The defeat of Segolene Royal repeats a pronounced trend in Western democratic practices. As an article in The Montreal Gazette demonstrates, there is indeed peril in “playing gender politics.” (Although only for women it seems). Though Royal was running in France–where democratic practice occurs in a decidedly male arena–her defeat, and subsequent ridicule, are sore points for women everywhere.
Royal ran as a woman first and foremost, she hedged her bets on the belief that women would support a female candidate–they did not. Why? The difficulty for me lies not so much in the fact that she lost, which is reasonable given that she did, above all, stand for a party, but that she received next to no support. Though political sexism in France is notorious–and heavily entrenched in the national mentality–the scant amount of support she received speaks to an ominous reality. Women seeking to run must either adapt a mode of “Thatcherism,” or risk defeat on the basis of (admittedly constructed) gender expectations. Or, as this article suggests, was even Thatcher’s victory a result of circumstance and not behaviour? Are women only to be admitted into politics in times of dire need?
What is to be done about all this? I want to open this up to those who are perhaps more knowledgeable than I about European politics. Although I still think my claim stands (that the lack of support for Royal’s position cannot be justified solely by party politics), perhaps others could shed some light on this phenomenon…
If women cannot run as women (for more on this see Amanda’s post on Hillary Clinton) then what are we running for?
The article also notes:
The men Royal bested in November’s primary were back for blood. Laurent Fabius, the former Socialist prime minister who reacted to Royal’s candidacy by asking who would look after her children, sniped: “The left, it is about the ‘we,’ it is not about the ‘I’. “
Royal has fought back, boldly claiming the party leadership, although it is unlikely the Socialists will hand the party to the woman who presided over its third consecutive presidential defeat.
For a party looking for a scapegoat, Royal presents a perfect target. Her campaign floundered over unsourced spending promises and a surprising ignorance of world affairs.
Are women to remain nothing more than political scapegoats? Must we be “desperate” in order to accept a female leader?
Royal’s defeat echoes the defeat of Pauline Marois, who ran for the leadership of the Parti Quebecois and lost to a much younger Andre Boisclair. Marois will run again and is poised to win–are we desperate or is Marois‘s imminent victory a result of her increased experience?
Only ‘gender rules’ can tell…