When I first met my husband a millennium ago – OK, it was 1985 – he told me, emphatically, women should run the world.
He cited studies showing the power of educating women. When societies educate women, infant mortality drops and GDP rises.
Women, he argued, are less violent – throughout every point in history, the vast majority of violent crimes have been committed by men – and thus, as leaders, would create a more peaceable world. This belief is one he’s continued to hold.
I’m not so sure.
Let’s acknowledge it’s at best inexact to differentiate our species by biological gender. For those who are transgender, genitalia does not define their sex. That said, for the vast majority of humanity their chromosomes align with their sex.
So, with that caveat, I agree that men are more likely than women to use physical violence and, in my experience, women are more adept at navigating interpersonal interactions. Women respond more strongly to negative emotions. Men are more likely to take risks.
But does any of that mean women would run this world better than the men currently in charge? (Currently one in 10 U.N. member states are run by women.) And is it true, as my husband implies, that female leaders exhibit better judgment than their male counterparts?
Again, I’m not so sure. The lens of sex is remarkably general. In my experience, when it comes to leadership (and pretty much everything) capability is king … or queen.
Every time Greg – my husband – and I have this conversation, I think about a scene from the 1999 movie “Notting Hill.” Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts have woken up after a night to remember and he expresses his wonder he’s allowed to see her naked. She replies that she doesn’t get what the big deal is, for men, about nudity, especially breasts. After all, she points out, “every second person in the world has them. ... Your mother has them.”
The male appendage, like breasts, is similarly ubiquitous. Every second person has one. Each of my three sons has one. The current president has one, as does my least favorite professor from the UNC journalism school. Some of these people, or men as they’re usually called, are fabulous leaders. Some are marvelous partners. Some are nurturing parents. Some are all three. Some are impossible to describe in less than a term paper. I also know men who are jerks of the highest order, and have met others that are truly terrifying.
The same, however, is true of the people I’ve met who have female genitalia.
Rather than declaring gender – or any of the myriad delineations we embrace – to be the hallmark of a better leader, I’d rather look at the individual and what he or she has done and can accomplish. I’m more concerned with skill sets than genitalia (and what leaders do with the latter, but that’s another column.)
Today it often seems to matters more how we classify others rather than who those people actually are. We routinely define folks – and by that I mean those we don’t know – as one or the other. Red or Blue. Black or White. Rich or Poor. Male or Female. Tar Heel or Blue Devil. Us or Them.
This serves us poorly. If we are to survive this week or this life, we must believe everyone has the promise of greatness and that cultivating the best in each of us is the best for all of us. Judge – and, yes, I’m totally down with judging people – an individual’s actions and outcomes rather than the boxes they check on the census. This is not to say that our world isn’t routinely sexist (and racist.) It is. But that fact doesn’t justify abandoning critical thinking. One can believe that women and people of color routinely are (wrongly) seen as lesser than white men AND also believe an ethical voter chooses the person most deserving of support. (I’d also argue that what someone does is far more important than what he or she says, but that too is a subject for another time.)
Recently my husband and I cast our votes – early voting, yay! – for the next president of the United States. He was thrilled to be able to vote for a woman – if Hillary wins, he’s hopeful having a woman in charge will lead to a better world. And, don’t get me wrong, seeing a woman’s name on the top of the ballot made me happy – for starters, including women into the possible president pool, doubles our chances of getting a good one. But I didn’t vote for a woman. I voted for the candidate with the best skill set, a leader I believe is qualified and capable of making our world, and that of our children, stronger, safer, and more supportive.
This week we will choose a new president. I hope when all the votes are cast and the leader we have elected is sworn in, we believe the best person won.
Dabney Grinnan has lived in Chapel Hill for 25 years. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DabneyGrinnan.