Men, Women, and the Rules of Competition, 1/31
Heather Heying and Mary Harrington offer thoughts
If—as I argue below—male dominance hierarchies have historically been maintained through overt means, and female dominance hierarchies have historically been maintained through covert means, then dropping us into a social stew together, in which males and females are explicitly pitted against each other in a quest for a single currency, to work together while pretending that we all understand and play by the same rules, is to invite discord at best, disaster at worst.
Some of her essay is consistent with the Warriors and Worriers model of sex differences. But she does not go into as much depth as Joyce Benenson. About Benenson’s work, I wrote,
One of her ideas is that men have a social strategy that works well in war: organize unrelated males, fight other groups overtly according to rules, then reconcile after battle. Women have a social strategy that works well for protecting their individual health and the health of their children: emphasize safety, covertly undermine the status of unrelated females, and exclude rivals rather than reconcile with them.
N.S. Lyons interviews Mary Harrington, who also reads Benenson and draws implications that are similar to my own. In an essay that Lyons points to, Harrington writes,
if female typical social patterns of the kind described by Benenson were indeed exerting a growing influence on public life, then along with a drift away from overt hierarchy we’d expect office politics to take subtler forms: for example — as Benenson suggests — by enforcing equality and weaponising social ostracism.
Later in that essay, Harrington writes,
A list of “2019’s Most Influential Diversity Professionals” published by Hive Learning, offers us 13 men and 63 women. And a principal task of diversity professionals is increasing the job opportunities available for women, and especially of women engaged in diversity work.
In her interview with Lyons, Harrington says,
much of what looks like ideological conflict within institutions can plausibly be read as a conflict for increasingly scarce resources conducted in the female key. Whereas men tend to be more direct in their aggression, women typically compete indirectly via tactics such as hidden hierarchies, mob hostility, or conflict disguised as moral condemnation or concern for the group.
As I read Heying, it occurred to me that men would be accustomed to competing in situations with formal rules, clearly spelled out, while women are accustomed to more covert forms of competition. That would seem to me to make men better suited to building large-scale institutions, with more than the Dunbar Number of participants, because I think of those institutions as requiring formal rules—or is that my masculine preference for overt competition showing?.
Heying is optimistic that men and women can learn to work effectively together in team situations. She uses as an example co-ed teams playing Ultimate Frisbee.
I would counter that this example is one in which everyone agrees to play by formal rules. My guess is that while women may play in a different style, they do not try to subvert the rules of the game.
But in other institutions, including academia, women are contributing to the subversion of the old rules. It used to be that requirements for climbing the status hierarchy were merit-based and constant. Now the game has deteriorated. The rules for what constitute acceptable behavior change at a dizzying pace (just ask an older feminist or gay rights activist about the trans rights movement), and merit has been superseded by social justice.
I think that the change is happening particularly rapidly in the field of economics. It was once a field known for the influence of its politically conservative minority. Now it is on what I call the Road to Sociology, with its agenda set by its extreme progressive minority. As you know, I have been able to document this trend.
I wish that academia, politics, business, and journalism were like my picture of Ultimate Frisbee. Women could play, and many could play quite well (relatively better than they can at games requiring the use of physical force). But they would have to play within traditional rules instead of covertly changing the rules.
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.