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Women-Only Leadership: Would it prevent war?

Posted: Sun, November 11, 2012 | By: Hank Pellissier

“Girl Fight! Girl Fight!” This shrill cry on our primary school playground always stampeded us to the spectacle of young females scratching, kicking, biting, slapping and pulling hair. With luck—we boys hoped—a blouse might get ripped and we’d see a bra.

Girl combat was entertaining, but extremely rare and not dangerous. There were more tears than punches, no blood, and sometimes the skirmish would just halt with weeping girls apologizing to each other. Ick! Girls just aren’t fighters, we’d shrug, as we returned to our violent games.

At my primary school, boys took turns socking each other, hard, just for fun, and every boy knew where he was on the “tough list.” I was #8 on this dominance chart; there were seven lads who knew they could beat me up and I knew it, too—but the rest of the mob I could theoretically handle. The kid who was #9 (Greg) challenged me once in an attempt to move up the ladder; I thrashed him but I broke my hand on his jaw so he slipped ahead of me anyway, until I healed.

Male politics at my school resembled the violent posturing of a chimpanzee troupe, with constant threats, chest-pounding, and actual injuring of underlings. Might made right; brutal assertion was the pre-eminent virtue. Girls, we noted sneeringly, had their own silly rules, their own pecking order, but their squabbles were usually settled by talking.

In high school, physical competition maintained its priority. Football players gained status colliding with cross-town enemies in gladiatorial arenas. Seductively-clad cheerleaders urged on the warriors and delivered sexual favors to the most ruthless tramplers and tacklers.

This is life, we decided, and history proves it. Strong men in invincible armies extend national boundaries and extract tribute from wimps. Male presidents declare war, male generals send male soldiers to kill and conquer weaklings. Torpedoes, bombs, gun muzzles, tank turrets—phallic weaponry seeks the death of all rivals. Civilization is outlined by male-generated violence.

But what if, just what if… that was all changed?

What if empathetic, chatty, risk-adverse girls were suddenly boss of the playground? What if women ruled the governments, all governments, as Prime Ministers, Presidents, MPs, congresswomen, senators, with absolute commander-in-chief authority?

Would war cease? Would violence be abandoned as a dispute settlement tool? Maybe some shrieking and economic purse-hitting but no more killing… just talk? No more suicidal, machismo wipe-you-off-the-face-of-the-earth global annihilation?

Could “women-only” rule (gynocracy) be the salvation of our species?

David Pearce thinks so. The UK transhumanist philosopher—author of “The Hedonistic Imperative”—has devoted his life to ending the suffering of all sentient creatures on the planet. Rather famously, he’s proposed using gene therapy to re-engineer carnivorous animals to be harmless, so that “the lion can lay down with the lamb.”

Pearce’s most recent imaginative, ambitious, and pacifist scheme—sent to me via email on February 9th and casually advertised to his Facebook friends—is to install, in 25 years, in every nation on Earth… only women as political executives and representatives.

In Pearce’s words:

There is one crude and spectacularly effective way to reduce global catastrophic risk. For evolutionary reasons, almost all wars are started and waged by men. Enacting legislation that allowed only women to stand for national public office would probably save hundreds of millions of lives this century—possibly more.

I’d estimate the reduction in global catastrophic risk and existential risk would by its implementation lie at between 50% and 95%—actually closer to the latter percentage figure, but let’s be conservative. Can we imagine an all female executive and legislature authorizing, for example, the design and use of nuclear weapons systems?

Pearce admits his idea will be regarded by many as “absurd” but he insists that, “no proposal with such a spectacular benefit of risk-reduction should be dismissed out of hand.” I agree. The potential results deem it worthy of attention. Let’s examine his plan!

First, let’s scrutinize his initial assumption… is he correct? Would “women-only” global government truly reduce warfare?

I emailed his hypothesis to male and female professionals, to obtain their opinions.

A quick reply came from Dr. Rob Sparrow, bioethicist at Monash University in Australia I thought Sparrow’s feminist credentials—he asserted in 2006 that “maybe we should all be having girls” (due to XX longevity and procreation ability)—would align him with the girl-power plan. I was wrong.

Sparrow’s answer:

...war is a political relationship between states and has nothing to do with the individual psychology of the individuals involved… It’s the political systems (capitalism/state/patriarchy) that drive the actions of those in power rather than the other way around… in order to gain political power, women have to accommodate themselves to the needs of these systems as much as men do…

Huh. But wait! A percentage of this response isn’t logical—one-third, to be precise. Sparrow blames war on capitalism, the state, and the patriarchy, but… if all leaders are women, well, that smashes the patriarchy, doesn’t it?

The next response I got was from Maria Konovaleno, Program Coordinator at the Science for Life Extension Foundation in Moscow, Russia. Naively, I imagined that all women would support Pearce’s notion. Oops! Wrong again!

Here is Konovalenko’s response:

Women make a lot of emotional, spontaneous and irresponsible decisions. In general, of course. I think if women were heads-of-state in all nations on earth, warfare wouldn’t be reduced at all. In fact, it may be even worse.

Hmph! I was surprised to find Pearce’s idea dismissed so readily. Because, frankly, I like it.

I admit that David and I are bigger “manginas” than most men, but still, aren’t the statistics supporting Pearce’s plan unassailable? Men are responsible for 90% of violent crimes; wouldn’t removing them from power guarantee 90% less war? Peace activist groups are also 90% female, and the Top Ten Most Peaceful Nations are strongly correlated with the Top Ten Nations in Women’s Equality.

Why do intelligent observers think Pearce’s computation is mistaken?

Pearce revealed the biological motivation for his plan in a 2009 H+ magazine interview, when he stated:

The genetic source of most human predatory behavior has been identified: the Y chromosome. Competitive alpha male dominance is perhaps the greatest under-lying threat to what we call civilization. Human history to date can attest to the gruesome effects of testosterone-driven male behavior.

Pearce’s portrayal of testosterone as an evil ingredient has been challenged in recent years, but he maintains a deep distrust of the hormone. Recently on Facebook he asked his friends, “Can we reduce global testosterone production to safer levels?” as he referred them to a recent Utrecht and Cambridge study entitled, “Extra testosterone reduces your empathy.” He also describes the monoamine oxidase-A “warrior gene” as “sociopathic”—this allele (that exists in one of three Western men) has been linked with aggression.

Critiquing Pearce further, let’s note that history’s violence isn’t 100% masculine—several XX leaders have used militaristic aggression. Zenobia of Palmyra led her chariots into battles against the Romans. Boudicca of Britain also spear-headed revolts. Joan of Arc was a battlefield heroine. “Bloody” Queen Mary burned 300 Protestants and persecuted the Irish. Catherine the Great waged wars against the Ottoman Empire, Sweden, Lithuania, and the Cossacks. Indira Gandhi ordered the attack and subsequent massacre at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Margaret Thatcher sent sailors to The Falklands and soldiers to Northern Ireland.

This handful of violent femmes isn’t enough to prove anything, though, and recent years have produced a bevy of “peaceful” women leaders. Cory Aquino of The Philippines, nicknamed the “Saint of People Power,” successfully led a bloodless revolution and narrowly missed a Nobel Peace Prize. Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand, condemned the 2003 invasion with the explanation that “women resort to jaw-jaw rather than war-war.” President Tarja Halonen of Finland is a leader in peace talks between Israel and Palestine.

Most amazingly, the ghastly 15-year civil war in Liberia that had 200,000 fatalities was resolved through the peaceful efforts of women. In a courageous grassroots movement, women went to market places carrying entreating peace signs, they publicly cajoled men to end violence, they employed the Lysistradra “no peace, no sex” tactic, they organized into influential groups like the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, and finally, they pressured all the warring factions into sitting at a negotiation table and concluding the conflict. Today, Liberia’s president is the popular Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, listed by Newsweek as one of 2010’s ten best leaders in the world.



Pearce’s utopian proposal isn’t actually new at all—it’s a rehash of the 1998 debate surrounding Francis Fukuyama’s essay, “Women and the Evolution of World Politics,” published in Foreign Affairs.

Fukuyama opens his article with a chronicle of murderous male chimp behavior; extrapolating forward, he contends that a world governed by females would be more peaceful because men are the biologically violent gender. His article was attacked by a female trio: Barbara Ehrenreich, Katha Pollit, and Jane Jaquette. “Fukuyama gives insufficient weight to the dynamics of the nation-state system,” argued Jaquette. “Wars start not in biology… but in realpolitik.”

Bollocks, I say. I think Pearce is spot-on. I’ve listened extensively to scholars writing off violence, aggression, risk-taking, and competitiveness as “socialization” or “cultural” or “behavioral” issues—this strikes me a glorification of the “soft” sciences: psychology, anthropology, sociology. If species-threatening violence is indeed entrenched in our primitive cells, we ought to respond with biological remedies: either the gene therapy that Pearce recommends in his “Hedonistic Imperative” or by installing individuals in power who don’t carry the genetic disposition to cause global harm.

I’m not saying that men shouldn’t be in politics, but perhaps, in the near future, it would be wise to require all candidates for high office to submit a full disclosure of their DNA.

But hey, I’m just one squishy brain with my personal point of view. If you disagree with me, or agree, or have facts relevant to this article’s headlining question, please leave a comment below.


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I support this proposal. As misandric as it may seem, there is no denying the biology behind it.

By Kevin on Nov 16, 2012 at 3:45pm

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