Miss Bossypants on Helen Zille stepping down and Hillary Clinton stepping up

2015-04-27 14:00

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One of the nicest things anyone ever said to me was meant as a put-down.

It happened in high school while I was working on a group assignment with a few classmates in the library. I can’t say what the project was about, or for which subject, but I do recall and will concede I was being rather pushy.

I wanted to take the lead so that whatever we presented in class had my imprint on it. I wanted the assignment to reek of my scent – like a dog at a tree marking its territory.

My enthusiasm wasn’t being fully appreciated and someone in my team finally retorted: “You’re so bossy!” which made me take a step back.

But I also remember how the corners of my mouth crept up and I felt a warm glow in my heart. I had to dim the twinkle in my eye and fight the urge to raise a pinkie to my lips like a self-satisfied Dr Evil after laying out a plan for world domination.

Then I got older and learnt to temper my bossiness. I learnt not to brandish it willy-nilly or flash it at every opportunity, only to later punctuate my emails with smiley faces after every demand as a salve, and to start a potentially offending rebuttal with “I’m sorry, but…” (women apologise a lot; even studies show it).

As much as I’d love to reflect on my thwarted attempts as a student dictator, there are two actual female leaders whose political careers intersected this month.

Helen Zille

Helen Zille and Hillary Clinton made big announcements on the same day – April 12. One was stepping away from and the other was stepping back on to the path to presidency, a position they have both, at times, wanted as badly as I wanted to be queen of that assignment group.

And both of them have long been advised, in one way or another, to tone it down.

Godzille has often been described as bullying and abrasive, but she’s been unapologetic about that.

As political commentators have hinted, it’s not her strong personality that’s been the driving force behind her having to step down as DA leader. It’s a far more complicated cocktail of things, race being at the forefront of it.

I still wonder, though, what adjustments to her personality Zille would have had to make if she, like Clinton, had a real shot at the presidency.

Clinton puts people off because they say she’s overly ambitious. So, with this second run for the presidency, she’s being forced to walk a tightrope between femininity and masculinity.

People also want her to show some humility, which I find ironic because you would think “power hungry” would be a necessary character trait for someone running to be the commander in chief of a superpower.

Reports say that, in response, Clinton is playing up her vulnerabilities and showing a bit more of her softer side. It’s a fair trade-off I guess, if the prize is becoming the president.

Zille is not going to lead South Africa, but she deserves a lot more praise for her overall contributions than our current political mood has the stomach for.

However, I’m sure history will take care of that and our focus on gender politics will be brought on par with those about the issues of race.

Meanwhile, I continue in my ambitions to be lord of my fiefdom, even if my territory is the sum of the corners of my flat. More importantly, whatever happens in the political lives of Clinton and Zille, I am in awe of their drive and for being the kind of women who don’t step back.

Because, as Tina Fey so eloquently put it: “Bitches get stuff done.”

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