I think the way political power is handed out these days almost guarantees that you’ll get the wrong sort of person for the job. Guiding a society is an onerous responsibility, it has nothing to do with personal ‘achievement’, you need to be old enough to have got that out of your system. The person or people offered the job need to be chosen by a broad church of people who know the candidates well, and who themselves know what it takes to govern a country. It is a specialist job like any other; you wouldn’t appoint a brain surgeon through a popular vote. What we have is practically the worst system imaginable, where leaders are chosen from an undignified scramble of candidates who desperately want the job, and who are chosen largely by people (you and I) who know very little of what it takes to govern a country, and with very little knowledge of the candidates. This is what we call Democracy, on which the west prides itself so much, and which much of the rest of the world scorns – in many ways, rightly.
But if you do want to take part in this undignified scramble, and you are female, here is some advice by Frans de Waal in New Scientist magazine, entitled ‘Midnight Tips for the Clinton Camp’. The author has spent many years observing chimpanzees, and after telling us about their hierarchies, she continues:
'Here are three lessons for alpha females in human politics. First, age helps a female more than a male. Since physical strength and stamina are largely irrelevant in the female, becoming older, experienced and better connected offers an advantage. I have never seen a middle-aged female at the top of a hierarchy if older females were present. In human politics, too, a typical alpha female is post-reproductive, such as Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel.
‘Second, since males respect power more than age or personality, the alpha female must head a large coalition to handle them effectively. Tight control of her political party might provide this in human politics, but it is unlikely any female could have a stable top role without support from her sex. This can only be secured by being sexually non-threatening and championing female causes.
And third, an alpha female needs to rise above the parties. Older female primates often head large families, and have a natural tendency to be loyal and committed to their kin. The effective alpha female needs to be able to reach beyond her inner circle, build bridges, groom rivals, all of which comes harder to females than males, because males lead more opportunistic political lives and therefore have shorter memories for perceived slights. So impartiality may be the greatest challenge for any female politician.
That the rules of the game are different for both sexes seems ‘unfair’, but is simply how evolution works. Male reproductive success depends on access to females, and one way to achieve this is to hold power over other males. A connection between sex and power is well-known in human politics. For females, things don’t work the same for the simple reason that increased access to mates doesn’t help them reproduce one bit. Instead of serving reproduction via sex, female power serves reproduction via access to resources.
This is important, too, which is why an interest in power is not limited to male primates. Yet the reasons are not the same, and the interplay with sex is so different that advising Clinton to act more ‘feminine’ is misguided. When Clinton shed one tear during an interview, everyone was moved and the media said that finally we saw the real person behind the candidate. But when she went on to shed more tears during a second interview, the headline read: “Again?”, while her opponents countered that Barack Obama “doesn’t go on television and have crying fits.”
Another miscalculation, this time in her favour, came when sexist hecklers in New Hampshire shouted at Clinton: “Iron my shirt! Iron my shirt!” which galvanised the female vote in her favour. Of the three lessons, then, my money says any alpha female’s ticket to success is solidarity with her own gender.