Are Women Inherently More Moral Than Men?
By Suzanne Reisman on January 26, 2009
BlogHer Original Post
In ye olde Victorian times, women were deemed the "Angel of the House." While men went out and sullied themselves with the business of the world, women stayed in the home to unselfishly create and preserve a sanctity of morality. Forget the inconvenient fact that most women actually did work during ye olde Victorian times (they were poor and/or women of color, thus deviant and to be envied if anything, so their experiences didn't count); the Victorians excelled at making myths into reality. (Seriously, I think Karl Rove must've studied them well.) In fact, the myths of women as guardians of morality are so strong that they persist today, and even are embraced by feminists to some extent.
As evidence, I present two recent historical occasions: the 2008 election (Exhibit A) and the present economic meltdown vis a vis the mortgage meltdown (Exhibit B). During the election, women across the country were elated to see two high profile female candidates running for national office. (I'd argue that only one of them was qualified to run more than a moose farm, but there are those who disagree with me.) There was pressure for women to support these candidates on the basis of their gender. And ye old 1970s feminist slogans - catchy ones, like "Elect Women for a Change," as Amanda at The Wink, but ridiculous when you think beyond the stereotype of Angel in the House - were back in full force.
I wish more than anything that women really made for a different type of politician, but we don't. Sure, maybe we pay a little more attention to issues that fall under the false rubric of "women's issues," like the need for affordable child care or for maternal health protections like allowing new moms to stay overnight in a hospital bed, but the issues also have traction because male elected officials have taken them on and pressed for change, too. In fact, some of the biggest champions for "women's issues" are men, so electing more women would be good because it is good to have representation in government that reflects the composition of the nation, but it wouldn't necessarily change anything per se.
Further, the moral fiber of elected women appears to not differ from those of men. Carol Mosely Braun, anyone? (And I admit, her corrupt activities across the board truly broke my naive and idealistic heart at the time.) If, in numbers, there have been fewer cases of corruption among female politicians than male ones, I'd argue that it is because there are fewer female politicians out there and thus fewer opportunities. As soon as we reach our goal of representative parity, the corruption parity will follow. It has nothing to do with gender - it's human nature: male or female, there is a personality type that is attracted to that type of job, and the weaknesses that go along with the strengths are not different.
On to the mortgage meltdown. Over at Harvard Business Publishing, Sylvia Ann Hewitt argues that the financial meltdown would not have happened had more women been in leadership roles at banks. She believes that testosterone fuels too much risk-taking (i.e. - stupid decisions) and the presence of more calm, soothing estrogen would have led the banks to sounder investments. Which makes me laugh. Especially because she laments the departure of Zoe Cruz from the industry, and as I wrote at BlogHer in May 2008, Cruz was canned in part because she backed a group that was playing games with the mortgage market. Right.
BlogHer Contributing Editor Elana Centor also took on the issue of whether more women in finance would have prevented the mess we are in, only to discover that the shenanigans of one woman (Blythe Masters) may have led us down the path of destruction in the first place. Elana wrote:
When I started researching credit default swaps --the financial vehicle that Blythe Masters is credited/blamed for inventing and which Warren Buffet described in 2003 in his annual letter to shareholders as " financial weapons of mass destruction," my image of its originator was definitely not pink.
So sure was I that the culprits were testosterone-driven venture capital types that before I had the facts I had already begun my mental argument of why a woman would never have come up with a scheme that could bring global markets to their knees.
So much for fact-less based arguments. I have been working under the false belief that women have different values then men in corporate America. Not so, according to a 2003 article written by Arianna Huffington- Would Things Be Any Different If Women Ran Corporate America?
So if we get more Zoe Cruzes and Blythe Masters, what would be different? Nothing. Because - let's say it together - women are people, too. And people, as a whole, tend to have character strengths and weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is greed. (Yes, women are greedy, too.) Another is a desire to have power. (Yes, women like being powerful, too.) A third is a desire to fit in with our peers, and when political or corporate culture encourages poor decisions, it is likely to bring down men and women. Further, the people who do opt into these fields are likely to fit a set of character traits that enable bad behavior. Men who don't fit in with the culture are probably as likely as women to make different decisions.
As for that Angel in the Home protecting morality thing? As AV Flox at life in the time of web 2.0 reported, a survey of 30,000 stay-at-home-moms found that one-third (33.3%) cheated on their husbands.
Nope, I'm going to have to say that the Victorians got it wrong, and the neo-Victorians still have it wrong: when it comes to morality, women and men are on the same slippery footing.