My Take

Criticism of ‘dull’ Carrie Lam smacks of sexism

If a woman is to become our next leader, I don’t want her to be nice or nurturing. I want her to be tough and get things done

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 12:49am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 11:41am

It’s difficult to dig up dirt on someone whose personal life is as dull as Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. The worst the opposition has done so far has been to accuse Lam’s husband of keeping a mistress in London. But wouldn’t that work more as a sympathy vote for Lam, regardless of the verity of the claim?

So now, the opposition has resorted to insinuating that the front runner in the chief executive race is a “control freak”, someone who doesn’t tolerate dissent and who thinks she is always right and everyone else is wrong.

Ming Pao and Apple Daily have run stories recently to such effect, quoting mostly anonymous sources. As an old hack, I can tell you that you can make anonymous sources say anything. That’s why they should be avoided where possible, and used only as a last resort.

Alas, in Hong Kong journalism, they often become the first resort, and the only sources on which a whole story is crafted.

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But at least one story managed to quote Lau Sai-leung, a former adviser to the government’s Central Policy Unit think tank, for some unflattering sound bites about Lam. That’s where we got the “control freak” quote. So this is what it boils down to: Lam is used to getting her way and doesn’t listen, while election rival John Tsang Chun-wah is a nice guy.

As Tsang said during the most recent debate before 500-plus Election Committee members, Lam offered to apologise to civil service staff shortly before she quit as chief secretary. Why? Because she did something wrong? No, according to Tsang, Lam had not been a nice boss and might have offended some people during her tenure.

Do I detect a hint of sexism here? Male leaders who get their way are called tough and hands-on. Female ones, however, are just nasty women. But getting things your way is almost, by definition, a necessary trait of leadership. This could be good (when you are right) and bad (when you are wrong).

But being nice and willing to listen? Well, anyone can do that. Perhaps we still expect women to be empathetic. But if a woman is to become our next leader, I don’t want her to be nice or nurturing. I want her to be tough and get things done.