By Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail, October 17, 2010
Human nature is malleable. But on the whole, female ambition really is different from male ambition. Women want challenging work, so long as it’s compatible with having close personal relationships. By contrast, a fair number of men are driven to succeed, no matter what. This relentless will to dominate and win is at least as much hormonal as it is cultural. It is fuelled by testosterone, and it also explains why some men are willing to take insane risks. Men are far more likely than women to wind up as either millionaires or roadkill.
Meantime, a million years of evolution have hard-wired women to be risk-averse, for obvious reasons: If they’re not around, their babies will die. Risk aversion is extremely useful for raising children, as well as for making sure the food gets on the table and that society proceeds in an orderly and humane manner. These are not small things. Civilization would survive quite well if something wiped out half the men. If half the women were wiped out, civilization would probably collapse.
There is a group of researchers at Cambridge University in Great Britain who are actually studying testosterone as one of the principal causes of the Wall Street meltdown in 2008. They actually theorize that men upon entering the "arena" have increased levels of testosterone, and as they experience more and more positive results, their levels rise even higher, leading to behaviour that helps to explain their inordinate "greed" and carelessness with respect to the impact they may be having on others.
While Ms Wente's observations seem reasonable in the extreme, for a male observer to have come to such a conclusion might have risked more public disdain than a woman making the same observations.
Taking risks, and wondering if and when the next risk might appear, or attempting to generate it....these are not foreign scenarios for men, while, risk-avoidance is similarly much more common for women. And the "yin-yang" of this tension is at the centre of many of the conversations between the two genders.
Both points of view, including the possibility that hard-wiring accompanies each, are necessary, and neither is "better" or more "responsible" than the other.
We have all had conversations about specific risks: starting a business, running for parliament, taking a sailing voyage around the globe, quitting our jobs and selling our possessions to enable a stint in public service in a third world country...and in many of the conversations, the initiative comes from the male, with the necessary caution and detailed preparation and investigation coming from the female....and this is neither a problem nor a disease.
We are, indeed, hard-wired differently; thank God!
And to attempt to change either the hard-wiring, or the political correctness of either gender is foolhardy.
And, finally, to take the politically correct gloves off enabling a face-to-face conversation between the genders to begin, without either one starting from a position of "denigration" and "disdain" is a most refreshing development.
Thanks to Ms Wente, and to the Globe and Mail for bringing the question of public responsibility for "boys" (of all ages) to the national consciousness.