Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is "Charisma" something only men can possess?

A professor of history sent me this article idea in an email:

"I was thinking it might be interesting to write a piece on how charisma is gendered male – unless you are, maybe, mother Teresa. All these attractive men – Kennedy, Clinton (Bill), Obama, are “charismatic, “ -- which means that people want to follow them anywhere. It’s ok for women to fall in love with a male candidate, but it is not ok for men to fall in love with a female one. I don’t remember what Max Weber said about charisma, but I suspect none of his examples of political charisma were female."

She wrote this to me a week before the New York Times published the article, The Charisma Mandate" on the front page of its "Week in Review" section, on February 17th. The article mentioned Weber's definition of charisma, but didn't mention anything about "charisma" being gendered male.

This is a fascinating subject that no one, to my knowledge, has written on. Charisma, by definition, is powerful in a political leader--how unfair, and restrictive, for women leaders, if it is in fact, gendered male, and therefore not an attribute that is available to them. It seems to be a widely held notion that Hillary Clinton lacks this quality of "charisma," which the public seems to think Obama has (though the "tipping point" is surely at work here in mob psychology). Has there been a female leader who has "charisma"? Or is it by definition something only men can possess?

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