Hate the headline but what to do, I didn’t write it.
The National Conversation
As women gain power, will female scandals in India rise?
Jun 3, 2013
Even for those Indians who consider themselves inured to the scandals that dog this country, the last month has been one never-ending “tamasha” – comedy or mockery, depending on how you look at it.
On stage left is the former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta whose “lust for zeros” has brought him down from the pinnacle of power. Gupta is appealing for a retrial on charges of insider trading. On stage right is Phaneesh Murthy, who was forced to leave his position as CEO of iGate on account of sexual harassment charges.
Mr Murthy, previously a star performer at Infosys, had to leave the firm under the cloud of similar charges. Both charges were settled out of court.
Currently occupying stage centre is N Srinivasan, the president of the Board of Cricket Control of India, who is refusing to resign even though his son-in-law has been arrested for betting on IPL games presumably using insider information.
This match-fixing scandal has already claimed the heads of cricketer Sreesanth and a few bookies. While the circumstances and accusations are different, the perpetrators are all men. As a woman, I wonder about it.
When a powerful man falls from grace, be it Tiger Woods or Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced US politician, the usual explanation that is trotted out is Lord Acton’s self-evident yet vacuous quote about how “All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. People in power are lured into thinking that they are above the law; that they can do anything and will not be caught. Does this apply equally to powerful women as it does to men? Or it it because there are statistically more men in positions of power that they are the ones getting caught? In other words, as women reach the upper echelons of power, will they also become embroiled in scandals and get caught in the process?
I tend to think that statistics play an opposite effect: because so few women attain positions of power, they tend to be doubly careful with respect to holding on to it.
For every Eliot Spitzer who got caught, there is a Kamala Harris who came out of a controversy involving the US president, Barack Obama, with grace. Mr Obama had described her as the “best looking attorney general in the country”, a comment that sparked controversy and led the president to apologise to her.
The other explanation is that such failings are endemic to one’s personality – a psychological disease as it were. For every Sreesanth who got lured by greed, there is a Sachin Tendulkar who has played for years without a stain on his career or character. Murthy (Phaneesh) may have become involved with a series of women, but the other Murthy (N R Narayana) stands as an example of integrity and character.
This explanation holds partial merit. But it doesn’t quite explain why so few women have these so-called psychological failings that cause them to self-destruct and do so publicly.
I believe that in the years to come, statistics will hold sway. As more women gain power, they too will fall from grace in a public, self-destructive manner.
But I also think that women in power will take fewer risks than men in similar situations. Witness, Angela Merkel, Madeleine Albright, Queen Noor of Jordan, Margaret Thatcher, Sheikha Moza of Qatar, Sonia Gandhi. The way they came to power is varied. Some earned it; some gained it through marriage; and some were born to it. But none – so far, anyway – has sullied it.
In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg alludes to the fact that most women who are successful feel like “frauds”. Perhaps this is why so few of them trip up. They are so busy proving that they are worthy of success that the thought of throwing it all away is anathema to them.
In order to play with power, you have to feel entitled to it. Tiger Woods had God-given talent that “entitled” him to his success. Eliot Spitzer came to it from a political family and felt like an entitled crusader against Wall Street. Even Rajat Gupta and Phaneesh Murthy, who came from more modest circumstances, had been in top positions for long enough to feel entitled to perks.
Perhaps women don’t feel similarly entitled. It may cause them to back off from the conference tables in the board room; it may cause them not to lean in. But it does not cause them to throw it all away for the sake of a fling or a gamble.
Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India.
DaNoosh is back!
Women are equally corrupt. From Kaikeyi to Manthara to Cleopatra to Delilah to .. the Wicked Witch of the West, women will use every womanly wile to secure their objective. Women in power you have quoted Sonia Gandhi but not Indira Gandhi or Jayalalitha or Mayawati or Imelda Marcos or Mary of Scots.. you’re right they have not sullied they have destroyed the reputation of their office itself. Verdict on Sonia Gandhi is not in yet – but someone who stands by and lets huge crap like 3G etc go on is surely not doodh-ki-dhuli. Let’s also not forget behind the Rajaratnam scandal there was also a Danielle Chiesi (famous slut-to-success icon) and behind Eliot Spitzer there was a Madam Davis who masked the supply of women. Every prostitution house has a madam in charge of procuring, “breaking in” and then brokering younger women for money. What can be said about such women … who instead of getting out of the profession still remain in it and lure young girls into a life of disease and disrepute. Women, clean up corruption in your own gender before anything else.
Corruption is universal whether it is the havaldar who lets you off or a madam who gets you off.
I thought of Indira Gandhi and the emergency, DaNoosh. But don’t know enough about it. I am not talking about slut-to-success (God I hate that phrase). I am talking of traditional misuse of power a la Jayalalithaa. That takes balls, excuse the expression. Do women in power have that?
That quote `Power corrupts’ isn’t as `vacuous’ as you put it… It does have substance. Men have it in their DNA to take risks. Like they say “it’s always difficult to write the second book because you’ve to excel yourself”… In their efforts to outshine themselves or others, a little chutzpah gets its pride of place as they think it could result in disproportionate upside for the enterprise as a whole – something like how Microsoft made customers pay for tagged along IE browser even as they had ordered just Windows OS or how Herb Kelleher, former CEO of South West Airlines offset the losses made on its LCC operations against its profits from oil futures contracts….! And when they do get caught, they end up being Vijay Mallyas of the world, dodging taxes and busting banks with their huge exposures…!! It’s easier to question why should one do something unethical at all even if that promises disproportionate upside – but then not many of us get at the real top to know what it is exactly like to play real fast and real loose… And of course we can despise them but not without that envious or even vengeful grudge deep inside for how they lived their life up until that moment they got caught…
Women are far better tempered. They stretch their stay at the top as long as they could out of the sheer notion that that’s as far as they could go. Or rather, on the negative conviction that they will go no further no matter what.. That may sound safe and ethical, but the magnitude of hope and expectation riding on CEOs and Heads of Governments always makes allowances for some minor transgressions so long as they aim at a significantly larger public good – driving home the old saying “Ships are safest in the harbor, but is that what they are meant for…?”
That leaves the question often faced by the CEOs – is it better to be 100% risk-averse and 100% ethical with no guaranteed upside or 99% risk-averse and 99% ethical with a 99% gurantee of a 500% upside…? Angela merkel chose the former, forced EU to impose austerity across EU members and the whole world is paying the price for a Euro crunch…Let alone others, is that what even Germany wants…?
Do men have that, Krishna? The ‘envious…vengeful grudge.” I am wondering if women have that too. Or are they merely judgmental? Your last point is a whole article.
You ask “Do Men have that…?”
Gender has nothing to do with it. ( and I am no anti-feminist ) The more pertinent question would be whether the grudger is in the same league as the grudged. No point in envying a Warren Buffet if you drool over 8% returns that you earn from your PPF.
Dachu: :) Good point.
Of course Shoba! Jayalalitha proved she had the balls to do just about anything when she threw Karunanidhi in prison. Same with Mamata Banerjee (Railway Minister deal) or Mayawati (vs Mulayam in Taj Corridor case). Indira Gandhi has guts of steel to have been able to send the Army into the Golden Temple (inspite of knowing her life would be in danger forever). All these women in power were/are absolutely determined to keep power at any cost. These are just Indian examples. Every madam in every brothel in the world has total power over her girls since the moment the young virgins enter the damned place. This madam brokers the girls, lubricates the local cops and politicos and slyly puts other madams out of business. (Sorry if this is a bad example on this blog but its da truth.)
Women have b-lls to do anything they want, corrupt or illegal or anarchist…