When women rule

Author takes up Francis Fukuyama's question of whether "feminized" democracies can compete on the global stage.

Published May 26, 2006 1:40PM (EDT)

I don't know how this Los Angeles Times article from last week flew so surreptitiously under our radar. Luckily, it finally caught my attention when LAT readers wrote in this week to sound off. In the article, Rosa Brooks unearths Francis Fukuyama's 1998 article, "Women and the Evolution of World Politics." Fukuyama, a controversial intellectual, argued that in undemocratic states, men will maintain power via aggressive tactics; in Western democracies, he contended, women will increasingly climb to positions of power, having a civilizing effect on their society. (Apparently his argument worked in a discussion of violence between male zoo chimpanzees and this pleasant descriptor: "toes and testicles littering the floor of the cage.")

As Brooks sums up, Fukuyama essentially raised the question: "Will the 'feminized' democracies of the future (call them 'girlie states' in honor of Arnold Schwarzenegger) be any match for states in 'those parts of the world run by young, ambitious, unconstrained men'?" Some don't buy the 'girlie state' paradigm. LAT reader Krystina Barahona wrote, "Not all women are nice. If they make it to high positions in the political system, they have to be fierce. Women can be just as aggressive as men, so I don't think that we'll just be 'girlie states.'" It's a question that isn't exactly new to Broadsheet: Do women lead differently than men? It's an important question to ask, at least philosophically. But more important to this discussion is how women's presence in political or economic spheres affects a society's forward momentum.

Brooks points to two trends: "The first, as Fukuyama suggested, can be seen mainly in the developed West, where women have made great strides toward achieving social, economic and political equality with men." She also points out that "in some historically male sectors, women are outperforming their male peers." The second trend, Brooks says, is found in the developing world: "In some societies, a resurgence of religious extremism is eroding women's gains. And in developing Asian states, where sons have traditionally been valued over daughters, many women are literally being erased from the demographic map." According to Brooks, an overabundance of men means that women will be increasingly pushed into traditional roles, and rates of violence will rise. Ultimately, she says, "disaffected, unattached young males make notoriously good recruiting pools for terrorists and other militant groups."

Her speculation on the future of the developing world might seem almost apocalyptic, but she sees a brighter future for the West. She imagines a future society that -- from this historical perspective -- is certainly hard to envision, one where women rule the roost and men are marginalized. But just as a surplus of men in developing countries spells trouble, so it seems would a surplus of skilled, professional women. As LAT reader Nina Del Rosario wrote, "The world works better when there is a balance of males and females -- yin and yang, not just males." Same would go for the other extreme.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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