A few decades ago, a female psychologist was famously quoted saying during a faculty debate on affirmative action, “For me the real test of affirmative action will be whether or not I can stand up here in 20 years and see equal numbers of mediocre women and mediocre men.” Part of the joke, if it can be called that, is the awareness that to reach a top position, a woman has to be outstanding; much less is required of a man.
The U.S. president and the German chancellor illustrate this point nicely. Donald Trump’s lack of skills, including the utter inability to run a country, are particularly obvious at this time. His handling of the coronavirus crisis has been execrable, worse than any other world leader.
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But Angela Merkel, who holds a doctorate in quantum chemistry, has met the challenge quietly and effectively. For 15 years she has been a model of professional leadership.
And not only Merkel. Five countries headed by women are coping with the coronavirus in exemplary fashion, and it’s no coincidence. To become a female head of state you must prove extraordinary capabilities, otherwise the position will go to the mediocre man who just happens to be running against you.
Germany has a large number of COVID-19 cases, but its death rate from the disease is below that of neighboring countries. An article in The New York Times about this anomaly (many infections, few deaths) pointed to three leadership factors that brought about this situation: The chancellor ordered a response to the crisis early on, testing has been very widespread and Germany has an extraordinarily high number of intensive care beds and hospital units.
On Germany’s northern border is Denmark. Its prime minister is Mette Frederiksen, who was the first European head of state to close her country’s borders in the face of the pandemic. Denmark was also one of the first to close its schools and public institutions and ban large gatherings. Frederiksen recently announced moves to begin lifting the restrictions because the spread of the virus is under control.
The situation is similar in Finland, where early on Prime Minister Sanna Marin allocated some 5 billion euros to aid the economy and health care system.
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Then there’s Jacinda Ardern, who for two and a half years now has been leaving her male counterparts in the dust. The New Zealand prime minister flits from one achievement to another. In addition to her heartwarming announcement that the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy are “essential workers,” she has led a policy praised by the international media as “compassionate but tough” with a “transparent framework for decision-making.”
Taiwan is another interesting case. It is headed by President Tsai Ing-wen, a former law professor and the first female president of the self-governed island. Tsai responded early to the pandemic, stopping what could have been a great tragedy considering Taiwan’s proximity to the Chinese mainland. She recently even donated millions of face masks to the almighty United States of America.
There’s a tendency to ascribe to women, even those who are in leadership roles, characteristics such as hysteria, hyperemotionality and irrationality. But when the responses of a few of the world’s male leaders are compared to these female leaders, the picture is reversed. While the women have responded with reason, their male counterparts have flipped out.
Our own prime minister is exploiting the crisis for personal political gain, while his friend Trump is handling the situation with ignorance, vindictiveness, histrionics and stupidity. In short, hysterical and hyperemotional.