The Myth of Female Peacefulness

Some think that a government filled with women would be more peaceful; a senate of women would get more done with less conflict. But there is no evidence for this, and plenty of evidence for the opposite.

Forget the “studies”. There are lots of real life laboratories, called workplaces. Go to a workplace dominated by females. There are still lots of them — hospitals, for example, where the nursing staffs are still mostly women. Ask the women what they think. Many of them will tell you that trying to manage a group of women is a nightmare compared to managing men. They’ll tell you that the conflict level is high and unremitting.

Again, the women say this about themselves. I first heard it from women whom I’ve supervised over the course of 15 years in management now. (I’m a man.) The small businesses I’ve managed have had workforces of more than 90% women. Over the years many women have spontaneously offered me their sympathy for my task of keeping the female peace. I’ve had many women say to me “I’d much rather manage a bunch of men than a bunch of women.”

There is no doubt that women value collaboration more than men do, and naturally choose to work collaboratively when given the chance. Cooperation is their default mode, while isolation is the default mode of the male. But you have to distinguish between what women value and what they actually do accomplish when in task-oriented groups. In fact, that they treasure collaberation so much that this actually makes them more sensitive to slight errors of cooperation – since they also perceive much, much more nuance in the interpersonal space than men do. (I hope this last assertion is not controversial. Have you never been married?) And it is precisely this combination which is fatal for the outcome.

Again, the combination is the problem.  The female psyche both values cooperation and at the same time perceives interpersonal imperfection.  This combination exponentiates tensions within female task groups.   Over time, they gather an exponentially higher list of mental grievances against each other, more than would a group of relatively obtuse, individualistic men. And because these issues are not just cognitive observations but are rooted deep in their value system, they cannot pass them over.

This means that a working group of women will fight more, about more, than a similarly tasked group of men. So, all other things being equal, the female group will be much more likely to break down in conflict than the male.

Of course all things are not equal, so we can’t conclude from this observation anything about the relative efficiency of a female group. Other factors count.

For example, negligence is a male specialty. The general scofflaw in the workplace, who just skips whatever he can get away with, is more likely male. Also, when they do fight, the male group’s fight is more likely to be physical and destructive.

So I’m not saying that females are less good at anything than a male group (indeed, they usually believe they are better, and I’ve not seen evidence to the contrary.) I am saying they do not have less conflict.

You might argue that productivity and efficiency are exactly the issue, since a female group that experiences more conflict yet still is productive is precisely evidence that women do something to overcome all that conflict. But do they, or is it overcome, suppressed, or dampened for them by management support? To extrapolate their productivity-in-spite-of-conflict to a hypothetical governing body, you would have to remove the influence of management — since a female Senate would have no referee.

We should distinguish between task-oriented groups and other types of gatherings. Women love to gather when there is no external task, but rather just explore the richness of friendship. These are different, and I don’t have near the direct experience of the latter as I do the former.

But, you say, the world’s literature is full of woman’s hatred for war. Of course women hate war more than men do, because they feel the bond of love more deeply then men. Mothers and wives feel the loss of sons and husbands more acutely than a man can imagine. But these are distinct matters; women’s suffering from war is not evidence they would be less warlike as governments.

Based on my experience as a manager of women and their own testimony, I’m metaphysically certain that if you elected 100 women to the United States Senate today, tomorrow the conflict level in that body would go up, not down.

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