Studies of women in positions of leadership found a phenomenon that now is known as the “glass cliff.” It suggests that women are likelier than men to ascend to leadership roles during times of trouble or even crisis – that is, when the chances of their failure are relatively high.
Explanations for this are various. They include women being more expendable as scapegoats; women being better able than men to calm the roiling waters; women accepting precarious positions because they might not otherwise get to the top. The point in any case is this: women dangling dangerously from glass cliffs are sights somewhat familiar.
One could reasonably argue – and I do – that for the last two and a half years no woman has hung on more visibly and tenaciously than the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Theresa May. No woman leader has been more publicly humiliated and derided than she. And no woman leader has been more publicly determined to cling to the cliff, despite the clamor and chaos that have enveloped her from the second she ascended.
Her charge of course has been to manage Brexit. Brexit. Brexit. Brexit. The curse bestowed on May by her predecessor, David Cameron, whose stunningly stupid decision to call a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should quit the European Union left his successor with a burden best described as crushing. Whether anyone could have done a better job than May managing the impossible must remain uncertain. What is certain is that May has morphed over time into a martyr.
May is not known for handling the situation that was handed her with notable brilliance or remarkable skill. She is known for her stolid tenaciousness and relentless determination in the face of fierce opposition from every direction.
The more remarkable then that this week she finally, for the first time, lost it. She finally, for the first time, broke out of the mold that shaped this well-behaved daughter of a vicar and let loose on Jeremy Corbyn – the leader of the opposition who has tirelessly used her as his whipping girl. Visibly seething, and no doubt at the end of her tether, May let Corbyn have it. She leaned across the table and, as the Times described it, spat out her disdain. “All he wants to do is create chaos in our economy and division in our society.” Corbyn of course raged back, but no matter. The so-called “Ice Queen of Westminster” had, at least one time, allowed herself to show she was fed up. Allowed herself to reveal how completely and utterly draining it is to dangle for so long – and for all the world to see.