Heather Heying and Mary Harrington offer thoughts
Let's assume this theory is the explanation for trends one is determined to reverse. The question is how.
But first consider a strategic problem. Let's say you have to invade an enemy, and its greatest strength is its airspace defense capability. If even a stealthy aircraft merely tries to get close it is sure to get immediately blown out of the sky. Air dominance is such a huge force multiplier that if you are to make any headway at all, you will have to take that capability out.
Looking over your various options, your preferred course of action is to send bombers to blow up the radars. But that's the trouble, you can't use bombers to take out the capability, because that's what that precise enemy capability is best at stopping. You are very reluctant to infiltrate many teams of special forces saboteurs behind enemy lines via ground approach, which is sure to get a lot of them captured or killed, but you don't have any better options and that's the hand you've been dealt. You can't win against an enemy by playing a game at which they have indisputable superiority.
Now, back to the post topic, it seems to me that any attempt to informally influence group norms and social status is ... well, exactly where the enemy is strongest and in which they consistently outclass their rivals and demonstrate indomitable superiority, even 'supremacy'.
One might as well pick a fist-fight with Mike Tyson in his prime.
That suggests that one is better off playing to one's own strengths in terms of imposing hard rules intended to put the lid back on Pandora's box.
I'm skeptical about tying these forms of conflict to gender. The Catholic Church (and other ones) had a good 1,000 years of hidden hostility, subversion and mob hostility and use of conflict under the guise of moral condemnation. It wasn't an especially female institution, and yet these conflicts often played out in ways that are rather explicitly being cast as "female".
This seems like an important point to me, because misidentifying the source seems likely to lead to failures in addressing the problems.
I’m coming late to comment on this post, but just to say I’m uncomfortable with the hypothesis being promoted here. I am typically a big fan of Arnold’s way of thinking, but not in this case. I think men are just as capable of bringing down established institutions through irrationality, scheming, and not playing by the rules. I prefer to see institutional decay as a result of the decline of religion, which in the west had been the primary social structure orienting society toward truth-seeking and pro-social, pro-rules norms. In religion’s place has grown a postmodern “power is the only thing” ethic that doesn’t care about rules and established norms, and Marxism (usually now in the form of critical theory) which is explicitly organized with the goal of tearing down institutions and dividing people. With this new subversive and activist worldview promulgated wholesale in school and university education, I don’t think the gender hypothesis is necessary to explain what is happening.
My wife is a curious hybrid. She chafes at rules. She has the most fun playing a game when she is blatantly violating the rules. She also chafes at rules promulgated by mostly female administrators at her job. On the other hand, she can’t stand the constant backbiting and subversion that some of her female colleagues fling at one another.
Nice post, Arnold. I couple things I would add, though:
1. I think there's an important factor that Heying doesn't really discuss, which is that in female hierarchies there seems to be (for whatever reason) a greater expectation of conformity and emphasis on group cohesion, and thus there is less room for disagreement and argumentation. IE, Dissent can only be aired in certain circumstances, and once the group has chosen a course of action, that's that; no more dissent is acceptable. Criticism of ideas is often mistaken for personal criticism or provoking a personal conflict. I do not know exactly why this is, exactly, but it's a problem in mixed sex groups.
2. As a guy, it is tempting to simply declare the stereotypically male way of doing things as better, given some of the problems you and HH describe with female competition modes. That said, the part about ultimate frisbee rings true to my ears, as it reminded me of some unpleasant memories of hockey teams I played on in my younger days where 3-4 guys decided (usually not incorrectly) that they were far and away our best players and therefore tried to avoid passing the puck to anyone not in that group; often times, it seemed to me, to the team's detriment. In fact, I'm getting irritated now just thinking about it, and this happened 10-15 years ago in intramural/rec leagues where there was precisely nothing at stake.
3. At least in my experience, I think men and women have kind of an innate or implicit recognition that they don't always play by the same rules. For example, when groups of women interact, there are times when it seems as though everyone is talking at once and no one is really listening at all. These same women don't seem to do this to men or in mixed company, as talking over someone is, in male ettiquette, a sign of disrespect, and this for whatever reason just isn't true in female social interaction. This makes me think that one way to smooth out some of this friction would just be to remind people that men and women often have different rules for how they relate to one another, and tailor their response accordingly. This happens all the time in other contexts. For example, in my industry we have widely varying expectations for different people, based on their experience level. Work assigned to a newer associate that I would expect to take, say, 4-6 hours might get a more experienced person reprimanded if they spent that much time on it.
"It used to be that requirements for climbing the status hierarchy were merit-based and constant. Now the game has deteriorated."
When was this?
A cancellable comment: if the best example of fruitful mixed gender institutions that Heying can come up with is Ultimate Frisbee, the co-ed empire is in big trouble. There should be at least one other better example to use for propaganda purposes. Here's a suggestion: if co-ed is to endure as an institution, they should integrate the military as quickly as possible and then declare serial wars against small, weak countries for no other reason than to produce inspiring propaganda. If this results in a big war with an unintegrated major power, the test will be if the co-ed empire wins. Perfunctory integration is not enough, because even the second Gulf War is not considered as an example of the victory of a gender integrated US military.
If that is too warlike, perhaps the next trillion dollar startup should be begun by a female founder with a perfectly representative racial and gender composition from the board on down to every division of the workforce. This should be easier to accomplish with the lax regulation on private securities markets. Just slosh the shares around at an inflated price, but at least then you have a solid proof of concept that is better than ultimate frisbee. Just make a Slack clone, but with a Benneton workforce, backed by tacit agreements to manipulate the share price upwards to make actual company performance irrelevant.
When I was in junior high and newly arrived in the school district, I was an extremely uncomfortable male who longed to know the unwritten rules. Were these unwritten rules paramount because the female students ruled? I doubt it.
As a counterpoint, Donald Trump employs rule shifting and ostracism quite aggressively. I'm cherry picking there, but the broader integration of sub-Dunbar dynamics into super-Dunbar systems could be an alternative or supplemental explanation. Thinking here of points that Arnold and Martin Gurri have made about the illusion of closeness/proximity brought by modern communication technology.