There has been a lot of talk about the rise of women and the coming era of girl power. Statistics abound about how women are overtaking men in obtaining college undergraduate degrees and working-class jobs. A new generation of books like Lean In and The Orange Line encourage women to embrace challenging careers and feel less guilty about it. Some researchers have gone on to say the rise of women will be the end of men . While we are a long way from that as the majority of the world continues to be dominated (and in some cases, quite brutally controlled) by men, these trends in the west, this resurgence of feminism, is certainly noteworthy.
To me, what is alarming about the current wave, is when it is justified with a feminine superiority complex. There are so many examples of the “girls rule” mentality; data highlighting how women’s “softer, more communicative nature is better suited to leadership” or how men’s “testosterone and competitiveness caused the financial crisis”. Young girls and boys get the message that “girls are morally superior, follow the rules, and can do it all” while boys are “overly physical, disobedient, and unserious.”
What’s wrong with that?
1. It re-entrenches group stereotypes, which can be used against us. The moral problem with “Girls Rule” is the same problem as with any form of sexism: It harnesses a gender stereotype to control and limit an individual’s basic human rights and freedoms. Should we really replace “Girls are nurturing and organized so they should keep house and take care of the babies” with “Girls are great multi-taskers with the ability to manage both work and family so they should do all of the work while the boys play?” Under sexism we can shape social policy, corporate culture, traditions, and laws in a way that serves the dominant sex. We can manipulate data to support our conclusions, too, as we’ve seen throughout history. It may seem innocuous and empowering to say “Girls are better at xxx” but even good stereotypes are bad: This is not equality.
2. It could set boys up for failure. Telling boys they are inept, incapable and responsible for all of the evils of the past while “girls rule” could create a generation of men with the same inferiority complex women and minorities have felt for centuries. This flawed internal belief system could hold them back from achieving success and happiness as they begin to believe in their own imagined failings. (see “Has The Rise of Women Turned Men into Boys”)
It could also influence teachers, college recruiters, and hiring managers to behave differently as well, with long-term consequences. A better way to achieve equality would be to work together with a “rising tide rises all boats” mentality, for men and women to shed stereotypes of the past and begin to treat all people as unique individuals.
3. It invites backlash. The most dangerous threat to women’s equality is the backlash of traditionalism that rears its ugly head whenever visibly-identifiable groups challenge the incumbent power structure. Recent resurges in the debate over women’s reproduction, title IV, and work flexibility programs are examples of attempts to mire us down in a war between the sexes and distract us from the real issues. Many countries around the world have responded to the rise of women with a regression of women’s basic human rights: Iran and Afghanistan are two notable examples. We need to keep everyone focused on the goal of equality, not female superiority, so that our arguments maintain impunity, and our hard-won gains are not compromised. Don’t worry boys, not all girls will “rule”.
At first blush, it may seem like a good idea to fight stereotypes with stereotypes: Turning feminine qualities into lucrative assets seems like good marketing. But there are real problems with a feminine superiority complex that could severely hamper the quest for equality.