Forbes Magazine is always a good read. Inspiring, balanced and critical, I always find in there something that speaks to me or provokes me to think, whether or not I agree with the views expressed. Recently, the magazine published an article about ten of the worst stereotypes about powerful women.
It is my own view that twenty-first century post-feminism has had a damaging impact on the gains of the feminist movement of the last century. Feminism now carries a negative connotation, with many women, young and old, shying away from being labelled as such. Many fear that they will be perceived as cold and lonely if they associate themselves with the feminist movement.
Consequently, women continue to be judged more, even by other women. As an African woman, the third dimension of an entrenched patriarchical sub-culture and tradition adds its own texture to the challenge of being a modern career woman. For many African people, a woman’s place is in the home. Only in the last two decades were women recognized as having their own legal capacity in Zimbabwe. It is generally not considered an admirable feminine attribute for a Zimbabwean woman to be outspoken or to challenge the status quo – traits that are generally positive when espoused by men. I am yet to hear of a female chief. In addition, the legal world in Africa and abroad is mostly a boys’ club. There are no women on the Commercial Court bench in London and Lady Hale is the lone female justice of the United Kingdom Supreme Court. It remains a challenge, albeit interesting, to be female in today’s working world.
Against this background and drawing from the experiences of some of my own personal heroes (heroines?…whatever!) including Halley Bock, Olivia Fox Cabane, Jill Abramson, Laura Chinchilla, Carol Bartz and Christine Lagarde, Forbes highlighted the following as the ten most hated and pervasive stereotypes of powerful women which we continue to allow to seep into the collective subconscious:
- Ice Queen.
- Single and Lonely.
- A Token – to fulfil diversity requirements.
- A Cheerleader – not a coach or a quarterback.
I could not agree more with Forbes: while male leaders are allowed to have complex personalities, powerful women are often summed up by hackneyed stereotypes that undermine them and their power.
Ode to the women who nonetheless build their ranks as heads of state, corporate leaders and media executives in spite of these stereotypes.