Where have all the men gone?

Posted: জানুয়ারি 23, 2009 in Uncategorized

MAX Fashions, a New Zealand based fashion company, with 38 retail outlets throughout the country, put up a three-story high billboard in which it called New Zealand a women’s republic. What prompted that aphorism has a context of its own. The sitting heads of three branches of New Zeland government were all women: the prime minister, the speaker of the house and the chief justice.

In this country, we have got five women sitting in five key positions. Our prime minister, opposition leader, foreign minister, home minister and agriculture minister are all women. For the first time in history, the highest number of women sits in the highest echelons of this republic. A couple of notches ahead of New Zealand, we have all the more reason to call ours a women’s republic.

Trust me, I cast aside the gender filter before I embarked on writing this piece. I don’t mind who wears the pants in the house or government. I don’t care if faces calling the shots in this country wear makeup or moustache on them. Yet, while women are climbing up the ladder once dominated by men, it’s only natural to ask what is happening to men. Are they politically shrinking?

No, I don’t have any bias for men. But I sure am curious as to where all the men have gone. For the fourth time in a row, a woman has been elected prime minister in this country. What does it mean? Is power slipping from men? Are women replacing them as heavyweights in politics?

Men and women have their obvious differences. Men vary from women in curves and contours. They differ in hair and voice. But deep-down inside they have more striking differences. Men can hold more drinks than women because they have more muscle than fat. Women tend to live at least 5 to 10 years longer because they are less prone to cardiovascular diseases compared to men.

Average man is 12 centimeter taller than average woman. Average woman is 13 kilos lighter than average man. The Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK says men are approximately 3 times more likely to commit suicide then women. The British Journal of Psychology claims men, on average, are five IQ points more intelligent than women.

Few summers ago, Larry Summers, Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, paid through his nose for drawing a similar conclusion. As president of Harvard University, he compared the relatively low number of women in the sciences to the numbers of Catholics in investment banking, whites in the National Basketball Association and Jews in farming. The bottom line of what he said was that women had low intrinsic aptitude. In layman’s terms, he meant to say that women were dumber than men.

Summers was to quickly retract his statement under criticism. In fact, there is no conclusive evidence that women are intellectually inferior to men. Rather, history is rife with examples when women ruled countries as empresses and dowager empresses. There was a period of Chinese history when even the eunuchs controlled palace politics.

Perhaps gender doesn’t matter in politics. Still, why are women coming up while men are going down? In Rwanda, it was the outcome of genocide. When the Tutsis and the Hutus stopped killing each other, twice as many women were left as men. Naturally, women had increased participation in government. More cabinet posts went to them. They also headed the supreme court, the police and most of the prisons.

Debora Spar, a former Harvard professor, recently made a compelling argument. She claims that women could have averted the financial debacle unfolding in the USA. Women are less aggressive than men when it comes to handling risk. All the perpetrators of the greatest economic mess in the last eight decades are men, she says.

More importantly, she claims that women are more inclined to blow the whistle within an organisation. A woman was the first to call for greater disclosure and new rules to govern the exploding world of financial derivatives. It was a female executive who warned the Enron CEO that the company was heading for financial trouble. A female FBI agent had prodded her superiors to investigate the men long before they unleashed the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Any clue where men are heading? In Rwanda they perished in death. In this country, their own excesses have ruined them. If politics is about force of an idea turning into power of an ideal, it requires character and resolve. More men are failing to show that they are on their mettle.

The law of buoyancy discovered by Archimedes explains it. The force of women is equal to the moral weight of men displaced by them. It may not tell how much women have gained. But men have certainly lost their substance.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is a columnist for The Daily Star.




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