Post by Carmen Morales. IE Associate Professor of Leadership, and Internal Communication.
Almost twenty years ago I published an article in the Spanish economic newspaper Expansión for the 100th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz. The book was published on May 17, 1900 and is renown as the pinnacle of American children’s literature, with the Library of Congress declared it “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale”. I personally consider The Wizard of Oz a delightful leadership book full of lessons from different angles that is worth rereading and revisiting. In this post, I would like to highlight some of those lessons related to gender, women rights, and women leadership.
Gender and Oz
A significant facet of the book is Baum’s choice of a girl instead of a boy for this main character, Dorothy. There are also several female characters in the book that are very strong, either benevolent rulers or witches. In an election year in the United States, when the Democratic Party is encouraging the female vote (‘2020: The Year of the Women Voter’)(1), it’s important to recall that Frank Baum was committed to the cause of women’s rights. Both his wife and mother-in-law campaigned for women’s right to vote. As an editor of the ‘Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer’, a South Dakota local paper, Baum showed his favor of women’s suffrage, giving visibility to his mother-in-law political pieces. In the United States, all women would be granted the right to vote when the 19th Amendment went into effect in 1920, precisely 100 years ago. However, it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 45 years after the 19th Amendment, that the federal government made it illegal to disenfranchise a person based on race.(2) According to Michael Patrick Hearn in The Annotated Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is “a brave, resourceful girl who rescues three male characters and destroys two evil witches. Baum’s books are full of girls who are enterprising, ingenious, adventurous, or imposingly self-reliant.”
Walking The Yellow Brick Road that leads to Emerald City, in the kingdom of Oz, Dorothy meets three stereotypical characters: the foolish Scarecrow (a man with no brains), the Cowardly Lion (a man with no courage), and the Tin Man (heartless and unsympathetic). With determination, empathy, and persuasion, Dorothy manages to form a team and create a bond of camaraderie, setting a very clear objective and a common goal: to reach Oz, the land where they were supposed to grant their wishes: a brain, courage, a heart, and a safe return home.
In contrast to Dorothy’s remarkable soft skills and competencies, we can find another male character, the Wizard. He is known as the “great and powerful Oz”, but in fact is a fake, and a con man. He has not seen his subjects in years and hides behind the technology he has developed to improve his image, like many politicians and corporate CEOs nowadays. He is unable to help Dorothy, and Dorothy and her friends discover he is a fraud. Eventually, Dorothy is able to protect herself, and solves her own problems rather than waiting patiently, like a beautiful heroine in classic fairy tales, for someone else, whether a prince or a commoner, to put things right.
That’s why I highly recommend reading The Wizard of Oz as inspirational reading for girls, and as a necessary role model for female leadership development.