A couple of weeks ago I attended a training program for young women interested in running for political office. As the speaker wandered around the room pointing at graphics showing the abysmal number of female Senators in the United States Congress, someone in the audience made a comment that would bother me for the remainder of the day.
“We all know that if women ruled the world, we wouldn’t have most of our problems.”
Several of the other women in the room eagerly nodded in agreement. This seemed to be the unquestionable feminist opinion of the room.
Immediately I wanted to raise my hand and protest, but I didn’t have the energy to go up against a room young educated self-proclaimed feminists at 9 am on Tuesday. I hadn’t even had my coffee yet.
The question of whether or not women would lead a better world is an inherently misogynistic one. The first time I ever thought about it was while reading Naomi Alderman’s 2016 novel the Power, which describes a world where all women suddenly develop the ability to defend themselves with electric shocks and quickly transform the power dynamics of society around them as a result. Alderman’s conclusion is not to be taken lightly — women would be equally as cruel if given the chance.
Female violence is a popular topic in fiction. Young adult fantasy novels like the Hunger Games, Divergent, and even Harry Potter have already shown that women can be powerful and cruel villains. Even Disney has some incredibly maniacal female villains ranging from Maleficent to Ursula to Cruella Deville (whose name literally sounds like Cruel and Vile).
Perhaps the best recent example in fantasy is Game of Thrones, whose cast of female characters runs from a manipulative power-hungry mother to a queen of the dragons gone wrong. Yet Game of Thrones is so striking because it intimately shows it’s female characters as powerful people; some with skewed moral compasses and others with powerful conviction and understanding of right and wrong. But ultimately, season 8 showed a face-off between two female rulers that ended in completely unnecessary carnage simply because Daenerys felt justified.
Yet many of the opinions I hear about modern feminism still cling to this idea that in a word run by women would be gentler. We would be kinder and more loving; there wouldn’t be as much war. Everyone would be happy and the education system in the United States would become the best in the world overnight. But that’s simply not true (Our current Secretary of Housing is a woman that’s famously bad at her job). The only reason why that’s still a seemingly plausible trope is that we automatically attach this piece of the conversation to traditional gender roles. The kind, loving housewife. The woman who is a homemaker and a lover. Someone who cooks and cleans in the kitchen. But none of these things would be true of a woman that doesn’t have those restraints based on her gender. In fact, a woman without those restraints would just be a person and people are incredibly cruel.
Women are officers in concentration camps, abusive wives and daughters, cruel mothers, bad administrators, unethical medical professionals, and terrifyingly bad heads of state just like men. Like any good feminist would tell you, a woman can do all of the same things that a man can do. And although women typically commit certain crimes at lower rates than men, this is likely a more telling statistic about how much perceived power or ability to commit the crime a woman believes she has rather than whether or not she would commit the act itself given the chance.
A good example is the recent unraveling of Elizabeth Holmes, who famously defrauded powerful men in Silicon Valley using her startup Theranos. Holmes was a master at using her power to her advantage and felt comfortable doing so in a way that many other women are not. All of her fraud aside, she was successful because she believed she had power.
This question of a world ruled by women is also one that automatically reduces the role of the LGBTQIA community and those with non-binary gender identities. Nobody talks about what would happen if transgender or non-binary people ruled the world, and for good reason. Anyone in the LGBTQIA community is fully aware of the misogyny, transphobia, and blatant racism that can exist there. The LGBTQIA community is already patriarchal and still working on creating discussions about inclusion.
Then there is also an equally important conversation to be had about men. The suicide rates for men in the United States is alarmingly high and mass shootings are typically perpetrated by men. These violent acts are often used as proof of the idea that women are naturally more peaceful, when in fact it may actually be the tragic result of the idea. When we say the ideal man is the opposite of women — tough, aggressive, sexually dominate, and emotionally repressed — we’re pushing men into a dangerous place that they cannot escape that pushes them to commit terrible acts to prove themselves.
Both men and women can commit acts of treachery, but it is engrained into us that this unquestionable binary is the only way to think about power and cruelty. We often don’t stop to think about the roles that push people into those places, and while this isn’t an excuse for behavior nor is it a justification for hatred and violence, it is an explanation that should be examined. There should be no discussion of a better world run by women. It should just be a better world.