Would society flourish under female rule? That was the question debated in Sydney last night at an Intelligence2 Debate hosted by the St James Ethics Centre.
The affirmative team comprised Diane Smith-Gander, Kerry Chikarovski and Eva Cox whilst Helen Razer, Jane Caro and Nicole Vincent were called upon to argue against the proposition. The discussion that followed was, unsurprisingly given the subject matter and the speakers, passionate, thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining.
I arrived with my mind firmly made. There was no question, I thought, that society would flourish under female rule. How on earth, I wondered, would a woman as vocal and persuasive about the underrepresentation of women as Jane Caro argue otherwise? Indeed Kerry Chikarovski began her stint on stage by asking how three proud and prominent feminists would argue against the power of females.
The negative team, however, were so convincing they managed to shift my mind by the time the evening concluded. And I wasn’t the only one who jumped teams. The audience arrived with 65% casting a vote in favour of the affirmative but at the conclusion of the night that had slipped to just 44% which meant Helen Razer, Jane Caro and Nicole Vincent were triumphant.
Seven percent of the audience were undecided but according to 49% of the audience society would not flourish under female rule. Now before you consider this a resounding defeat to feminists everywhere I will pose to you the argument so cogently composed by the negative team.
Of course, as in any good debate, semantics played a key role. Helen Razer argued that gender is a social construct and that the proposition that either men or women are inherently better or worse at ruling is futile. “The poison in this world is not male and the antidote is not female,” Razer purported.
If I’m honest, however, it was Nicole Vincent and Jane Caro that made me sit up in my seat.
Nicole asked how female rule might look. Who are the women under whose rule we’d all be living? Would they be elected to power? Appointed? Self-elected? And do we imagine, in this hypothetic scenario with women ruling, there wouldn’t be considerable civil unrest were females to completely overthrow those currently entrenched in power? Would society really flourish under such authoritarianism?
Rather than asking whether society would flourish under female rule, Vincent, asked us whether we’d consider if society would flourish and be better with more women in power.
Jane Caro followed this up with a thoroughly entertaining, but actually quite precise, argument that imposing the idea that society would flourish under female rule is in fact sexist. Why would we saddle women with the expectation that to be in power they would need to be so much better than the current powerbrokers?
While she observed that it’s hard to imagine women would do a worse job than those currently enjoying power, but that’s not the point. Women are entitled to be just as bad, or as good, or as mediocre, in leadership as their male counterparts.
“I don’t want more than what men have got, I just want what they’ve got,” she argued.
Caro doesn’t think we need complete female rule, she just wants women to have as much power as men. Not because they’re better or more compassionate or more nurturing, but because they comprise half the population. It really is that simple.
The status quo, as far as Jane Caro sees it, is that men are assumed to have merit until proven otherwise whilst women are assumed not to have merit until proven otherwise.
Statistically and structurally it is harder for women to rise to the top of any organisation or any sphere in society, than it is for men. It means the burden on women who manage it is larger; let’s not further saddle women with the expectation that to be in a position for power they have to be so much better than their male peers.
Do we want inept or ineffective female leaders? Not ideally but as an argument against quotas or positive discrimination, for example, that presupposes there aren’t any inept or ineffective male leaders currently in power. And that simply isn’t true.
Rather than seeking out complete control Caro urged us women to “fight for the right to be mediocre whilst getting paid extravagantly”.
Diane Smith-Gander, Eva Cox and Kerry Chikarovski did a fantastic job at illustrating exactly why we need more women in power, why the pace of change is too slow and why society is not flourishing.
“Doubling the female representation of chairs on ASX200 companies in two years takes [women] to a whopping 5% of those positions,” Diane Smith-Gander said. The point is not that women are better than men but women aren’t well served by society under male rule.
Because society appears to be incapable of reinventing itself Smith-Gander says it’s time for a circuit breaker.
“We need a Whitlam moment: Let women rule! If we asked Gough this question he’d say ‘Comrades It’s Time!'”
Eva Cox was just as convincing and passionate that’s it time for change. It’s time, she argued, we “stop talking about living in an economy and start talking about living in a society.”
If you need proof of how rigid our society really is to change, and especially to change that will benefit women, Cox said consider the recent news that companies will pay for female employees to freeze eggs.
She argued that society doesn’t simple need the rule of women; it needs the rule of feminists. And she’s tired of being reasonable and politely asking men for our share.
In summary these are my key takeaways from the evening:
- Women are very funny
- We desperately need more women in power
- That power shift isn’t going to happen without concerted effort because the status quo isn’t working.
As funny as the night and the discussion was that last bit is sobering.
Were you at the debate? What do you think?