NZ Herald femaleist (aren’t they all femaleists at the Herald?) Rachel Smalley today bemoaned the lack of females on the teams involved in negotiations to form a new government. She claimed, in her article titled “Hey guys, where’s the women on coalition negotiation teams?“:
“And yet women are pretty good at preventing, managing and resolving conflict and contentious issues in a corporate environment. They can take the heat out of a situation. More light, less heat, gentlemen.”
Ms Smalley is correct to the extent that some women are good at resolving conflict and encouraging calm reasoning in negotiations. But so are many men. Ms Smalley’s patronizing comment “More light, less heat gentlemen” suggested she was actually trying to claim that women are better than men at resolving conflict, negotiating calmly, protecting relationships etc. Femaleists often make such claims and argue this makes women better managers, leaders, negotiators etc than men.
Over the years some research of dubious merit has been proffered to support such notions, and there may be some ‘common sense’ reasons to suppose that females’ evolutionary history of nurturing children gives them innate skills for protecting relationships while men’s history has been oriented more towards fighting it out violently. However, claims of female superiority in diplomacy remain unproven assertions. Just because femaleists say it’s so doesn’t mean it is so. For example, the ‘evolutionary traits’ argument can equally be used to suggest that women have had to be manipulative and self-prioritizing in order to survive, not traits conducive to the trust required in fragile negotiations. In general, honourable behaviour appears much more important to men than women.
There are many examples of women unnecessarily provoking conflict that they could easily have worked to resolve. Here are some recent examples with sufficiently serious aspects or outcomes to have been deemed newsworthy:
In addition, numerous men contributing here and elsewhere have given accounts of female ex-partners behaving unreasonably and provocatively for various self-centred reasons. Post-separation problems regarding parenting arrangements often involve mothers being dictatorial or uncooperative and failing to listen to or respect their children’s fathers. Small disagreements and emotional outbursts are often escalated by women to involve police, ‘safety’ and ‘protection’ orders rather than showing some human understanding and calm thinking. Further, it’s not unusual for women to react with uncontrolled screaming, crying or stupidity when faced with threat or disagreement, hardly a sign of ‘more light, less heat’.
Good research has established that women are much more often than men the gender who decide to separate and thereby to trash their children’s family unit and reduce or wreck their children’s relationship with their father. Hardly good evidence for female superiority in protecting relationships and resolving conflicts.
Looking at the actual situation regarding negotiations with NZ First, one of the main reasons that few women are involved in the teams is that the women who might have been involved have behaved unjudiciously and/or provocatively in previous dealings with Winston Peters. For example, leading National female ministers were implicated in leaking Winston’s pension issue to the media, hardly a way of maintaining trust to deal with contentious issues.
Government and diplomacy as we know it have been developed mainly by men. Women have relatively little experience in these areas and the jury is still out regarding any superiority they might bring. When women do well or even survive in such roles it’s often because of the extent to which they show masculine traits. Look at Margaret Thatcher and Helen Clark.
Femaleist claims such as that being made by Ms Smalley deserve scrutiny, rational consideration and debate taking into account all evidence.