Laura Chinchilla, 46th President of Costa Rica.

Laura Chinchilla, 46th President of Costa Rica.

Lately I have been trying to figure out why there is such an extreme strain of misogyny and gynophobia in the United States. A related question, and maybe a clue to the answer, would be why Latin America has been the region with the most women presidents in recent years. According to the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, as reported in Diplomatic Courier, “since 1970 eight of 29 women elected as heads of state around the world have come from Latin America or the Caribbean—an impressive 27.5 percent.”

Nicaraguan poet, writer, and political activist Gioconda Belli, in an article in The Economist (published before the U.S. presidential election) argues that “behind every macho man there’s an insecure boy in need of mothering, so in Latin America men in all their virile glory have not disputed the suitability of women for the higher office.” My instinct is to recoil from this pop psychology (which Belli says is “based on my powers of observation as a writer and my feminine intuition”), which seems a bit offensive in its implicit condescension. Then again, is it so different from some of what Octavio Paz argued? Belli goes on to say that

It is a big step to have women as presidents, but in the patriarchal structure of power we have all inherited, very often women are still forced to prove that they are as “tough” as the toughest of men. A woman president who would defy the masculine model of power and infuse it with the feminine ethic of caring and real equality is still in the making. Although women as Latin American leaders have many challenges ahead, they have managed to get to the right place, and now they have to be daring enough to seize or declare that it is the right time.

As a woman who has spent her life in Latin America, Belli has cred that I can never have. Still, I return to the issue of misogyny in U.S. politics and culture. Is the implication then that the role of the mother is comparatively devalued in the U.S.? Maybe to an extent, but I don’t think that can be the biggest part of the answer.

Whatever the reason, our fear of powerful women is an embarrassment, and a factor that impedes our social and political progress.