Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Is Political Charisma Gendered Male?

In today's New Republic, as excerpted by the Columbia Journalism Review, TNR senior editor Michelle Cottle, and Amanda Fortini, a New Republic contributor who recently wrote about Clinton and feminism for New York magazine, discuss Clinton's historic run:

COTTLE: The thing that I worry about is that Clinton had certain advantages because of her celebrity that helped her to overcome certain other things—the charisma issue in particular. There are charismatic women, but when you’re talking about “presidential charisma,” or projecting both strength and warmth, overwhelmingly the people who tend to possess this are men…

FORTINI: Even if we had a female candidate who had this ineffable, intangible charisma, I think it would be perceived very differently than it would be in a man. When you think about the kind of ease with which Barack Obama conducts himself, I don’t know if it would be received as well if he were a woman. The “I want to have a beer with him” factor that we look for in our male candidates—I don’t think we necessarily want that from a woman. I don’t think we know what we want from our female candidates, frankly.

It's interesting that both Cottle and Fortini use the word "charisma".

Recently, a professor of history and women's studies suggested to me that I 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."

She mentioned that Max Weber wrote about charisma, and that none of his examples of political charisma were female.

So why is charisma, and political charisma in particular, gendered male? Is this surmountable for a female presidential candidate? What would female political charisma look like?

No comments: