Strong men still rule the world!

Lesotho Times - - Opinion - Colleen Lowe Morna (Lowe Morna is CEO of Gender Links. This ar­ti­cle is writ­ten in her per­sonal ca­pac­ity).

In­stead of wel­com­ing its first woman pres­i­dent, the world’s rich­est and most in­flu­en­tial democ­racy has sent out the fright­en­ing mes­sage that strong men still rule the world de­spite the lit­tle chinks in the pa­tri­ar­chal ar­mour that we’ve seen in re­cent years.

Eight years ago when Hi­lary Clin­ton ran against Barack Obama as the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for the Demo­cratic Party, we learned that Amer­ica was more ac­cept­ing of a black, than of a woman pres­i­dent. Ban­ners such as “she could not sat­isfy her hus­band, how can she sat­isfy Amer­ica?” served as a re­minder that misog­yny in the USA runs deeper than even the legacy of slav­ery.

The for­mer first lady, who went on to be­come Sec­re­tary of State dur­ing Obama’s first term, worked for a more egal­i­tar­ian world un­der a pres­i­dent raised and sur­rounded by women in his per­sonal life, and gen­uinely re­spect­ful of them in his pro­fes­sional life.

Polls pre­dicted an easy land­slide for Clin­ton in the fight against the brash and brag­ging Don­ald Trump, whose com­bi­na­tion of racism, xeno­pho­bia, and misog­yny left even fel­low Repub­li­cans dis­tanc­ing them­selves from this can­di­date.

Winds of change had fi­nally started to shake the deeply pa­tri­ar­chal roots of western pol­i­tics. An­gela Merkel in Ger­many had risen to be­come one of the most re­spected lead­ers in mod­ern times. In the UK, Theresa Owen took over from David Cameroon af­ter the woe­ful Brexit ref­er­en­dum. Women in high places seemed to be the grow­ing trend.

So where did it go so wrong? The an­swer is sim­ple, and it’s a wake- up call to the rest of the world as we rev up for the Post 2015 era with its much vaunted Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals, in­clud­ing goal five – gender equal­ity.

Amer­i­cans, and the world at large, are still far from ready to em­brace women in lead­er­ship. They are still more com­fort­able with sex­ual preda­tors who treat women as ob­jects and con­quests than with in­tel­li­gent, ca­pa­ble women who have ac­tu­ally proved their abil­ity to lead.

Watch­ing Don­ald Trump ex­cuse his “locker room” ban­ter, caught on TV, and lead­ing to a string of accu- sa­tions by for­mer women em­ploy­ees, re­minded me of South Africa’s Pres­i­dent Zuma wrig­gling out of a rape trial on the eve of his election in South Africa in 2009. Both re­alised they had be­haved badly in re­la­tion to the emerg­ing trends and norms in their coun­tries. But both smiled snugly in the re­al­i­sa­tion that it would all blow over in no time.

In­deed Amer­i­cans, it turned out, were more “con­cerned” about the E Mail storm-in-a-tea-cup brewed by the FBI over Hi­lary Clin­ton, than the fact that Trump openly ad­mit­ted to sex­ual as­sault — “you can do that when you are a celebrity.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Associated Press, “Trump won by dom­i­nat­ing among white vot­ers, es­pe­cially non-col­legee­d­u­cated men, trump­ing Clin­ton’s coali­tion of women, mi­nori­ties and young peo­ple.. Tues­day’s election pro­duced the largest gender gap since the exit poll be­gan: The gender gap for Clin­ton — the dif­fer­ence be­tween the num­ber of men who voted for her and the num­ber of women who voted for her - hit 13 per­cent­age points.” Of course a size­able chunk of mostly white, work­ing class women voted for Trump. As Franz Fanon might have ob­served, the propen­sity of the op­pressed to in­ter­nalise their own op­pres­sion is as old as his­tory it­self.

Clin­ton largely man­aged to hang on to the youth vote cru­cial to Obama eight years ago. The sad thing, both in the US elec­tions and in Brexit, is that older gen­er­a­tions are vot­ing for a world that younger gen­er­a­tions do not want. The gender and the age gap tell us that the “strong men rule, okay!” is not what a large per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion wants, but it is a hard nut to crack. For the record: Hi­lary Clin­ton won the pop­u­lar vote but not the num­ber of elec­toral col­lege votes needed to clinch the pres­i­dency.

Amer­ica, and the world on which it has so much in­flu­ence, must now brace for a roll back on hard won gains — for women in em­ploy­ment (Trump is on record as say­ing women should not work); child care; choice of ter­mi­na­tion of preg­nancy, and gay rights, among a host of oth­ers. The chang­ing pub­lic per­cep­tion of the role of women, so cru­cial to change, will also take a knock.

When Hi­lary Clin­ton oc­cu­pied the White House as first lady she once fa­mously de­clared that she had not taken the job in or­der to bake cook­ies. She bore the pain of a phi­lan­der­ing hus­band al­most im­peached for his con­duct while in of­fice, but re­fused to be a vic­tim, us­ing her unique van­tage point to build a pub­lic pro­file that served her well in two bids for the top job.

Michel Obama, a Prince­ton grad­u­ate and suc­cess­ful pro­fes­sional in her own right, also raised the pro­file of first lady to one of equal part­ner.

Me­la­nia Trump, the third wife of the busi­ness mogul, best known for pla­gia­riz­ing one of Michel Obama’s speeches, will now be the na­tion’s first lady.

Like Zuma’s sev­eral wives and con­cu­bines, the mes­sage is that the women who sur­round strong men are like or­na­ments in the back­ground. Sex and scan­dal be­come the flip side of the coin to power, money and cor­rup­tion. Be­neath the rhetoric of equal­ity, pa­tri­archy is still hav­ing the last laugh.

Colleen Lowe Morna

AMER­I­CANS, and the world at large, are still far from ready to em­brace women in lead­er­ship, opines the writer.

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