Attitude: In Politics and Management, the “Gender Gap” Is Real

In Politics and Management, the “Gender Gap” Is Real
by: Merrill McLoughlin, Tracy L. Shryer,
Erica E. Goode, and Kathleen McAuliffe
There is one difference between the sexes on which virtually every expert and study
agree: Men are more aggressive than women. It shows up in two-year-olds. It
continues through school days and persists into adulthood. It is even constant across
cultures. And there is little doubt that it is rooted in biology – in the male sex hormone
If there is a feminine trait that is the counterpart of male aggressiveness, it is what
social scientists awkwardly refer to as “nurturance.” Feminists have argued that the
nurturing nature of women is not biological in origin, but rather has been drummed into
women by a society that wanted to keep them in the home. But the signs that it is a
least partly inborn are too numerous to ignore. Just as tiny infant girls respond more
readily to human faces, female toddlers learn much faster than males how to pick up
nonverbal cues from others. And grown women are far more adept than men at
interpreting facial expressions: A recent study by University of Pennsylvania brain
researcher Ruben Gur showed that they easily read emotions such as anger, sadness,
and fear. The only such emotion men could pick up was disgust.
What difference do such differences make in the real world? Among other things,
women appear to be somewhat less competitive – or at least competitive in different
ways – than men. At Harvard Law School, for instance, female students enter with
credentials just as outstanding as those of their male peers. But they don’t qualify for
the prestigious Law Review in proportionate numbers, a fact some school officials
attribute to women’s discomfort in the incredibly competitive atmosphere.
Students of management styles have found fewer differences than they expected
between men and women who reach leadership positions, perhaps because many
successful women deliberately imitate masculine ways. But an analysis by Purdue
social psychologist Alice Eagly of 166 studies of leadership style did find one consistent
difference: Men tend to be more "autocratic” – making decisions on their own – while
women tend to consult colleagues and subordinates more often.
In Politics and Management, the “Gender Gap” is Real
Studies of behavior in small groups turn up even more differences. Men will typically
dominate the discussion, says University of Toronto psychologist Kenneth Dion,
spending more time talking and less time listening.
The aggression-nurturance gulf even shows up in politics. The “gender gap” in polling
is real and enduring: Men are far more prone to support a strong defense and tough
law-and-order measures such as capital punishment, for instance, while women are
more likely to approve of higher spending to solve domestic social problems such as
poverty and inequality. Interestingly, there is virtually no gender gap on “women’s
issues,” such as abortion and day care; in fact, men support them slightly more than
Applied to the female of the species, the word “different” has, for centuries, been read
to mean “inferior.” At last, that is beginning to change. And in the end, of course, it is
not a question of better or worse. The obvious point – long lost in a miasma of ideology
– is that each sex brings strengths and weaknesses that may check and balance the
other; each is half of the human whole.
In Politics and Management, the “Gender Gap” is Real