Beating Back the Stereotypes of 1250 BC, and the 2008 Presidential Election

The current presidential race shows that men and women are still imprisoned in roles that are as old as the Bible. Women leaders are either (1) “’lesser’ or ‘deficient’ men,” (2) “super-women,” and thus, better than men, or (3) “mythical beings who are larger than life itself, and therefore, like the gods, beyond either sex.”

Although it was written over 3,000 years ago, the Old Testament story of Deborah is as pertinent as if it were written yesterday.

As a result of their failure to follow the word of God, the Israelites have been subjugated by the Canaanites for 20 years. Deborah summons Baraq, the Hebrew chief-of-staff, and tells him that with God’s help, he will defeat the Canaanites. However, his victory will be overshadowed because a woman, Jael, will kill Sisera, the Canaanite chief-of-staff.

Over the centuries, three competing interpretations of the story have emerged.

As male anti-heroes, Baraq and Sisera are portrayed as “non-men” in the first interpretation, inadequate in the second, and outmaneuvered or duped in the third. In contrast, Deborah and Jael are lesser versions of men in the first, super-women in the second, and larger than life mythical beings in the third.

Deborah’s story still speaks to us because it shows clearly that woman do more than “juggle multiple roles and responsibilities,” which they do. They juggle three very different versions of what men and women are supposed to be.

After 3000 years, isn’t it time to move beyond ancient stereotypes and to acknowledge great leaders irrespective of their sex?

Ian I. Mitroff
Yochanan Altman, London Metropolitan University, UK
Beverly Metcalfe, University of Hull, UK

About imitroff

Dr. Ian Mitroff is Professor Emeritus at the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He is the president and founder of Mitroff Crisis Management, a private consulting firm based in Oakland, California, that specializes in the treatment of human-caused crises. He is a Senior Investigator with the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of California, Berkeley.
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