The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Saturday, June 25, 2005

are women less political than men?

As seems to be the way with comments threads, what started out as a post about Destiny's candidate launch by Idiot/Savant has got me thinking about political gender differences.

My instinct is that the reason there are less women in public life goes back to the ancient division of labour - women were active in the private sphere (meaning the home, not business as it does now), whilst men had lives outside that, in the public sphere. It's taken a very long time for women to significantly break that down.

Really it's only been this century, in NZ anyway, that it's become common place, and acceptable, for women to work outside the home, to run for political office, to be in the media and to have opinions that are voiced publically.

But centuries of staying close to the hearth are hard to overcome. There are still women who think that we XXers should all just stay at home and not bother our pretty little heads about anything other than babies and getting out our Master's slippers and pipe the second he comes in the door.

Many women of around my age are wrestling with the whole family/career dialectic. Can we really have both these days, or were our grandmothers right - the attempt to be all things winds up in achieving nothing? But that's an issue for a whole other post.

I don't think women are inherently less political than men. But we do tend to be less confident. And from what I've seen of politics it takes a lot of confidence, some might even say arrogance, to put yourself out there.

Perhaps women interact socially in a different way from men (although again I would say this is because of socialisation, rather than any hard wired difference). Politics is very nasty, very bruising, and perhaps a lot of women think "bugger that for a game of soldiers."

The Catch 22 there is that politics is never going to change unless people with a different approach get involved and start playing (and spinning) a different way.

Past musings about the differences between the sexes and things of that nature:
- honking at women is not a compliment (to either of you)

- why do men like lesbian porn but women don't like gay porn?
- where are all the chick political bloggers? which was followed up some months later by a second post, chicken chicks - thankfully this situation has changed a bit recently


Sock Thief said...

Why not hard-wired difference?

Interestingly I was reading recently that men's brains take 3 years longer than women's to reach full size. We will now have a brief pause for jokes...

But interestingly one of the areas in men's brains that develops slower than women's is that to do with language. Since this disparity happens during the early high school years it is therefore not surprising that girls tend to prefer languages over sciences more compared to boys.

Eventually men's language region does reach maturity but often over this period choices have been made about what subjects to take and therefore what careers choices are available. So the consequences are a likely skewing of gender career choices.

Now this happens because of the differing timing of brain development and not necessarily because of a long term essential difference.

Make Tea Not War said...

I'm totally speculating but I'm not sure there are less women in public life per se. There are lots of women involved as Plunkett volunteers an on school boards. I wonder if maybe many women channel their community, civic mindedness in other directions...Keeping it close to home.

He-Hole-ad said...

Here's another thought:

Women find shit-flinging and the backstabbing nature of party politics much less fun.

Another thought:
I'm sure it's not a new theory and has been done to death in PSYCH courses but for men it's more about power. Men are physically stronger and I wouldn't be surprised if the desire for strength and power was somehow hardwired into the male brain. Of course there will be exceptions but we are talking about generalisations here. Men may simply have a greater innate desire to get into positions of power.

stef said...

There are plenty of women activists in party politics too.

In the end I think a lot of women lack the confidence to get involved and underestimate their abilities.

Ghet said...

Heh, yeah, all of that. There are a lot of women in the pamphlet-stuffing fund-raising committee end of politics. The number of women diminishes up in the shoving people round ruthlessly grabbing power end of things. So it seems, anyway.

The Destiny list only leaves you with two options, really. Either they actively discriminate against talented women, or there's something about them that doesn't attract talented women in the first place. Possibly making them all march down the back behind the boys.

span said...

well the National list is not exactly over-endowed with women either.

I think that to a certain extent women have been socialised to think that we don't want power and that we're not interested in that stuff (and of course if we are we must be pretend-men) and also there are some men who actively chase women away from pursuing those things. The number of times I have been treated as if I'm acceptable to make the tea and scones, or take the minutes, but not ok to chair a meeting (although i've chaired a lot of meetings before)... Partly it's my own lack of confidence, but also it's this expectation from some men (and some women to be fair) that I can't do it because i'm a chick.


span said...

which comes first Sock, socialisation or the nature of our brain development? Can't they influence each other?

Justin said...

Fact: As a woman, your chances for success in politics are infinitely greater in the National Party than they are in the Alliance. :p

Sock Thief said...

Span, yes they do. The differing rate of brain development in boys and girls is a possible influence on career choice, not because there is necessarily a large difference in the end, but because of the timing of the discrepancy. An example of such an interaction.

But there are differences between men’s and women's brains - that is when you compare populations not individuals. And that difference is one of the reasons men and women behave differently.

Ghet said...

Heh, define 'success', Justin. If you mean, just getting power, regardless of what you have to do or say to get it, then I guess you're right. And you can keep it.

And I gotta say, while I've seen that 'make the tea dear' attitude among older men, I've NEVER seen it in men my own age. Mostly they're too scared to even suggest that a woman can't do the job.

Yes, absolutely you can strengthen or weaken a natural brain bias through socialisation. Just like you can beat left-handed kids and make them use their right hands. Pretty much everything is a combination of genetics and environment. But "traditionally" I think women garner power in much more subtle and diplomatic ways, and I think it's a mistake to refuse to value or recognise that power just because it doesn't look like man-power.

Make Tea Not War said...

One of the older guys I used to work with told me never to admit to knowing how to use the photocopier or to offer to make coffee and I think it was good advice. I don't ruthlessly stick to it but I do consciously make an effort not to conform to traditional female submissive role expectations in the workplace. I haven't ever been given a hard time about it. I don't think there are that many people today in "the mainstream" who are delibrately and consciously trying to keep women "in their place."

It is hard to break conditioning though. One thing I've noticed a lot of women (including me) have a problem with is in pushing for promotion or more money and that is due to lack of confidence.

span said...

how do you buck the system MTNW? i find it very hard to not be submissive, not so much in a confrontation (no problem with challenging authority when they are being arses) but in a more general sense I find it hard. particularly in new situations, and first impressions last.

is raising confidence something we need to do as individual women (and men, i am sure it is an issue for some men too) or should we be looking for more of a structural solution? or both?

i look around schools and i see that the vast bulk of teachers, and support staff, are women. but often i also notice that the principal, and the senior teachers, are disproportionately men, and yet teachers are people who usually have a lot of confidence.

Lucyna said...

I think it must be a personality thing, too, Span. When I was employed by others (ie not employed in my own business), I had no problems being assertive. Seemed to scare my female boss too.

Maybe martial arts training will help? I found that very helpful for getting to know the male mind.

Make Tea Not War said...

Span- Not that I'm always 100% confident by any means but as I've gotten older I've gotten more so. I've stop assuming people are more knowledgeable or competent than me until they prove it for one thing.

I suppose in general raising confidence is both personal and structural.I think seeking out good mentors and role models is important. I find it is confidence boosting if someone I respect seems to respect my views and abilities. And conversely its also important to try to be a mentor or at least try to be supportive, encouraging and friendly to younger women/people coming up behind. The each one teach one sort of approach to structural change.