• Mon, 8, Aug, 2016 - 5:00:AM

How many female dictators do you know of?

Image: Boots in Odessa, Ukraine / Wikimedia Commons

Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stalin. Pol Pot. Saddam Hussein. Kim Jong Un. Bashar al-Assad. Vladimir Putin.

That the above names are some of the most monstrous dictators in known history is not exactly a controversial statement. The fact that they have caused untold human suffering is something they all have in common, regardless of the eras in which they lived.

They are also all men.

Think on that for a moment. The worst dictators in human history have all – and I mean almost all – been men. Why is that?

It’s a question worth pondering. While there have been some decidedly poor women leaders in history when it comes to human rights, such as the infamous Catherine the Great and – more recently – Margaret Thatcher, they have been few and far between.

Dictatorships are basically oppressive by definition. In almost every culture throughout history, women have been the victims of oppression – and thus know how terrible it is to be victimised. Could that be why so many female leaders tend to be far more open – and willing to compromise – than their male counterparts?

Take a look at the current US election. On the side of the Republicans, there’s Donald Trump, a man who – all his terribleness aside – does not compromise with anyone, ever. If he can’t get his way, no one can. He’s an intolerant bigot who seems convinced that he can do anything at any time he wants. Could those be some of the reasons why many people fear, if he should win, we may be looking at World War III?

Then there’s Hillary Clinton. Though she’s far from perfect, she at least knows how to work with other people – like she’s recently done in adjusting her policy positions to be more inclusive and tolerable to Bernie Sanders supporters. Though she’s criticised for lots of things, intolerance is not one of them.

We also have Angela Merkel. Though her policy of welcoming refugees and other migrants to Germany has been controversial – even among her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) political party – she has a keen understanding of the need to work with others, and the need to make others feel included, in order to make the country she lives in a better place.

Some people might call compromising “weakness,” arguing that a strong leader would never do such a thing. But here’s another fact about dictatorships: they all eventually fall. And after they fall, chaos usually ensues – creating a power vacuum which makes the country easier to take over.

In other words, dictatorships actually make a country weaker, to say nothing of being terrible for the vast majority of people who are forced to live in them.

Dictators also often tend to cling to “traditional” values, and can be horrific misogynists. Women who lead tend to be more tolerant and open-minded, emphasising social development and education as key policy platforms. Guess which of the two nations – the “traditional” conservative one, or the progressive one – tends to adapt better to a changing world?

This isn’t to say women by definition make better leaders than men. Some of them – like Margaret Thatcher or Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko – can be pretty terrible, just like men.

But you know what? The same things that breed toxic masculinity – intolerance, entitlement, inflexibility and a need to control others through a rigid social system – are the things that breed dictatorships. I don’t know what “toxic feminism” might breed, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a dictatorship.


  • Women /
  • Leadership /
  • Clinton /
  • Trump /
  • dictatorships /
  • Government /

Comments ( 3 )

  • audi alteram partem's picture

    audi alteram partem - Sat, 2016-08-13 17:57

    "Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women that are equal to those of men." That sounds great eh? The vast majority of right thinking people would have to agree with that wouldn't they? Now I'm guessing Ben that along the lines of the opening definition you consider yourself to be a feminist. I on the other hand, even though I wholeheartedly support the goals of feminism, no longer consider myself to be a feminist. I, perhaps controversially, would like to posit that you Ben, are not really a feminist and I really am. In your article you suggest that toxic feminism would likely not breed dictatorships. The problem with your assertion here is that it is predicated on a belief that women are somehow inherently better than men. Simply put - they aren't. Power and psychopathy lead to dictatorships - not testosterone. Women simply haven't had much opportunity to show the world what amazing leaders, and what truly horrific leaders, they are capable of being. Moreover if you are a follower of a movement fighting for equality of the sexes it is contradictory to then suggest that one sex is better than the other. It strikes me that in third wave feminism there are many subtle remnants of the man hating vitriol that existed on the fringes of second wave feminism. Our Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner struggles to find a lack of actual unequal opportunities and so tends to focus in lieu on unequal outcomes, such as the pay gap and the relative lack of women in senior positions, on boards and in government. It is assumed that if more women were in senior positions in business and in community organisations our society would be enriched. That is a matter that is worthy of further examination but personally I'm in general agreement with that assumption. My comparative concern is the dearth of male teachers in primary schools. There seems to be a great swathe of children growing up in NZ without strong male role models in their lives. Why then don't we hear from Dr Blue about the appalling lack of male teachers in Primary schools? What has the most deleterious effect on our society - low numbers of women on boards or low numbers of men in schools? I don't know, but it seems to me that the message of third wave feminism is that women are good and we would benefit by having them in all spheres of our society. Men... not so much! My view is that the feminists in western societies have by and large won the feminist revolution albeit with a few skirmishes still ongoing. Being a revolutionary can however become quite addictive. Feminism today seems to be more about female chauvinism and female privilege than it is about equality. It seems to be about perpetuating a sense of female victimhood and male oppression even when the evidence is to the contrary. Some would say that after thousands of years of male oppression men should just suck it up. The problem with this approach is that innocent people are being badly hurt by female chauvinism masquerading as feminism. This is particularly so in the area of intimate partner abuse. Feminist theory blames the patriarchy for partner violence and actively ignores the empirical data to the contrary. In theory and in practice feminism blames the man if he abuses a woman (fair enough) but also blames the man if a woman abuses him, and that's not remotely fair. Men who are the victims of intimate partner abuse are unable to get help because they won't be believed. They will be victim blamed. If you are a 'male tears drinking feminist' that will not cause you any disquiet. But what of the abusive woman? She needs help so that she can have more satisfying relationships in the future. She doesn't get any help though. She simply gets told that it's not her fault. She doesn't need help with her issues because feminist theory on intimate partner abuse is so focused on man blaming that it blinds itself to many women's real needs. I am a feminist. But I no longer call myself one. I find very few people who identify with being feminist these days actually care a tot about equality.
  • emjaynz's picture

    emjaynz - Sat, 2016-08-27 13:45

    TL;DR #whataboutthemen -
  • audi alteram partem's picture

    audi alteram partem - Sun, 2016-09-04 20:15

    Thanks for your response EMJAYNZ. It took me a while to get that TL;DR means 'too long - didn't read'. In comparison your response was indeed the essence of brevity and I offer my apologies for (it would seem) my disconcerting long-windedness. In response to your comment though, I didn't dismiss your links as being excessively consuming of my time and listened to the youtube clip in full and looked through numerous comments on twitter related to #whataboutthemen. If I may sum up: It would appear that women are the predominate victims of a pervasive patriarchy and when women seek their due rights, equality, and justice - a lot of men simply ignore these serious concerns and respond by moaning on about their own relatively trifling issues. Reasonable summary? What a bunch of insensitive, self-absorbed ingrates those men are! My issues are not with dismissing the concerns of the 3rd wave, but with challenging them. I posit that here in NZ in 2016 the patriarchy is now all but dismantled. That women now have equal access to all human rights and are for the very most part not oppressed in any way. For this I must credit 1st and 2nd wave feminists. 3rd wavers it would seem are moaning on about nothing. But, after several millennia of male oppression it would be churlish for men not to swallow a thousand years or so of complaints back at them. Hollow petulance in and of itself alone would not drive me to put pen to paper. Feminists are now in positions of power and influence. I celebrate that. But what very many of these 'feminists' are now doing is not creating a 'rainbow nation' but establishing a matriarchy to replace the patriarchy they have displaced. This matriarchy by its very nature denies human rights to men but moreover causes enormous harm to women. Going through all the evidence for this would certainly make this posting tl;dr. I would finish in lieu with what I suggest is great advice. "Should you wish to live a valuable life. Listen intently to those that disagree with you." Let's keep talking?
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