The day after her election as the first Australian Prime Minister, all the talk is about the nature of gender and its relationship to power. On the one hand, people on the left are celebrating the rise to power of a women who is strong, independent, unmarried and has no children (and is apparently an athiest). On the other hand, people on the right are lamenting the thought that a women has to become like a man to get the top job.
This latter assumption, however, is based on a false premise. The principal of Alphacrucis College, Steven Fogarty (his colloquium presentation on this topic at this link), has recently been doing doctoral research in the relationship between gender and leadership. It has sometimes been assumed that men are more likely to take hierarchical and power based approaches to leadership, and women relational and participative approaches – in formal terms, that men are more likely to lead transactionally, and women transformationally. Yet Fogarty’s research, along with other sociological studies, has rejected these gender based assertions. In fact, what he has concluded is that the style of leadership is determined not by gender but, rather, by the requirements of the role.
Fogarty’s point can be illustrated by Gillard’s ascendancy. To become Prime Minister, a person needs to be able to exercises power, to manipulate political situations, and to do so decisively and sometimes brutally (just ask Kim Beasley about Kevin Rudd’s skills in this regard). No doubt there are other characteristics necessary for the job, but these are the ones that are traditionally described as “masculine” and that will be used to disparage the femininity of our new Prime Minister. Fogarty’s research, however, reminds us that Gillard’s skills as a leader (and as someone capable of stabbing a colleague in the back) are no indication of gender but, sadly, are just the prerequisites needed for anyone who wants to get the top job in politics.
Aside from the research, i should also say that, as a man, i take offense to the suggestion that such capacities are necessarily or exclusively male – as do my female colleagues at the assertion that women cannot be feminine AND powerful, decisive (and unmarried and childless). Just because all previous decisive Prime Ministers have been men, it does not mean that strength, determination, ruthlessness etc. are male characteristics – that is a non sequiter (a leap in logic).
So does Julia Gillard have balls? Only her partner can answer that question, but i think we can safely presume the answer is no.