A tale of two women, and that glass ceiling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 September, 2008, 12:00am

This is a tale of two high-profile political candidates who don't simply happen to be women. They are 'political women', in big bright letters, who are up for very big jobs. But this is also a story of two quite different political cultures.

Let us start with Japan, a traditional society with its own very special ways and means. There, a former defence and environmental minister has thrown her hat, dramatically, into the fierce competition to become the next head of the Liberal Democratic Party and probably the next prime minister.

We'll know very soon if Yuriko Koike is successful. One way or another, the successor to Yasuo Fukuda - a true gentleman but no magical politician - will emerge by the deadline of September 22. If successful, Ms Koike, 56, would become Japan's first female prime minister.

Now let us cross the Pacific to the United States. There, presidential candidate John McCain has thrown Sarah Palin into the presidential race as the No2 on the Republican ticket. Until relatively recently, this woman was actually less known to the US public than was Ms Koike to the Japanese.

But the out-of-right-field selection of Mrs Palin has apparently jazzed up many conservative Republican voters, while throwing Democratic campaign managers into a tizzy.

Mrs Palin is anything but the East Coast style of feminist. The former beauty queen is pro-gun, pro-life, pro-business, pro-oil-drilling, pro-hunter and a pro orator. It is quite true that many American feminists take a stand against much of what she is outspokenly in favour of. But, in their hearts, perhaps they feel Senator McCain was right to want to 'accessorise' the US national ticket with a woman politician when Barack Obama was so obviously afraid to Hillary-ise.

Mrs Palin has Senator McCain as her mentor; but who does Ms Koike have? The answer is none other than former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who thinks Ms Koike is the best person for the job.

Ms Koike openly admires Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and American feminists. She once commented sarcastically of Japan that the so-called glass ceiling there 'isn't glass, it's an iron plate'.

She's got that right: Japan barely makes it into the middle of national rankings in terms of accommodating women's economic and political power.

Ms Koike, at the time of writing, faces four men for the job. The most prominent - and the current favourite - is Taro Aso, the former foreign minister.

If the McCain-Palin ticket is elected, the Alaska governor would become the country's first female vice-president. Whatever one thinks of her rural style, culturally conservative, 'golly-gee' politics, the outcome would obviously be historic. If Mr Koizumi somehow manages to sneak Ms Koike into the top spot, that also would be historic. Personally, I am rooting for at least one of these two women to make it. It really is time for a change.

Tom Plate is a veteran journalist and author, most recently, of Confessions of an American Media Man