Surprising Things Women in Politics Can Learn from Linda McMahon

by Gloria Feldt on August 14th, 2012
in Leadership, Politico Arena, Politics, Power, Women & Politics and tagged , , , , ,

This week three New Jersey teenage girls successfully campaigned to get—for the first time in history—an equal number of male and female journalists to conduct the upcoming presidential debates.

Also this week, women rule in Hawaii. Emily’s List congratulated U.S. Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (D-HI) on her U.S. Senate primary victory over former Rep. Ed Case and Congressional candidate Tulsi Gabbard‘s primary win over Mufi Hannemann for Hirono’s vacated seat. Hirono will face a tough general election race in November against Republican ex-governor Linda Lingle, while the Daily Kos is so sure Democrat Gabbard will be a shoe-in general election victory that they don’t even name her opponent.

And whereas Hillary Clinton was damned if she did and damned even more if she didn’t dress and act certain male-defined ways,  in the Political Animals  era, the time has come when women benefit from running as themselves rather than trying to show stereotypically male characteristics.

As reported in Politico, “Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon is making a second run for office just two years after the World Wrestling Entertainment boss spent $50 million of her personal fortune and still lost to now-Sen. Richard Blumenthal.  McMahon is making major efforts to rehab her image as a softer, more personalized candidate. It’s a far cry from her tough-talking business woman stance she showed in 2010—an image that comes with considerable baggage. Besides claims from former wrestlers about the terrible business practices of WWE, there is a cache of embarrassing WWE performance videos, including one of McMahon slapping her daughter.”

Politico Arena asked whether McMahon is a more viable Senate candidate this time around.

Women of Linda McMahon’s age (and mine, just to assert that is not a pejorative) often believed they had to act like men to succeed in the business or political world. Remember severe navy suits and floppy bow ties of “dressing for success?” That must have been especially true in her testosterone-drenched world of wrestling. McMahon’s past management behavior and her extreme right-wing political views are classic co-opted woman characteristics.

Along the way of time and change, it turns out that the leadership qualities of women who are authentically themselves instead of pseudo-men are exactly the qualities that make for better governance (according to the World Bank) and better business success (according to Ernst and Young, McKinsey, etc.)

So it’s not surprising that after a bruising first political try, McMahon is now trying to burnish off those hard masculinized edges that worked for her early in her career. It’s not going to help her though. First, she’s too searingly branded as tough-mean-Linda into the voters’ minds. And second, despite her colorful 2012 wardrobe, her well- documented rough practices boggle the mind of anyone trying to imagine her as a newly hatched softer, more feminine butterfly.

But for women candidates in general, there are important lessons to be learned about the value of running authentically from McMahon’s too-late metamorphosis.

Politico Arena asked a question on this topic that spurred my writing of this article. An excerpt from this post was part of my response to the Politico Arena question.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

2 Responses to Surprising Things Women in Politics Can Learn from Linda McMahon

  1. McMahon’s TV ads would be hilarious if they weren’t so scary. She speaks wide-eyed about her early life, which is positioned as a cross between that of Abe Lincoln and Joan of Arc. She actually says “We didn’t have much money in our family, but we had a lot of love.” I almost expected to hear that she had read by firelight and split rails during the day.

    Later, in her Saint Joan phase, she helped build an “entertainment business” and “even had to declare bankruptcy!” (No mention of stiffing her creditors.)

    Thus, she really understands ‘us’ and will make a first rate senator because she, like us, is just a hard-working mom with a dream.

    Now here’s the scary part: I think the ad might be effective.

  2. Gloria Feldt says:

    Bonnie, you are so right, it might just be effective. People don’t pay the big bucks to PR firms and image consultants for nothing. Also her opponent Chris Shays is a moderate Republican and the people who vote in primaries are the zealots on the right, generally less than 15% of the voters. So 8% of the voters–or less than 5% if equal numbers vote in the two party primaries-will decide. That’s even scarier.

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