Filipinos were not amused when human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney pointed out that the imprisonment of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was a violation of her human rights.
Before Amal made headlines as Mrs. George Clooney, she was involved in international cases like the Cambodian-Thai ownership dispute on the Preah Vihear Temple. Aside from speaking against Mrs. Arroyo’s incarceration, Amal’s work for this year involved the recognition of the Armenian genocide and the defense of former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed, who was convicted in what was described as a flawed trial.
Though Amal’s credentials established her as “girl power,” her marriage to a heartthrob celebrity did help push her prominence to new heights. For some female leaders, this came as no surprise as they were well aware of the value of personal relationships in gaining recognition and influence.
In the first part of this series, M2.0 Communications looked into the leadership and communication styles of female leaders. We continue our 3-part series with an exploration of the images and reputations that female leaders have built.
Successful female leaders knew that an important step in staging a public relations coup was to establish a strong, solid image. However, history and current events have shown that they varied in their manner of “feminist leadership.” Regardless of how they branded themselves, they all shared one formidable weapon that allowed them to succeed in a male-dominated society: their femininity.
A number of female leaders in history established themselves as motherly leaders who were opposite their traditional male counterparts. Others adopted masculine values so they could fit in with their male colleagues, or used their feminine powers of persuasion to win them over. Still there were those who capitalized on their personal relationships, such as their marriages, to pursue the path to power.
The examples below show us how different female leaders built their brands of feminine leadership:
1. Models of virtue
When the late Filipino strongman Ferdinand Marcos announced a presidential snap election in 1986, all eyes turned to Corazon Aquino, widow of opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. who had been gunned down at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport in 1983. Cory accepted the challenge and became the opposition candidate.
Marcos dismissed Cory as a plain housewife with no experience, to which Cory responded that it was true she had no experience in stealing, cheating, and assassinating political opponents. With those words, Cory portrayed herself as the exact opposite of Marcos, who had earned the reputation of a corrupt leader.
The image of Cory, the aggrieved widow and mother in her yellow dress, had such magic that it catapulted her to the peak of political power following the People Power Revolution.
2. Iron Ladies
The late Margaret Thatcher, the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the last century, was the only woman to have held the office. Her almost twelve years at 10 Downing Street saw the reverse of Britain’s post-war decline, a feat that none of her male predecessors could claim as their own.
Though Thatcher made many economic successes, she had her share of haters due to her liberal policies on the economy, such as the privatization of state-owned companies, deregulation of the financial sector, and creating flexible labor markets.
But whatever the reasons why some people disliked her, Margaret Thatcher lived up to the moniker “the Iron Lady,” which a Soviet journalist gave because of her uncompromising leadership style. In a speech she once delivered, she responded to her critics by saying that “the lady is not for turning.” Those words would define the way she led her country for 11 ½ years.
Thatcher is also remembered for her determination to win back the Falkland Islands when Argentine forces occupied the island in 1982. The triumph of the British forces led to her gaining future electoral victories and a stronger reputation as a woman to be reckoned with.
3. Super spouses
Those who’ve seen the musical Evita are familiar with who Eva Perón was, and how she embodied the aspirations of the Argentine masses. The former actress was instrumental to her husband Juan Perón’s rise to power, and when she became First Lady, she turned herself into a champion of the poor.
Evita attempted to be Argentina’s vice president, but her attempts were blocked by the military. When she died of cancer at the age of 33 in 1952, the country did cry for her, and the people regarded her as their Santa Evita.
In 2007, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner paid tribute to Evita’s influence on the women of her generation. She also succeeded where Evita failed—in following her husband to the presidency. Néstor Kirchner, Cristina’s husband, was President of Argentina from 2003 to 2007.
Currently in the United States, Hillary Clinton is in the middle of her second attempt to bring down America’s highest glass ceiling by being its first female president. With the controversy on her emails, the Benghazi inquiry, and the mixed perceptions on her candidacy, it seems Hillary still has a long way to go in following her husband’s footsteps to the White House.
As America makes a choice, voters can find inspiration from countries where more women take the lead. Finland, a country whose ministry is 62 percent female, has gold standard in education, a generous paid maternity leave, and heavily subsidized child care.
The next and final part of this series will look into more portraits of female power across the globe. Subscribe to our blog and get to know more about these remarkable ladies and how they managed to succeed against a male-dominated world.