Sunday, September 25, 2011

The female voice of authority in Guyana

 (Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 17 September 2011)  

As more women venture into areas previously occupied solely by men, there is bound to be a clash of cultures, of sorts. The leadership style employed by many women is vastly different from that which has been used by men for millennia. The dress style will, of course, differ greatly. Even the way in which women in leadership speak will be in sharp contrast to their male counterparts.

However, one should not misconstrue the distinction in the way women voice their authority as being weak. In fact, it is quite the contrary. The new Executive Editor at the New York Times, Jill Abramson, wrote an article entitled, ‘On the Challenge of Creating a Female Voice of Authority,’ which was published on in 2006 and re-published on recently.

Abramson said, “I know that acquiring authority as a woman is tough enough; using and projecting it is even more complicated. There are plenty of pitfalls and few good role models.” This is true in all societies that are currently unwrapping themselves from the longstanding patriarchal culture and embracing women as equals in all segments of society.

This cultural shift is happening in Guyana, too, and it is evident that some – both male and female – find the change chafing. I recognize that there are times when the female voice of authority may sound defensive, but it must also be acknowledged that there are credible reasons for women to be defensive.

In the aforementioned article, Abramson continued, “Just by doing their jobs, women pose a challenge to the Daddy Knows Best hierarchies of [politics], media and business. But our gender gives those who feel discomfited an apparently easy way to dismiss or undermine us: It’s a feline scratch-fest; we’re ‘mean’; ‘we’re something that rhymes with rich,’ to quote Barbara Bush.”

Recently on my Facebook page, there was a discussion going on about whether male politicians in Guyana take the female politicians seriously. The primary discussion was between a male friend who is in the media in Guyana, a female friend who is a politician in Guyana and myself. All of those involved in the debate were up to the challenge.

However, when the male friend said, “I will not be dragged into a political catfight with you,” I pointed out his sexist remark just to demonstrate that such language still exists far too often in our society. Would he have made such a demeaning statement had it been all males involved in a debate? We all know the answer to that question.

When a man takes a strong stance on an issue, they are admired. When a woman takes a strong stance on an issue, she is looking for a “cat-fight.” In fact, a strong woman is seen as abrasive, arrogant or any number of names that are not fit to print.

Moreover, when a woman takes a stand for herself, she is seen as whiney. For example, when Faith Harding said her candidacy was not taken seriously, few even took that statement seriously. However, had a male candidate made the same allegation, it would have been front-page news.

When are women taken seriously in Guyana? When they are put in swimsuits and paraded in front of the world at a beauty pageant. However, if a female voice of authority veers away from makeup, fashion or hairstyles, things then start getting uncomfortable.

Yet, if women do not learn to develop their authoritative voices (and those around them learn to acknowledge that voice of leadership) the future looks very bleak for all of humanity. Consider these facts from

* Of the 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide, more than two-thirds of them are women and girls.
* Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours and produce a significant amount of the world’s food, yet earn only 10 per cent of the world’s income, and own less than one per cent of the world’s property.
* Two-thirds of all children denied school are girls, and 75 per cent of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women
* Women hold only 14 per cent of the world’s parliamentary seats, and only 8 percent of the world’s cabinet ministers are women.
* Gender-based violence is one of the biggest causes of injury and death to women worldwide, causing more deaths and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war.
* As a result of violence and neglect, there are 50 million fewer women in South Asia today than there should be.
* Only eleven countries have met the UN target of 30 per cent female decision-makers.

Closer to home, the Jamaica Gleaner published a September 15 report entitled, “Striking imbalance for women in leadership positions – group,” which said, “The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) says a 2007 surveyit conducted showed that just over 50 per cent of the population are females and that women are graduating from universities at a four-to-one ratio.

Despite this, WROC Executive Director Dorothy White said the survey showed that women made up less than 10 per cent of lawmakers in the House of Representatives. In addition, White said the survey revealed that women account for just 16 per cent of the board of directors in the private sector, while the number was 33 per cent in public-sector bodies.”

What does a feminine voice of authority sound like? Few truly know the answer to this question, as it is difficult to hear that voice in the political, religious or media circles. However, make no mistake about it, as shown in the Jamaica Gleaner report, women are more than qualified enough to be heard. They have the education, the experience and the drive.

Abramson put it this way, “Clearly, any woman giving orders and making tough calls needs to be deeply knowledgeable, even as she displays humour and shows her human side. Getting the right calibration, though, isn’t easy. And qualities admired in men are still sometimes seen differently when exhibited by a woman.

A man can be decisive and aggressive; with similar traits, a woman may be deemed a control freak.”
I believe the next five years will see the female voice of authority in Guyana develop substantially. And I believe that voice will be instrumental in creating and sustaining a quality life for all Guyanese. It is high time for the women of Guyana to speak up and let their voices be heard.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment. It is in the moderation process now and will be posted once it is approved.