Cleopatra's Soft Power

One powerful woman picks up the phone. Thomas v. Hill, 2010. We now know that the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has called Anita Hill, after twenty years, seemingly to suggest a détente. Is this an act of faith? Is it classic feminine emotional intelligence, perhaps enhanced by a bit of Machiavellian self-preservation, sense of history? Is it all of these? We will be watch as it evolves. Critics will parse what might simply be one woman working to respect the emotions of another. That’s what women tend to do.

What might this phone call mean for women more broadly, and how does Thomas’s gesture stand separate from powerful gestures of powerful men in the past, specifically those actions they have taken towards enemies? Is the feminine instinct to couple Emotional Intelligence with strategic insight something that should lead us to conclude women make better leaders? Data, and feminists, would support that. But history refuses to be swayed—so far. So what can we learn from the greatest women in leadership positions in the past? Can their emotional intelligence be quantified? Who had it?

Here is an excerpt from the exchange between Deborah Solomon and Cleopatra biographer Stacy Schiff in this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine:

How would you compare Cleopatra to Hillary Clinton? I wouldn’t. No one in the modern world controls the wealth or territory that Cleopatra did.

Are you forgetting the Queen of England? She doesn’t compare. Cleopatra essentially owned Egypt. Everyone in the country worked for her. And my guess is she had better jewelry.

She was so materialistic. Were you turned off by her need to bedeck herself in so much jewelry, including pearls in her hair? If you’re the Queen of Egypt, you need to look the part.

Said another way, no one has come close. And Cleopatra maintained her femininity without stooping to conquer. What made her tick? Schiff, a Pulitzer-Prize-winner author who has written one of the great biographies of another great woman (Vera Nabokov) knows. 

Would what Cleopatra had be called “soft power" today, those skills sometimes defined simply as diplomacy, or as Hearts and Minds? She (and her successors on the global stage, from Elizabeth I through Simone de Beauvoir to Secretary Clinton) understand what many feminists later codified: female power is not in competition with its male counterpary. Men use what they have; women use what they have. Secretary Albright had pins and Marie Antoinette had fashion. These kinds of signs and uses of power are not taught at Harvard, or osmosed at Davos. They are instinctual.

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson told Big Think that “women are actually more inclined towards that more modern leadership, which is collaborative problem-solving, enabling, consultative, not just trying to assert a kind of hierarchical power." Collaborative, consultative: said another way, maternal? Whether we consider women who have held unique positions of power through time to be classically maternal, we might admit that they recognized femininity was not something to hide. The ability to read complex emotions is a diplomat's best weapon, and this comparative advantage keeps women today not simply distinct from their male counterparts but essentially, and increasingly, in demand.

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists claim the Bible is written in code that predicts future events

The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

Michael Drosnin
Surprising Science
  • Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
  • The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
  • Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
Keep reading Show less

Juice is terrible for children. Why do we keep giving it to them?

A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.

Pixabay user Stocksnap

Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you. 

Keep reading Show less

Orangutans exhibit awareness of the past

Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club

(Eugene Sim/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
  • It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
  • This ability may come from a common ancestor
Keep reading Show less