16 June 2020

The New York Times Opinion: “What the Pandemic Reveals about the Male Ego”

Are female leaders better at fighting a pandemic?

I compiled death rates from the coronavirus for 21 countries around the world, 13 led by men and eight by women. The male-led countries suffered an average of 214 coronavirus-related deaths per million inhabitants. Those led by women lost only one-fifth as many, 36 per million.

Nicholas Kristof

This is an example of article where you can safely stop after reading the first paragraphs. I am regularly annoyed by the fetishization of Jacinda Ardern, but this opinion takes it one step too far. It demonstrates both bad journalism and bad science by starting from the author’s preferred premise and then cherry-picking arguments to support it and ignoring facts that do not. There is no mention of South Korea (led by a man), Japan (likewise) or Thailand (incredible, another man!). Does the author ever bother to do a full analysis of all 200+ countries and their leaders? Does he at least state which criteria he used to choose those particular 21 countries? Of course not! And people in media wonder why the general public is losing trust in journalism… I support having more women leadership, but let’s support women because it is the correct thing to do for a fairer society, not based on faulty circular logic.

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan at a military base this spring amid the coronavirus pandemic
President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan at a military base this spring amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA, via Shutterstock

What is even worse here is that this type of reasoning does not offer valuable recommendations for managing the pandemic! What are the male leaders of other countries supposed to do based on this information? Change their sex? Resign en masse and appoint women replacements? It would be more constructive to analyze specific measures from different countries, to assess which worked and to which extent, and offer recommendations that can hopefully be implemented elsewhere. But instead newspapers publish thinly veiled faux feminism to become popular on Twitter for half an hour (at best).

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