Gendered Governing: Leadership Experiences of Seven Women Former Governors
Fifty years ago, Second Wave feminists theorized that American culture was dominated
by patriarchal systems that subordinated women to second class citizenship status
(Brown, 1988; Dolan, Deckman & Swers, 2010). In the 21st century, women have become
highly visible candidates for office on a national level.
As of 2012, only 31 women have served as governors since 1925: twenty were elected
to office, three replaced their husbands, and eight became governor by Constitutional
succession (CAWP, 2012). Many women of the Third Wave generation, or Post-feminists,
reject the theory that male oppression continues to influence women’s life choices,
some claiming that there is no need today for organized efforts on behalf of women’s
equality (Jackson, 2010).
However, little is actually known about the leadership experiences of female governors,
in part because there are still relatively few to sample (Thomas, 2003). Qualitative
research provides the appropriate methodology to determine the impact of gender on
the leadership experiences of female governors by documenting their own narratives
(Glesne, 1999) about their terms ranging from 1984 through 2005.
In the mini-case studies of seven women who served as governor, the degree to which
women experience asymmetrical power as a result of patriarchal systems they encounter
in office is examined through their oral histories.
The study found that all of the women governors perceived that a double standard
applied to their leadership: receiving less support from their colleagues in political
parties, as well as more criticism and inequitable coverage from mass-media news
sources. All of the women reported an inability to discuss gender-related leadership
issues for fear of handicapping their administrations. Thus, the study concludes
that patriarchal systems continue to affect women governors, despite their winning
the highest elected office in the US, short of the Presidency.
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