Kamala Harris was asked on 60 Minutes whether her perspective was socialist or progressive? “It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a Black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India. Who also, you know, likes hip-hop.”
I call it the Taraneh Effect, after my doctor when we lived in the Bay Area years ago. Taraneh was female and Iranian, which gave me great confidence in her. I reasoned that anyone with those identity markers must have gone through many more rigors than her male-white-American counterparts. My confidence was duly rewarded: she was wonderful.
So it must be for the Vice-President Elect of the United States, Kamala Harris. What extra hurdles has she had to face, which her male (mostly white) colleagues have probably never even thought about? Dressing just right (skirt neither too short nor too long). Appropriate make-up (regularly checked throughout the day). Not being caught short when her period started early, and having something in her purse to deal with cramps. (And having to carry a damn purse in the first place!) Her hair—oh God, worthy of an essay in itself. And yes, those shoes (Converse sneakers)—smart choice. So yeah, she’ll probably be—time will tell—a better federal leader than a similarly-qualified white male VP might have been, based on the Taraneh Effect.
But that’s only half the story. We’ve got enough female heads of state to check out actual performance. For instance, researchers from the Universities of Liverpool and Reading published a paper titled “Leading the Fight Against the Pandemic: Does Gender ‘Really’ Matter?” found that, yes it did. “Using a constructed dataset for 194 countries…[we] show that COVID-outcomes are systematically better in countries led by women and, to some extent, this may be explained by the proactive and coordinated policy responses adopted by them.”
That was last June, so I tried to get a bit more up-to-date. Here are the worldwide average daily cases per 100,000 for the previous seven days (as of last Thursday). Sadly, the promise of those initial Covid months has slipped since that paper. But it still looks pretty good for most of the female-led countries.
If you open the link, you can hover over each country for a graphic look at how they’re coping with the pandemic (it’s fascinating!).
Here are the 22 countries (of 193 UN members) that currently have female leaders, with their daily cases per 100,000, as above. For comparison, the US is currently (last Thursday) at 39, Canada 11 and Mexico 5. Note that only three of these female-led countries have Covid rates higher than ours.
Perhaps more to the point is how men and women are perceived as leaders—our perception usually leading to actual outcomes. Here’s the result of a Pew survey from a couple of years ago:
For now (ask me in four years) I’ll stick to the Taraneh Effect in my hopes for the new Vice-President Elect. One thing I’m sure of: we’ll be hearing a lot more about her than the lackey, if I could just remember his name, who has been occupying that VP position for the last four years.