Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, is different from many female leaders around the world in at least one respect – her political career does not follow that of a male relative, according to an expert on women in global politics.
Many female leaders around the world had a family connection to a politically powerful male, said Pamela Paxton, associate professor of sociology and political science at Ohio State University.
“In many countries with traditional cultures, women are easily seen as ‘stand-ins’ for their father or husband,” said Paxton, who is co-author of the book "Women, Politics, and Power: A Global Perspective" (Pine Forge Press, 2007) with Melanie Hughes from the University of Pittsburgh. Often, women leaders achieve power when their male relative dies, is martyred, or otherwise is forced to leave office.
In the book, Paxton and Hughes say the United States ranks “middle of the pack” compared to most other countries in terms of political equality for women.
“People have generally accepted these female leaders because it was assumed they had the same views and supported the same policies as their father or husband,” Hughes said.
While the United States is “somewhat traditional” in its culture compared to other countries, Paxton said she was surprised that the first female who was a strong contender for president in the United States followed the worldwide model by having a husband who was in politics first.
“Hillary Clinton followed a typical model by following her husband, Bill Clinton. I had expected that the United States would be less traditional, and have a first woman contender who arrived in politics independently.
“Sarah Palin is certainly unusual in a worldwide context in that her political path has been hers alone,” Paxton said.