Column: Women’s leadership at GW

Five obnoxious Brits dressed up in short skits and go-go boots flashing peace signs and cleavage to screaming 12-year olds. A self-proclaimed feminist standing under a spotlight spouting off about her lower genitalia and charging people for it. Having the most popular use of the word “first” associated with “wife.” These are the images of female leadership that currently define a women’s place in society. Even here at GW, females taking leadership positions is about as popular as the new J Street. At a school where the female-to-male ratio is 60-40, only eight out of the fifty something candidates in the recent student elections were female. There have only been two female Student Association presidents since the SA was reinstated in 1988 and this year doesn’t look like it’s going to be any exception. With a plethora of chick leaders in Greek-letter life, student organizations, political organizations and even political science majors, it is a wonder that when comes to power positions, the ladies just seem to shy away or take subordinate roles to help their boys get elected instead.

Hilary Golston, a current SA senator and the only female who entered presidential elections, but dropped out due to personal reasons, said that being the only girl in a mostly male run organization was never really an issue she thought about. Golston, who is also black, said she is used to being “one of the only” and she concludes that the reason more women and minorities aren’t as involved in power positions is because of how they are socialized.

“We don’t consider it being a part of what a women is supposed to be,” she said.

Golston said she isn’t impressed by such ideas as “The Vagina Monologues” and said her model for a good feminist is Margaret Thatcher, who was respectable and respectful in her leadership.

“We will say a woman has come far when they come into a room and speak in a natural tone and are feminine in leadership style and appearance and are just as legitimate as a man,” she said.

Anyah Dembling, the current Executive Vice President for the SA and leader of the Senate, said she often felt that in order to get the other Senate members to really “listen up” she had to take an attitude that was easily construed as forceful and unfriendly.

“I think there are some women who feel like the way to be a leader amongst men is to be a bitch, so they understand you mean business right away,” Dembling said. “This year, at least within the Senate … I am pretty sure that a part of the difficulties I’ve often encountered is because there are people uncomfortable with a woman leader.”

Dembling said that in looking at GW as a microcosm of our society, there is still a road of understanding waiting to be paved.

“To have a real change in attitude, there must be a deeper understanding and acceptance, rather than just a tolerance of equal societal roles,” Dembling said.

Lynn R. Offermann, a professor of organizational sciences and psychology at GW, offered some basic information about the differences between male and female leadership, saying that women leaders have been found to be more democratic and men leaders more autocratic. Offerman pointed to the importance of the type of environments, which make female leadership more or less conducive.

“Women leaders often feel that they need to work harder to prove themselves due to negative gender stereotypes,” Offerman said. “The more positive climates tend to be environments that are mixed in gender (as opposed to predominately male) and where equalitarianism and influence are stressed rather than control and hierarchy.”

Three perspectives from three different women to address this topic only get to the tip of the iceberg. And for all you devil’s advocates out there, yes, a man’s perspective was actually sought out, however he did not get back to me by deadline. Nevertheless, the need to address whether GW is an encouraging place for female leaders, should be a concern of all, not just a discussion held in the ladies restroom.

Personally, I think that female or not, the job can get done. Better? Who really knows. But is it okay that here at the “hottest political school” in the country, there might be a reality for a female to say, “Well, I’d like to run for SA President, but I’ll never win because I’m not a guy.” We can only hope that this is not the case. However, until there is at least a similar amount of women running for positions like these, the movement toward an equitable world stays on pause. All I can propose for today is that it is the job of our generation to create a new definition of female leadership beyond the miniskirts, genitalia and a husband’s shadow.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.

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