The Gloria Arroyo Conundrum

Nicholas Kristof, in his column in the New York Times, presents an interesting theory on how women rule and what they need to succeed as leaders, on the eve of the possible election of the first woman U.S. president.

The article makes brief mention of the Philippines as a place where women as heads of state have had less than sterling records.

“While no woman has been president of the United States – yet – the world does have several thousand years’ worth of experience with female leaders. And I have to acknowledge it: Their historical record puts men’s to shame.

A notable share of the great leaders in history have been women: Queen Hatshepsut and Cleopatra of Egypt, Empress Wu Zetian of China, Isabella of Castile, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Maria Theresa of Austria. Granted, I’m neglecting the likes of Bloody Mary, but it’s still true that those women who climbed to power in monarchies had an astonishingly high success rate.

Research by political psychologists points to possible explanations. Scholars find that women, compared with men, tend to excel in consensus-building and certain other skills useful in leadership. If so, why have female political leaders been so much less impressive in the democratic era? Margaret Thatcher was a transformative figure, but women have been mediocre prime ministers or presidents in countries like Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines and Indonesia. Often, they haven’t even addressed the urgent needs of women in those countries.”

The conundrum, as Kristof puts it, lies in the “Goldberg paradigm” , a common experiment in which people are asked to evaluate a particular article or speech, supposedly by a man. Others are asked to evaluate the same presentation, but from a woman. In countries all over the world, the very same words are rated higher coming from a man.


“experiments have demonstrated that when women highlight their accomplishments, that’s a turn-off. And women seem even more offended by self-promoting females than men are.

This creates a huge challenge for ambitious women in politics or business: If they’re self-effacing, people find them unimpressive, but if they talk up their accomplishments, they come across as pushy braggarts.

The broader conundrum is that for women, but not for men, there is a tradeoff in qualities associated with top leadership. A woman can be perceived as competent or as likable, but not both.”

A female on top is perceived to be either competent or likeable, as a good woman or as a good president, but not both. Thus, Cory Aquino, while almost universally considered as a good person, was widely reviled as a weak and incompetent president. The ill effects of her reign are still felt up to the present, not least of which is the return to power of the traditional (read feudal) elite.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has turned the Goldberg paradigm on its head, as she is seen to be BOTH incompetent and despicable. As a leader, she is considered by many as
irredeemably corrupt. Neither has she shown much talent for effectively running the country, politically or otherwise. That the economy is still afloat owes much to factors beyond her control, chief of which is our sending out ( a vulgar phrase popular in the U.S. is “pimping out” ) millions of our countrymen abroad.

Neither can she be said to be Ms. Congeniality. Her ill-temper is legendary. As pointed out in a recent Inquirer editorial, the Arroyo administration is notable for its almost feudal arrogance, cruelty and vindictiveness. GMA makes Hillary Clinton look like Little Miss Sunshine.

Thus, the bigger puzzle: why is she still around then ? Perhaps Joe De Venecia is right. Apart from being ruthless, she’s just incredibly lucky. The question is- for how long ?

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