Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Comment: Theresa May best person for the job, and a woman


Theresa May is about to become Britain's second woman Prime Minister and some people think we should ignore her gender.

Apparently the only thing that matters is that she is the best person for the job, not the fact she is a woman.

May has clearly demonstrated she is the best person for the job, although it is a pity her name isn't Must or Should.

It would suit her political prowess better than "May".

Over the past week or so, she witnessed the self-destruction of her opponents, one by one, with the fight barely begun.

The most deserving of prexit (exit as prime ministerial candidate) was that of the other woman, Andrea Leadsom.

She demonstrated her unfitness for the office not by the nasty comments about May being childless, but by her denials in the face of a demonstrable truth.

Confidence in Leadsom's political skills evaporated, forcing her to rule herself out.

But the fact that two women were the last ones standing is something that most women will celebrate.

It is not that they necessarily make better leaders - there is no evidence of that - it is that they are actually there.

There may be no technical barriers to women's advancement but there are social ones.

The concept of "the soft bigotry of low expectations" is pervasive in attitudes to women in leadership, and is evident in the West as well as in societies that actively oppress women.

The evidence is everywhere in pay rates, promotions and elections. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as of June this year only three countries of 193 have more than 49 per cent of women elected to Parliaments, lower or single houses: Rwanda, Bolivia and Cuba.

New Zealand sits at 39th with 31.4 per cent and Britain at 48th with 29.4 per cent.

There are only about 10 countries with women heads of Government.

Men may perpetuate the fiction that there are no barriers to women rising to the top of politics (or other professions generally).

If that were true, we would have to pretend that men are almost always the best person for the job on the basis that they almost always rise to the top.

The self-promotion and self-belief that is intrinsic to the male culture of success is anathema to many women.

New Zealand's first woman Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, once observed that a woman does not put herself forward for advancement unless she is 100 per cent convinced she can do it but men will go for promotion if they think they can probably do it.

The fact is women are often held back by their own low expectations. It is not the fault of men but unless men recognise it and change it, they perpetuate it. That's why celebrating role models is important, even if it is of Tory women.

Role models influence expectations and aspirations of others. They change attitudes and behaviour.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark was once asked a priceless question by a little boy: "Can boys become Prime Minister too?"

Maybe they'll be asking the same question in the UK soon.

- NZ Herald

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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