Macho Leaders

Overwhelmingly the world’s leaders are still men. There are, of course, more women leaders, both relatively and in absolute numbers, than there used to be. But the gender gap between women and men in positions of leadership – especially at the top – remains huge.

Given that we are led still mostly by men, and given that we are still smack in the middle of a global pandemic, the question arises: Would where we are be any different if there were more women than men leaders, or, at least, significantly more women in positions of leadership than there are now? In other words, would the worst of the current crisis have been averted or earlier abated had we had more women leaders?

Impossible to say, of course. What we can though say for certain is that the leaders of what used to be thought of as the world’s two leading democracies not only are men, they are men of a certain kind. Throughout their lives both President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have displayed patterns of behavior arguably best described as macho. Both are men who have been aggressively proud of their putative masculinity – to the point where not only their professional and political lives, but also their personal ones, have been characterized by signs, symptoms, and symbols of their insatiable need constantly, relentlessly, to prove that they are he-men, macho-men.

The virus crisis did nothing to inhibit this impulse. Just a few days ago Trump declared that though wearing a mask in public was now recommended by the experts, he did not intend to abide by the general rule – which was, apparently, seen as a sign of weakness. “I don’t want to wear one [a mask] myself,” he said. “I am feeling good. I just don’t want to be doing… I don’t know. Somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk… I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know, it somehow, I don’t see it for myself.”   

So far, the American president remains apparently healthy. His British counterpart has been less fortunate. Like Trump, Johnson chose to eschew what he seems to have perceived as the namby-pamby recommendations of the experts – in his case the frequent and familiar caution not to shake hands.  Well after the warnings were issued, Johnson still chose to boast, “I am shaking hands…. I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few corona patients. I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.” About three weeks later the Prime Minister tested positive for the virus – and now he lies in a London hospital, consigned to intensive care.    

It is impossible to draw a straight line between cause and effect in a situation as complex as the corona virus crisis. It is not however unreasonable to speculate that too many macho men in too many posts of political leadership are unhealthy for the body politic.     

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