The original blog was first published at Surviving C21 on July 18, 2022
If humanity is to survive the vast and growing threats it faces, women must assume the leadership of government, business, religion, and social institutions around the world. Female leadership is an essential requisite for solving the ten catastrophic risks which now confront the whole of our civilization.
As a rule, women don’t start wars, mine coal or oil, destroy landscapes and forests, pollute air and oceans or poison their children – though they may benefit from those male actions. They tend to think more about the long term than do men and consider the future needs of their children and grandchildren more fully. They tend to seek peaceful and constructive solutions to problems rather than warring over differences in values and beliefs, or over resources.
Since the time our species first differentiated its gender roles over a million years ago, pragmatic male thought has largely driven our remarkable ascent, and our great technological achievements up to the start of the present century. But men are also risk takers – and often ignore or make light of the risks created by the use, misuse, or overuse of these technologies. Furthermore, in the hot, overcrowded, resource-depleted, poisoned world of the present and immediate future, competitive male attitudes are also our potential downfall, especially if they lead to wars and mass destruction.
In a world beset by catastrophic risks such as global ecological collapse, nuclear weapons, climate change, universal chemical poisoning, resource scarcity, food insecurity, overpopulation, pandemic disease, deadly new technologies, and self-delusion, a fresh human perspective is needed – one which accentuates peaceful co-operation, caring, repair, healing, and restoration. One which values food above weapons, health above chemicals, re-use and thrift above wastage, nature above profit, thought for the next generations above immediate self-gratification – and wisdom over mere intelligence or technical skill.
The most striking example of global female leadership is the decision by women everywhere to have far fewer babies. This has brought the birth rate down from 5 babies per woman in the mid-1960s to 2.4 babies in the early 2020s – and it is still falling, in every continent and in almost every country, albeit more slowly. Moreover, many women have taken the decision to control their fertility without seeking male approval. They just did it. It is a responsibility the female of our species has undertaken because she instinctually understands the dangers and costs inherent in uncontrolled family and population growth. Women have, on their own initiative, tackled one of the thorniest and most controversial issues affecting the human future – and with demonstrable success. Unswayed by the selfish arguments of economics, nationalism, religion, paternalism or social pressure, they have voluntarily had fewer children in order that those whom they do bear may live better – or even live at all.
Women are also peacemakers. History offers few, if any, examples of wars of aggression waged by female leaders. Although perfectly capable of responding to military attack, female rulers from Elizabeth I, Maria Theresa, and Catherine the Great to Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, and Margaret Thatcher defended their countries against attack by others or else ended wars that they had inherited from their male antecedents. Typically, they pursued their aims through diplomacy. All of the great wars of recent centuries, on the other hand, were started either by male monarchs, dictators, or by male-dominated governments. As for the famed case of Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, it may be argued that the Romans were not the established government of Britain at the time they raped her and her daughters, provoking her to respond militarily, and she was simply defending her people’s rights and her own honor against an external aggressor. A fine search of history may unearth a few cases of military aggression by women – but almost always in response to oppression by a hostile male power. While women do not lack military skill, unlike generations of truculent men they appear to grasp that confrontation may often be resolved by means other than the mass sacrifice of both soldiers and civilians. In recent wars, in Africa especially, men have played the role of warriors and women that of peacemakers, helping to resolve by mutual agreement the issues that bred the conflict in the first place.
In a world where conflict over declining resources of land, water, food, minerals, timber, fish, and other vital necessities of life is increasingly probable, male leadership is far more likely to result in mass destruction and death than female leadership. Males in most societies are taught from youth to compete for what they want, and if competition doesn’t work, then to fight for it, often to the death. Sporting role models, gang behavior, worship of military virtues and imposed patriarchal values cement the process. This masculine ideal is so firmly imprinted on society and on young males as to make questioning it tantamount to heresy – and most men fear to do so. Indeed, the dawning realization that traditional male values are redundant in a world where humans can eliminate themselves has given rise to anxiety and confusion in many males over the likely loss of their ‘traditional’ roles of warrior and protector.
However, there is nothing compulsory about these traditional roles, which probably arose as a result of the division of labor on gender lines in early hunter-gatherer societies, when young males were forced into the riskier hunting role and women into the gathering/nurturing role, whether it suited them or not. This was reinforced by sexual preferences, in which females preferred to mate with a successful hunter and males with a successful nurturer. These stereotypes have endured centuries after the biological necessity for them has passed away. The preservation of these stone age roles in a 21st Century civilization on the brink of catastrophe is an absurdity. Indeed, they will only hasten it.
Females learn or are taught to achieve their goals by other means, generally peaceful, diplomatic, negotiatory, and cooperative. It follows that female leadership is better suited to the conditions of the C21st than it perhaps was to previous centuries – and male leadership less so. Thus, majority female rule can reduce the chances of civilizational collapse, or even human extinction, by war. This is not to say that women lack aggression or do not at times behave with consummate selfishness, especially toward other women. But if human survival and well-being are to be the yardstick by which this fearsome moment in human history is to be judged, then the female mind is, as a general rule, better equipped than the male to secure it.
It is noteworthy that women already tend to lead international organizations concerned with human health and wellbeing, with peace, with children and their future – whereas men tend to dominate organizations that pollute, manufacture poisons or weapons, plow up landscapes, pillage the oceans and destroy the climate. There are very few female leaders in the $7 trillion fossil fuels/petrochemicals sector, for example, and the male groupthink in that industry plainly values short-term profit above the safety and survival of humanity (including their own). This is classic male risk-taking behavior – discounting massive future dangers for the sake of small short-term gains. It is interesting to speculate how that sector would behave if it were led instead by women.
Petrochemicals kill 12 million people every year and the toll is rising with climate change and the universal spread of poisons. In this case, a male-led industry prizes profit above human life on the largest scale ever to occur in history. But it is by no means unique. Other male-dominated sectors including agriculture, mining, forestry, corporate food and pharmaceuticals, electronics, advertising, armaments, and the military, cause similar havoc among humanity, the natural world, or both. For the sake of human survival, it is time their leadership underwent a radical repositioning in values, ethics, and common sense.
The issue of whether women should lead humanity in the 21st century is thus not a question of gender equality or politics. It is not about ‘feminism’.
It is, quite simply, a foundational rule for human survival at the very time we face a major threat to our existence arising from our own behaviors.
It is now a matter of choosing the kind of leadership which can best get us through the most dangerous era in all of human history.
Female thinking and leadership can protect a habitable planet and save humanity – or at least, some of it. And this means female thinking by enlightened men as well as by women. To influence global society towards more sustainable, healthy, and peaceable solutions to our risks, we need many wise women in positions of power. This is indispensable if we are to escape the fate that male-led competition, aggression, overconsumption, and pollution are building for us.
Julian Cribb AM FRSA FTSE is an Australian science writer and author of Earth Detox: how and why we must clean up the Earth, UCP 2021. He is a founder of the Council for the Human Future.