Yesterday I told you about how being the only woman out of a group of six car drivers made me feel as if I had something to prove. Today I’m going to tell you about the other slightly odd thing which happened, which seemed to demonstrate (at least in this circumstance) that men and women are brought up to see the world differently.
In any group of friends, there are power dynamics. In this particular group of friends, there is an alpha male. He’s the biggest, the most sensible, and could drink anyone else under the table. (In case you’re wondering, it’s not my partner.) The men, or at least the men who were present in this conversation, appear to be clear where they fit in the pecking order.
One evening, we’re talking about these group relationships (as you do…) and Alpha Male articulates what he sees as the hierarchy among the women. He suggests that I’m at the top. I think that one of the other women is at the top. It’s probably worth saying that the other woman, on hearing of our disagreement, says that she doesn’t see any hierarchy at all.
There are three reasons why I think my friend the Alpha Male is wrong. Firstly, I don’t think women accept clear lines of power. It’s not that such power dynamics don’t exist, but that women are less willing to see them and so give them less credence. Secondly, hierarchies between women rest less on individual strength of character, and more on friendships, alliances and communication. Thirdly (and partly because of the other two factors), female hierarchies are more complex than male ones, with sideways positions such as dangerous outsider, future matriarch and peace-maker.
I might be the most organised, the most forceful, the most logical, but I’m also the most isolated of the women in this friendship group. We all met at university, but I have stronger friendships with the men in this particular group. And somehow collective power and influence through friendship matters for us in a way that it doesn’t seem to for the men.
It’s quite possible that you think I’m talking nonsense. I probably am. Except that this demonstrates that men and women, in this particular instance, think about power dynamics in different ways. I suspect that this difference comes, not from biological hard-wiring, but from girls being taught to value collective power and friendships, and boys being taught to value individual strength.