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Powerless Women in Power?

NEW YORK – Are women political leaders finally coming into their own? Are they not only winning more elections, but also finally able to campaign and govern with no more – or less – scrutiny, scandal, and mockery than their males peers?

Superficially, it may seem as if we have reached that breakthrough moment at which gender is no longer the most important issue. In the United States, Hillary Clinton is preparing for her second run for the presidency, and Janet Yellen is the first woman Chair of the US Federal Reserve Board – widely regarded as one of the world’s most powerful offices.

Moreover, TV shows that feature women portraying top political leaders are filling America’s airwaves, including “Madame Secretary,” starring the improbably comely Téa Leoni as US Secretary of State, and “Veep,” with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a charming, comical vice president. The central issue in these television programs is not that the main roles are played by women. Character, not gender, drives the narrative.

Outside of the United States, women have already reached the highest level of power. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, having won three general elections, is respected or resented for her austerity policies, not for her gender. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is attacked for mismanaging the economy, and by US banking interests for forcing debt restructuring on her country’s creditors, not because she is a woman. In Israel, hawks attack Justice Minister Tzipi Livni for leaning slightly to the left on Palestinian statehood – just as they would attack a man in her position. And women have achieved the premiership in all Scandinavian countries except Sweden.