Helen Grant MP writes that a gender balance in politics provides for more rounded opinions and better decisions. A fair claim, and one which holds true for more than gender. The best decisions are those crafted by a group diverse in class, occupation, race and belief. The key here is the different experiences of each group.
I’m not a supporter of a strict gender binary, and I don’t believe that men and women are fundamentally different. Of course, it may well be statistically true that women are more likely to have certain qualities, just as the average height for a woman is around 5’4” tall. But if we allow such broad generalisations to colour the way it which we treat individuals, then we’ve lost our way. The differences between individuals are far, far greater than any statistical variations between men and women.
No, what makes men and women act in different ways is experience. Sometimes this is linked to being female – when I spoke to a female Conservative MP last year, she pointed out the difference childbirth made to her. But most of it is the way in which men and women interact in our society. It’s the way in which social expectations and attitudes assign different roles to different people. I don’t think that men are biologically programmed to be combative, or women biologically programmed to try a conciliatory approach (to use one example given by Ms Grant). I think the programming is social. The desire to conform is strong, regardless of whether it’s to the mainstream or to an alternative culture, and people tend to fit into one of a number of gender roles.
This doesn’t mean that I disagree with Ms Grant’s analysis. Far from it – let’s get more people with different experiences into Parliament and into the policy-making process. But at the end of the day, I believe that men and women have different experiences because they take on different roles in society, not because they fundamentally are different.