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Women’s Leadership

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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