WOMEN OF ASIA: Can “Dragon Ladies” be Taken Seriously?

ELODIE INTROIA WRITES – Today, 23 of the 100 most powerful women in the world are Asian. Among that group are political leaders, heads of large corporations and philanthropists. Yet, despite their different backgrounds, they all work towards redefining the role of the modern Asian woman.

Although Asian women have won political elections, they often do not receive high regard in the positions they hold. In the West, such women are pejoratively called “dragon ladies: power hungry, cold and incapable of love. Instead, we should look at their accomplishments and learn from the ways in which they’ve been able to break the glass ceiling faster than Western women, especially in politics.

South Korea Election

Successful women in Asia do, unfortunately, face ridicule similar to that of American women. For example, the recently elected South Korean President Geun-hye Park has been repeatedly criticized for wearing the wrong kind of fashion, much like Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election. Bloggers and local newspapers charge her with the latest crimes of picking out the wrong shoes, in her case Japanese ones, and lacking femininity. Her skill in navigating  the male-dominated foreign-policy-sphere goes unnoticed, while the media shines a spotlight on her lack of fancy footwear.

Would she get better reviews as a leader if she were fashion-conscious and better dressed?

9153ri-Yingluck_ShinawatraOn the other end of the spectrum is Yingluck Shinawatra, the current Prime Minister of Thailand. Not only is she smart, but she is beautiful and embodies what every Thai woman aspires to be. While some may argue that good looks help, PM Yingluck has had to deal with petty jealousies and degrading slurs. Some have speculated that she is only in office because of her brother (the former Prime Minister currently in exile) and her charm, not her intelligence. Is it impossible to accept that a female leader can be beautiful, smart, and capable?

The list of powerful political Asian women is long, which begs the question: Why has the United States still not elected a female president? Perhaps Sarah Palin was too pretty, and Hilary Clinton too smart? Some say that Asian societies tend to be more pro-women due to their matrilineal roots, and therefore are less intimidated by women in leadership roles. In contrast, the West remains deeply rooted in a patriarchal system that reinforces gender disparities. But it’s worth noting that the majority of the world’s most powerful Asian women have come out of American universities. Ironic?

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