Why Aren’t There More Women in Politics?

The Nature vs. Nurture False Dichotomy. It requires a kind of religious zealotry or willful blindness to believe that biology is the primary determinant of social behaviors and gender roles in any human society. The endless and banal “nature vs. nurture” debate reflects a deeply false dichotomy. To believe that human behavior is derived from only one or the other of these sources is like saying that our galaxy can be understood only by choosing between astronomy vs. chemistry. In reality, serious scientists must have a solid understanding of both macroscopic and microscopic elements to be able to accurately describe and predict the behavior of objects in our galaxy and the broader universe.

The Socio-Biological Continuum of Human Behavior. As with the material world, the source of any human behavior can be found along a seamless continuum between biology (micro “nature”) and socially constructed behavior (macro “nurture”). However, this continuum is not merely a two-dimensional line from one side to the other; it’s a multidimensional object with virtually infinite structural vertices that represent virtually infinite intersections of biology and sociology in the construction of any human behavior. To believe that any multidimensional object (human behavior, in this case) can be reduced to a single point (e.g., nurture vs. nature) is to misunderstand not only the nature of human behavior but also the nature of the entire universe.

The Biochemical Foundation of Human Behavior. Nevertheless, there are specific biological differences between men and women, which contribute to general trends in their respective behavior patterns. In general, men and women are biologically endowed with different levels of various biochemicals (e.g., hormones and neurotransmitters like testosterone, estrogen, oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, etc.), which directly impact the mood of every human being. This is why women are generally regarded as more emotional than men. However, all human behaviors are affected by general mood patterns, which means that all human behaviors are directly affected by the differential biochemicals in each man and woman’s body at any given moment. Additionally, within each gender group, there is more variation. For example, all men are biologically endowed with incrementally more or less testosterone and oxytocin just like all women are biologically endowed with incrementally more or less testosterone and oxytocin.

The Socio-Biological Basis of Threat and Opportunity Perception. Now we arrive at the socially constructed (“nurture”) component of human behavior: Women can be just as competitive and vicious as men if the circumstances of their environment make them feel threatened or trapped in some significant way. Whether a human is raised in pink or blue pajamas has virtually nothing to do with the fundamental experience of pain and injury that leads to perceived threats and fears in their environment. What all humans perceive as a competitive threat or opportunity is often culturally- and situationally-dependent, but a relatively more competitive predisposition due to a differential biochemical endowment will naturally color the perceptions of men and women to make it seem like there are relatively more threats in their environment.

Incremental Actions Accumulate into Profound Geopolitical Consequences. Whether it’s a woman or a man, if that person has relatively more testosterone and relatively less oxytocin flowing through their blood stream, then that person will have an incrementally more aggressive mood, which will lead to incrementally more aggressive actions and reactions from others in their environment. Just like small deviations in trajectory at the beginning of a journey inevitably result in massive differences in the final destination (This can be a difference of trillions of miles or more in astronomy.), the cumulative effect of slightly more or less aggression at every discrete point within a geopolitical decision making process can lead to profoundly different geopolitical consequences.

Mood Trends Lead to Trends of Aggression. Scaling up from biology to the specific impact of gender in International Relations, now we can begin to understand how general moods can create trends in human behavior. These trends predispose most women to relatively less competitive, non-violent geopolitical actions and most men to relatively more competitive geopolitical actions that are more likely to lead to war. Obviously, “most” does not mean “all” and anybody who conflates “most” with “all” has a political or ideological agenda and should be ignored in any serious discussion about gender in International Relations.

How Do We Explain Examples of Jingoistic Female Politicians? Some people might say, “What about former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—she attacked the Falkland Islands? What about Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Indira Gandhi, Catherine the Great, Golda Meir, Hillary Clinton—aren’t they all examples of female political leaders who aggressively exercised their power to attack other countries?” Yes, these women are examples of highly aggressive humans who excelled in the political sphere because they were highly aggressive humans. Their aggression had virtually nothing to do with their gender because they were all famously (sometimes notoriously) aggressive humans even compared to their male counterparts. Like all humans, all these women had biochemical endowments that drove their moods, which drove their aggressive behavior, which drove their aggressive political decisions, regardless of gender.

There Have Been Many More Peaceful Female Political Leaders. Looking at the historical record of relatively aggressive females who ascended to high political office, we can see that for every example of a war-mongering female political leader there are many more examples of peaceful female political leaders. Just to name a few: Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603), Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt (1503-1482 B.C.), Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire (500-548), Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii (1838-1917), Violeta Chamorro of Nicaragua (1990-1997), Corazon Aquino of the Philippines (1986-1992), Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan (1993-1996), Angela Merkel (current German Chancellor), and over 60 other peaceful female heads of state around the world throughout history.

Systemic Selection Bias Conceals and Distorts the Trends. The rare cases of aggressive female political leaders are examples of systemic “selection bias.” Specifically, any human with an aggressive predisposition will have a much higher probability of ascending to high political office than the typical female with a less aggressive predisposition. This dynamic is magnified in electoral systems governed by a “winner-take-all” process (as opposed to a proportional representation system), which is what exists in the United States. Winner-take-all electoral systems usually reward the most aggressive and cantankerous candidates, which is repulsive behavior to the sensibilities of most men and the vast majority of women. It also transforms the political system into an undignified circus. This is one of the reasons why the U.S. political system is so dysfunctional today.

Why Aren’t There More Women in American Politics? Systemic selection bias is the primary (not only) reason why we don’t see many more women in American politics today. Regardless of gender, you must have an extremely competitive and aggressive predisposition to even consider going into national-level politics. And to excel in national-level politics requires a nearly maniacal, single-minded competitive impulse. That impulse simply does not exist in most humans and it exists far less in women than in men for the reasons described previously. An electoral system that rewarded wisdom and discernment over competitive aggression would yield very different results, including participation from many more smart and educated women.

More Female Political Leadership Would Create More Geopolitical Balance. All human behavior exists along a socio-biological continuum at every level. Understanding this continuum and its impact on human societies will help public policymakers and citizens encourage more female participation in the political system. This would also help to offset the hyper-aggressive, male-dominated, war-mongering foreign policy that exists in the U.S. Government, which is directly responsible for the vast majority of the geopolitical problems that exist in the world today.

Conclusion. There are many more aspects of the “women in politics” subject that are interesting, but I try to keep my articles relatively short. So the main takeaway here is this: Biology does not definitively dictate behavior, but biochemistry does drive the general trends in mood that color human perception, which influences how humans perceive competitive threats and opportunities in their environment. Most females are relatively less aggressive for this reason, which is why they are relatively less likely to become politicians, and even less likely to instigate geopolitical wars, but that doesn’t mean women are incapable of committing acts of violence. The U.S. political system today suffers from many systemic imbalances, one of which is the imbalance of female political leadership. This is unfortunate for us all.

About Ferris Eanfar

Ferris has over 20 years of experience in the field of International Political Economy, including leadership positions within technical, business, financial, media and government intelligence environments. If you want to learn more about Ferris, please visit the About Ferris page.