mental health in both women and men.

The latest salvo in Theresa May’s and Andrea Leadsom’s battle for power, is the alleged accusation that while one woman has children and the other doesn’t, this somehow matters in how they are going to lead.

If the election of a female leader reflects a society embracing more feminine values then this outcome, according to the latest psychological research, appears to bode well for that country’s future as it pertains to waging war and general happiness. But the two candidates for the leadership of Britain appear to be descending into a typically masculine aggressive scrap.

Possibly, a combative political system shapes our leaders more than their gender or any other factor.

Given that Hilary Clinton appears unapologetic in her support for wars in the past, and has made aggressive statements regarding a future militaristic outlook, it looks like we should pay less attention to whether someone is a man or a woman as a guide on how they will lead.

Instead we could ask a deeper question – by what kind of woman or man are we being led?


Do Female Presidents or Prime Ministers Make Any Difference?