Cracking the Glass Ceiling, in Rwanda and Elsewhere
Before getting to our recommendation that Maria Hinojosa never be allowed to make another television program, let's acknowledge the many things that are good about "Women, Power and Politics," the new installment of "Now on PBS."
The program, reported by Ms. Hinojosa, creates illuminating juxtapositions as it looks at women in the political arena in several countries, and at a group of high school students who may someday follow their path.
Ms. Hinojosa's first stop, the United States Senate campaign of Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, is unremarkable, but when the program then checks in on President Michelle Bachelet of Chile and on the surprising emergence of female politicians and business owners in Rwanda, an interesting premise emerges: The bigger the disruption, the easier it is for women to get to positions of power.
Ms. Shaheen, a Democrat and former governor of New Hampshire making her second attempt to beat John E. Sununu, the Republican incumbent, is fighting her battle in a male-dominated system that has been relatively stable for two centuries. Ms. Bachelet's election in 2006, though, came in a country still feeling the effects of the Pinochet dictatorship. And the only thing worse than having a Pinochet in your recent past is having genocide in it: since the killings in Rwanda in the 1990s, that country's political landscape has taken a distinctly female turn. Almost half the legislators, we're told, are women.
In between segments on these leaders, the program visits a debate competition for high school girls co-sponsored by the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute in New York, the implication being that these girls are the female leaders of tomorrow.
You end up wishing that Ms. Hinojosa pressed her interview subjects a little harder on what specifically women can bring to the job of governing. Perhaps she didn't have time because she uses up so much of the program on another topic: Maria Hinojosa.
Ms. Hinojosa injects herself into these proceedings shamelessly. Here is a shot of her cheering her favorite debater; here's one of her fighting back tears in Rwanda; here she is telling you how seeing these powerful women and determined girls at work made her, Maria Hinojosa, feel. How shameless is she? Liz Abzug (Bella's daughter), president of the institute, tells the girls that she has asked "a great role model for all you young women" to say a few words. Who steps forward to give the pep talk? Why, it's Maria Hinojosa.
Sure, the news media is male-dominated, and maybe this I'm-the-story goo is what women want in their public-affairs programming. If so, PBS should start a separate network. HerPBS, say.
It seems insulting, though, to think that Ms. Bachelet's election and the achievements of women in Rwanda won't interest female viewers on their own merits, that women will care only about the emotional effects of those developments on some female newscaster. The facts would have spoken nicely for themselves.
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