Feminism, Chauvinism, Socialism, Capitalism, Consumerism – What “ism” is yours?

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As the New Year began, I’ve been thinking and reflecting on the social events of the Festive Season, and the familial relationships, and economics and that gender thing.

Perhaps I should say at the outset, this might be a rather contentious post amongst a certain readership.

To begin at the beginning, I should say at the outset, I’m heterosexual, male and of a certain age, so perhaps my viewpoint might be coloured by my life experiences, and the length of time, I’ve been studying the opposite sex. My study of Politics, Economics, Finance, Law, and philosophy were left until I was already an adult, and already had almost ten years in management.

It was refreshing to learn as I did though, that the management science I was learning, somewhat supported my managerial style, which was as Ian Macgregor might have put it based on “Theory Y”, with a smattering of Frederick Hertzberg thrown in for good measure. Abraham Maslow made perfect sense, as did Peter Drucker, and even a poor working class schmuck like me, could understand that it made sense for me to treat people how I would like to be treated.

But I digress…

I first became aware of the differences between the sexes, as an eight year old, when out in the school playground, sitting, reclining against the school building after a particularly taxing play-time, I was doing my favourite thing – people watching. A five year old Valerie Bates, sat down besides me, and looking up, declared –

“I’m going to marry you, when I grow up.”

To an eight year old this came as something of a shock. But sadly, my heart was already spoken for… In reality, I was torn between the fragrant Cheryl Lyons, or the curvaceous Janet Gardner.

Cheryl, on occasion, wore ringlets in her hair, and had a cute smile, though Janet had beautiful blue eyes, a wiggle, and a pony tail. I loved the way it swished like a horse’s tail when she walked. Of course, there were other things about her I liked, but no-one ever learned of my love. Well, not until very much later. (Sorry Cheryl/Janet, my secret is out)

My next brush with the gender divide, came at 11, when my next-door neighbour – Elaine also aged 11, asked me bluntly – “Is your mum a lesbian?”.

I blushed, and angrily answered that she wasn’t. In fact at the time, I really didn’t know if she was, or even what “a lesbian” really was… I discovered about a year later, that in fact my mother had been having an on-off relationship with a woman, she had apparently met in the maternity ward, as my sister was born just three days after her daughter, and they lived just two doors away from each other, at the time.

Our two families grew up together, sharing holidays and week-ends away. We kids played in sand-pits on summer beaches, my mother’s lover, had three other children – two boys – one who was exactly one year younger than I (sharing the same birthdate) and the other a little over a year older. All this time, their relationship grew.

We boys spent almost every waking moment in each other’s company, playing football in the streets, days out fishing, biking, climbing trees in local woods, and scrumping in local orchards, while being chased by pigs. Life was a semi-rural idyll.

For a time, when the local coal-mine closed, her family lived with us, as they had to give up their national coal-board owned property, and spent six months sharing our three-bedroomed council home, though what the council (if they knew?) or neighbours made of four adults, and six children sharing a three-bedroomed terraced property, I can only guess.

While growing up, I worked on local farms, picked peas, and beans, spent a summer on a potato-digger, as this modern technological marvel turned over rows, and delivered potatoes, after we picked away the mud and stones, into a trailer being towed alongside. As a teenager, I worked in a nearby manufacturing town, and for six months in a farm vegetable preparation shed, which was staffed largely by Italians. These handsome men and women, with swarthy complexions, ate raw onions like we eat apples.

The men and women chatted in their native tongue, and kept themselves to themselves. I was content to earn enough to live on, and naiive enough to know no better. Ten years in retail, reaching Store Manager, until 61 of the 65 local stores were closed, whizzed through in the blink of an eye, and what lay beyond this small corner of England’s green and pleasant land, I neither knew about, nor was interested in.

That was all to change though, as unemployment rose to 20% locally, as the South Lancashire coal-fields were closed, and the industries in Glass, and Chemicals that relied on them went the way of the Dodo. Jobs were impossible to find, for all but the most highly and appropriately educated. Glass, the industry that had supported coal, from Lancashire, Sand from Formby, Chemicals from nearby Widnes, and wire manufacturing using copper, and the local coal to fire the smelters all disappeared over a 15yr period.

Work, for a man, earning enough to support a family, in this rapidly evolving economy was difficult to almost impossible, and a period spent trying to build a business with a friend, made me realise that without capital, a network of business friends and acquaintances, plus a stable economy on which to put firm foundations, this was all but impossible.

After gaining an education, and venturing into local politics, becoming a local councillor, and chairman of the local party, I began looking further afield than the five mile radius, that had hitherto been my working world.

But until I figured out where I wanted to go in life, returning to education meant filling in time while looking for a goal, and a pathway to fulfillment. Some analysis by professionals, finally gave me a clue as to which direction, and how far I could go. My Sagittarian nature apparently equipping me to teach, and a Certificate in Education, would give me the professional status I yearned for and felt I deserved, given my experience.

A year in an F.E. college near Watford, left me poorer but wiser as house prices in the South-East rocketed, and even throughout the country prices began their ascent. Here in the North West, prices had remained in the doldrums, and yet, in the south-east, house prices, fuelled by the de-regulation of the Banking industry and the now spiralling salaries in financial services, bid up all manner of goods in the area.

This was to be repeated 30years later, as loose money policies, and high banking profits, with even higher salaries and bonuses, bid up property prices once more in the great metropolis of London and its environs.

In the meantime, I’d had 5 more years as a Lecturer, 8 years as an IT professional, and 6 years in sales, both my parents had died, I’d married, had a daughter and divorced. And my study of the opposite sex had begun in earnest.

Joe Durden-Smith, and Diane de Simone with “Sex and the Brain”, became my starting point. Dr John Gray, and the Venus and Mars books – four of them. Followed by “Why Men Don’t Iron”, by a husband and wife team – then the rest of the Dr. Gray output – another four. “Some girls do.” by Margaret Leroy, and Softpower, by Maria Arapakis, “Sperm Wars” by Robin Baker of the University of Manchester, who with a fellow academic, studied bedroom antics, fidelity, and behaviour. I even read Sex and the Brain 3 more times, just to find areas I disagreed with, or supported. But I was stunned by the revelations.

All these books gave me an insight into male and female psyches.

I watched too. Observing those men and women in my life, and those whose life coincided with mine. And slowly the idealism of youth, gave way to the reality of the world around me.

So, what does this have to do with Economics, Politics or Finance?

As I thought about our two main strands of economic and political thinking, and what evolutionary biologists had informed us about our roles within primitive African tribes a thought occurred to me… Is our political or economic stance coloured by our hormones and our chromosomes?

Are Men essentially Capitalist, while women essentially Socialist?

Ever since Men went hunting, throwing a spear, shooting an arrow, and following herds on the plains of Africa, MEN, have had to compete for the attentions of women. Men, to get the best genes for potential children, (in the absence of rape) have to prove themselves adept at being a provider. Men, the more visual-spatial of the sexes choose their potential partner – at least initially – on looks. Rather like we choose the most luscious apple, pear or banana to eat, foregoing those over-ripe, under-ripe or just old and wrinkled ones.

Those men who show their competetive wiles to win greater economic resources, are generally given greater attentiveness by females and the selected for reproduction, becomes the selector. One only has to witness the attention given by teenage girls to boy-band members to gain some understanding of what is driving this adulation.

Tales of rock groupies from the sixties and seventies are the stuff of legend. Why do young women essentially throw themselves at these boy stars? Is the fame, money and talent together with the adulation of others, all that fires this competetive nature? Do many young women, hope to “bag” the attention and hand in marriage of a rock-star? (Gary Numan can perhaps answer that question best) And is that the reason some recent stories of women used, and abused by men in the public eye of yesteryear have hit the headlines; is this, to some degree, born out of the feeling that “they feel they were used” and the resentment has fuelled their anger and need for retribution?

It is a complex dynamic, and as many will recount, boys mature slower than girls. Recent evidence suggests male brains are not fully developed until about age 25, while women’s brains are more fully complete by the age of about 18.

Girls on average are hitting puberty some 5 years earlier than they did 100 years ago. Is this a reflection of our environmental chemistry, or is it more that the body’s biological clock, is driven by food availability, and puberty kicks in when the female has reached a certain size, and has sufficient body-fat resources to withstand the period when pregnant? Our biology remember, evolved at a time when food was scarce or at least hard-won. It would make sense in an evolutionary sense for the body to respond to such cues.

If we are to believe the evolutionary biologists, back in our mythical hunter-gatherer society, women stayed in groups keeping an eye on one another, and each other’s kids, while the men went to find game. Women shared the chores, and the fruits, nuts and berries to be found locally. Each ensuring mutual survival of each others and their own off-spring.

They operated as a collective, while those lone men who were unattached, went off to risk life and limb to find a mate in someone else’s territory. Does this mean that as we can see from the risk behaviour of men, that men are more the natural entrepreneurs, while once the operation is up and running, women are more than up to the task of ensuring the operation continues and runs smoothly? Are madames, Meg Whitman, Marissa Mayer, and Karen Brady examples of this? (That is not to suggest that women can’t or shouldn’t be entrepreneurs, but merely that they don’t in the same numbers).

We see supporting evidence everywhere. In the city, the city boys are known for their risky behaviour, while once women get onto boards, they appear to have a calming influence, and women in the city, seem to manage risk better. A study by Stern NYU suggested in 2004, (albeit on a sample of only 58 Corporations) that share price performance post appointment of a female CEO, lagged that of her male predecessor.

Is it that women want to share risk, and be more inclusive, while men want to strike out on their own – in the style of their pre-historic counterparts? Are we so different from the animals that evolved some 10,000 years ago, prior to agriculture, farming, and the earliest forms of money?

So, if Men ARE Capitalists, and Women – Socialists? In a Democratic world, is this one of the main drivers behind social policies, and the growing desire for governments to solve more and more of life’s problems, as the female population outnumbers that of men and women are perhaps more motivated by personality, than policy.

Men are the weaker sex, at least in terms of health, and their reckless behaviour, which means that while at birth, boys outnumber girls by 105 to 100, (at least amongst average Joes – but that’s another story) by age 20, the numbers are even. And the tables are turned by middle-age.

In a world where wars are fought, the number of available men shrinks – at least historically – because men historically went to war, but with women – at least in the west – increasingly fighting on the front line, will this have an affect on social policy as politicians react to shifted priorities?

And as for the reason that fewer women make it to the top, a recent Linked-In topic may have some of the answer. It appears that we humans gain our composure, and confidence as young teenagers, and those that are taller (which statistically are men) do better then those who are shorter.

It appears that as potential voters we also vote more frequently for the taller candidate.

That’s not the only reason, but we may come back to this topic in a future post.

In the never ending battle to understand we humans, have I given you food for thought?

W.

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