Paul Smith's Articles for Spotlight Magazine

Are Women Really the Weaker Sex?

Leaving Tahiti on April 4, 1789, the Bounty embarked on the second leg of its Pacific journey with a cargo of a thousand breadfruit saplings aboard. A little more than three weeks later, near the island of Tonga, the crew, led by first mate Fletcher Christian, staged a mutiny against Captain William Bligh, under whom they claimed to have suffered inhuman treatment. Bligh and eighteen loyal sailors were set adrift in a 23-foot open boat. The mutineers sailed south and eventually found a safe haven on remote Pitcairn Island. They were never brought to justice.

The irony of the story is that although the Bounty mutineers escaped capture and almost certain execution by the British authorities, rivalry within the group had the same effect - by the time the colony was discovered in 1808, only one male was left alive -- twelve of the original men had been murdered, one had committed suicide and one had died a natural death. Surprisingly, 10 of the 13 Polynesian women who had accompanied the men survived.

Although men may fight to the death to assert their biological rights, they will also sacrifice themselves to ensure the survival of those who carry their genetic inheritance. In our folk memory of sinking ships -- women and children are always sent first to the lifeboats while the males have to take their chances in the icy waters.

The logic is clear. In the mathematics of evolution, when push comes to shove, men should always take second place to the women who bear their children. According to Steve Jones in his recent bestseller "Y: the Descent of Man" (ISBN 0-349-11389-0), men are almost redundant. The abundance of male sperm compared to the rarity female eggs, make the so-called "stronger sex" a cheap natural resource.

Although this 'inferiority' of men may please some women who feel put down in male dominated organizations, - a hardening of the male-female debate does not help meet the demands of modern life. Today's global socio-economic systems of today bear little relation to the small hunter-gatherer groups of our ancestors, and behaviours that guaranteed our species survival in the jungle, may be totally inappropriate in a modern corporation.

Men and women are not better or worse than each other, they are just different. The fact that there are more males in the upper reaches of management doesn't simply mean that women are not programmed to be leaders (there are enough exceptions to disprove that assumption), it may simply mean that more women than men consider the work-life equation -- they weigh up the time investment, the stress, the personal sacrifice,... and come to the conclusion that the cost of high office is just too expensive.

A recent report (http://main.owad.de/gc/) involving some 5,000 professional women in Germany suggests that many females in business simply prefer to work in support functions or at lower management grades. Floating peacefully in a lifeboat may not be so exciting, but the chances of survival are marginally better than swimming with the sharks.

Paul Smith

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