1024px-DIG13623-230I was just going to let this one slide, but I kept hearing from women who insisted that I say something. They told me I’m always reporting on depressing news about women in the workplace and here’s my chance to spotlight something positive and thrilling.

They were buoyed by former President Barack Obama’s recent remarks on women leaders. Here’s part of what he said to an audience in Singapore, according to the BBC:

“Now women, I just want you to know; you are not perfect, but what I can say pretty indisputably is that you’re better than us [men].

“I’m absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything … living standards and outcomes.”

Obama went on to say: “If you look at the world and look at the problems it’s usually old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way.”

I don’t disagree with that last part—that old dudes are responsible for the messy state of the world. (Sorry, Joe Biden.) But women are “indisputably” better than men and being “absolutely confident” that living standards would improve under a woman?

Talk about putting women on a pedestal!

First of all, I’m not sure where Obama is coming from with this women-are-better-leaders schtick. Is it because women—still so rare in leadership roles—will inject freshness to the stale male order? Or is he saying that women are wired differently and thus more reliable and nicer?

Obama’s comments are sweeping and ambiguous, which, I guess, are part of the appeal; you can read into them what you want. But I fear the takeaway is that women are more compassionate and caring—and that’s because they’re women and also moms.

Some women say that’s what Obama was getting at. One female lawyer thought Obama was talking about the “superior strength of women,” born out of life’s experiences—raising kids, being a supportive spouse, looking after aging parents all while juggling a demanding job. “For once, someone is giving women the credit we deserve,” she sums up.

I don’t doubt that women do juggle more because home responsibilities still fall disproportionately on them, but I cringe at the suggestion that women’s life experiences make them wiser, agile leaders. (Remember when I went nuts when Kirsten Gillibrand tried to make a similar argument?) I mean, does being a mom make women more caring about the world at large?

I don’t think so. From what I’ve witnessed, moms at the playgrounds of Manhattan can be a mean and competitive bunch. You really don’t want to mess with them and get in their kids’ way in the sandbox or anywhere else—or they will run you over. Like a giant steamroller. In a New York second.

Seriously, though, it’s dangerous and unfair to expect that women will be superior leaders and that the journey of motherhood will make them more empathetic. Look what’s happening to the fallen sainthood of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Once an icon of human rights, she’s now defending Myanmar’s brutal policies against the Rohingya Muslim minority. And yes, she’s also a mom.

Of course, it would be comforting to believe that women will be more humane leaders because of their experience being an outsider, wife, mother, daughter, whatever. It would also be nice to think that women are somehow immune to the corruption of power.

But I wouldn’t count on it. Besides, why should they be subjected to that additional pressure?

 

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com

On Twitter: @lawcareerist