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We Still Prefer Masculine Leaders: Just Look at Theresa May and Hillary Clinton

13/07/2016 11:42 | Updated 13 July 2016

'You lost to a girl!'

It's a familiar playground taunt, and one now applicable to all who stood against Theresa May in the Conservative leadership race -- and is soon likely to haunt Donald Trump. Only a week ago the national media threatened us with a Boris and Trump pairing (and all the floppy blond hair to go with it) but now we now seem destined for a UK and USA led by Hillary Clinton and Theresa May.

That these two women are winning major and, in the UK's case, unprecedented leadership contests, is a cause for celebration. The very fact that women are now electable is exciting, given that the UK has only ever had one female leader and that some thirty years ago, and the USA never. Together we are edging towards the ultimate and (you would think) rather reasonable goal that the labels foisted on an individual, whether regarding gender, race or sexuality, do not dictate their electability.

In a nation in which fifty percent of the population are women, fifty percent of the government should be female. And not because some stringent quota is imposed, but because if simply being a woman didn't hinder a woman's chances in politics, then the numbers would more-or-less even themselves out. The Fawcett Society predicts that a child born in today's world will be drawing their pension before seeing gender parity in the House of Commons: but perhaps the precedent set by Theresa and Hillary will give other women a boost.

All of this is not to say that either Theresa or Hillary are necessarily admirable candidates, of course. Whilst both women have their strengths, trailing behind Theresa is a long list of questionable acts and statements as Home Secretary, whilst Hillary is burdened by her private e-mail scandal and marriage to a known philanderer at best, and sexual predator at worst. But again, the very fact that we generally seem to have been scrutinising these women's records and reputations rather than failing to move past their matching chromosomes is heartening to a generation who have only ever known male leaders.

But it's not quite time to crack open the champagne or dance around singing 'who runs the world, girls!' just yet. For one thing, we should probably still be somewhat abashed by how poorly the UK and USA rank for gender representation in government: forty-eighth and ninety-sixth respectively out of the 193 countries surveyed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, behind Rwanda, Bangladesh and Senegal who have all already had female PMs. Then there's also the inescapable fact that, despite their differing politics, Theresa and Hillary are the same kind of woman.

Whilst their race, age bracket and even haircut shouldn't really matter -- and don't -- it's almost impossible not to notice that they're almost the same. Factor in Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel (both of whom Theresa has already been compared to) and you find a group of well-established, middle-aged and level-headed women known for their steely determination and traditionally masculine traits. Thatcher might have been the 'Iron Lady' but May is already the 'Ice Queen'.

Whilst some progress may have been made by way of gender parity, the sort of woman we trust in leadership roles clearly hasn't changed much. It's difficult to imagine a female-equivalent Jeremy Corbyn, beloved by the electorate for his 'kinder politics', or a female Gove or Boris, allowed to show a little personality. Theresa and Hillary may represent one small step for womankind, but there's still an awful lot of room for improvement for women in politics.

Our perceptions of female leaders and political systems are changing very gradually: we must strive at every election for policy over personality. It's in everyone's interests that all honest, committed would-be female politicians have the same access to leadership roles as men so that we can benefit from the Caroline Lucases and Jo Coxes of the world. Please, for the love of God, don't leave our representation to Thatcher, May and Angela Eagle.

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