More than one of the editors of my recent article, If Women Ruled the World Pt1, suggested that I speak about what role - if any - development plays in women's leadership. According to them, women tyrants are no different from male tyrants. Both operate with a set of values that are egocentric, selfish, and even violent. Because of this, they argue, we need to go beyond the basic man vs. women debate and start to speak about development.
I agree. And so I thought I'd try to start a conversation about it here, drawing on some examples I came across recently:
Emily White's book, Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and The Myth of the Slut,covers a lot of research on teenage girls and the often-terrible ways they treat each other. The details of their lives read like the descriptions of historical women tyrants – betrayal, conniving, lust for power, all that good stuff.
The vision of a tribe of peaceful women who will soothe and straighten out and redeem the world denies the vengeful violence of teenage girls and neutralizes their notorious rage. It is a vision on an angle that counteracts a monster: the monstrous female we do not want to be, the female we might remember being but are shocked by, who has the capacity to track down another girl in a parking lot and overwhelm her with all the gusto of a true predator.
The book is revealing in many ways, but especially when looked at through the lens of human development. Who we were as teenagers (hopefully) isn't who we are today. Most of us have changed and developed in numerous ways. But the selfish drives of our younger selves are very real and shouldn't be taken lightly.
In the Cosmic Consciousness audio series, Ken Wilber speaks about the work of psychologist, feminist, and former Harvard professor, Carol Gilligan. She made the important point that both men and women develop hierarchically through at least three stages of personal growth. Women, she says, develop through stages from selfish (caring about themselves), to caring (for others), to universal care (for everyone). Men develop a bit differently through selfish, then conforming, and then universal rights. Notice the pattern: we grow from being self-centred and caring about mostly ourselves, to caring a broader range of people, to more universal concern for all people. This growth isn’t guaranteed, though, and some of us may never grow beyond stage-one.
So what do teenagers, women leaders, and Carol Gilligan have to do with each other? Wilber argues that we probably confuse a stage-three woman's expression of universal care, with some sort of natural trait possessed by all women. Oops. We forget that some women are selfish and uncaring – expressing the very traits we would associate with a young, developing teenager. We do the same with men. He argues that we should be less concerned with whether a leader is a man or a woman, and more concerned with the values they express as a result of hard-won personal growth and development:
The problem is not that our society has masculine values and not feminine values. The problem is that feminine values at stage-one are just as disastrous as male values at stage one. They're both egocentric selfish horrible modes - horrible ways to treat another human being. So a society that's feminine at stage-one is often just as ugly as society that's masculine at stage-one. What we need is not more feminine values we need more masculine and feminine values at stage-three. With universal compassion, universal rights, universal care stages of development. So we kind of have to get out of that "boy is bad," "girl is good" kind of thinking and orient toward these stages of growth.
As a short disclaimer: I should say I have reservations about a simple linear model of human deveolpment. I imagine things are very subtle and dynamic, and frown on casting people in simple terms of a 'colour' or 'stage'. But the Integral community's lazy, freehand use of these distinctions doesn't mean they don't hold important insights. It means we have to learn more and better understand the nature of development. (Sr. Bonnita takes a crack at it, here)
For now, I think this is an important part of the leadership conversation.