Men, Women And Politics

What was that book about women being from Venus and men being from Mars? Recent polling data suggests that tongue-in-cheek title may reflect real differences. (And no, I don’t mean “differences” in the “viva la difference!” sense.)

Thomas Edsall’s columns in the New York Times are always heavily indebted to academic research. In a recent one, he considered what research tells us about the political gender gap. Here’s his lede:

In one of the most revealing studies in recent years, a 2016 survey of 137,456 full-time, first-year students at 184 colleges and universities in the United States, the U.C.L.A. Higher Education Research Institute found “the largest-ever gender gap in terms of political leanings: 41.1 percent of women, an all-time high, identified themselves as liberal or far left, compared to 28.9 percent of men.”

While there is a lot of research confirming the existence of that gender gap, a problem with surveys of this sort becomes apparent from Edsall’s description of another poll. This one asked the following  question: “If you had to choose, which do you think is more important, a diverse and inclusive society or protecting free speech rights.”

Male students preferred protecting free speech over an inclusive and diverse society by a decisive 61 to 39. Female students took the opposite position, favoring an inclusive, diverse society over free speech by 64 to 35.

There are all kinds of things wrong with this question, not least the absence of a third option that would allow respondents to indicate they found these values to be equally important. But the biggest problem with using this framing to demonstrate that men and women are politically different is what we know about levels of civic literacy.

I am absolutely confident that few of those surveyed really understand how communications are protected by  the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, and against whom.

And that brings me to a persistent gripe I have about Americans’ love of labeling opinions “left” and “right” based on questions of this sort. Not only have the definitions of liberal and conservative changed rather markedly over the past decades (I have the same basic political philosophy that made people label me “very conservative” in 1980, and now I am routinely identified as liberal/pinko/socialist), but a number of policy preferences don’t neatly fall into a black and white, liberal/conservative framework.

I will concede that–at this time– there is a significant political gender gap, and it seems to be growing. Differences in party identification have been evident since the early 1980s, and as Edsall says, we can now see that “the political engagement of women is having a major impact on the social order.”

When Edsall asked a couple of scholars to be more specific about the nature of that impact, most responded that most women are less violent and warlike than most men.

“We find that the evidence is consistent with the view that the increasing enfranchisement of women, not merely the rise of democracy itself, is the cause of the democratic peace.”

Put another way, “the divergent preferences of the sexes translate into a pacifying effect when women’s influence on national politics grows” and “suffrage plays a direct and important role in generating more peaceful interstate relations by altering the political calculus of democratic leaders.”…

There are broad value differences between men and women. Women score higher on values defined by care, fairness, benevolence, and protecting the welfare of others, reflecting greater empathy and preference for cooperative social relations.

The column highlighted gender differences with respect to the use of force–differences in how the sexes approach conflict and competition, and how, as more women have entered the political realm, the lived experience of those women has contributed to what scholars term “the feminization” of government and politics.

I don’t want to quibble with the scholarship displayed in this column, which is sound, but permit me a  caveat.

As with all studies and polls, these conclusions are  at best snapshots–accurate (assuming that they are) at a particular point in time. As women enter more fully into national life, including political life, we tend to get more like the men with whom we interact.( I’ve run across some pretty belligerent/warlike women…)

And of course, this goes for the men, too, who benefit significantly from interacting with us. (I don’t like the term “feminize”–sounds wimpy. How about “humanize”?)

I don’t think women are necessarily more “liberal.” I think our life experiences may have made at least some of us a bit more human--and I think we’re making you guys a bit more human too.

And unfortunately, there’s probably not much of a gap when it comes to the ability to accurately describe the operation of the Free Speech Clause…


  1. Prof K Said: “Women score higher on values defined by care, fairness, benevolence, and protecting the welfare of others, reflecting greater empathy and preference for cooperative social relations.”
    The Indiana Lawmakers could benefit from contact with these ideas. They are currently in short supply

  2. I agree with your preference of “humanize” over “feminize”. I was already grumpy about the note that women scored higher on values defined by “care, fairness, benevolence, and protecting the welfare of others”. Those are the characteristics I most value, personally. The implication seemed to be that they were “feminine” characteristics, but I prefer to think of them as “human”. I find so-called masculine characteristics, like belligerence and machismo (as examples), to be infuriatingly idiotic. They’re embarrassing, honestly.

    My daughters are 18 and 20 now. I am so glad that they’ve grown up in an inclusive and multicultural community. I’m especially glad that ideas from as recent as the 70s and 80s (for example, that a woman would need a man’s signature to get a credit card, or that a woman would be inappropriate for some jobs, or … a million other bigoted and stupid ways society has worked to fundamentally subjugate women) are essentially completely foreign to them.

    I HATE that crap. Incels, mens’ rights advocates, domestic abusers, and various other idiots can all take a flying leap off the nearest bridge as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Well, what is interesting, or to throw a slightly different perspective into the mix, is when talking about “values” and “gender,” we get tripped up with the use of language or symbols to express their meaning.

    As someone who embraces Eastern philosophy, I understand the duality of male and female energies or masculine/feminine energies. My tattoo includes the symbol of yin/yang representing these two elemental energies. There is no one greater than the other.

    I believe that Christianity which gives much of the West their values, is represented by Adam and Eve – God created both in his image.

    Who then made man superior to female?

    As we all surmise, men made that call. 😉

    What’s fascinating is that when we look at what is happening on the world’s stage, the collision of values is the fundamental problem. There is no room for patriarchal systems on the world’s stage because it is a flawed system at its core. It assumes domination of one gender when there is none.

    Any value system giving more weight to one gender or color is flawed. A rock is composed of the same stuff as a human. 😉

    Let the rocks rule.

  4. “As with all studies and polls, these conclusions are at best snapshots–accurate (assuming that they are) at a particular point in time.”

    IMO we have finally landed in the Twilight Zone; life has become “A dimension not only of sight and sound…but of mind.” Consider our daily lives since the Trump years, the continuing Pandemic and the sudden Climate Changes we are living with; we have had to change our thought processes as well as our daily lives. Inundated daily with poll results and changing statistics while simple shopping trips to the grocery store or hoping to fill prescriptions at pharmacies; we, men and women alike, have had to learn to make on site decisions regarding our actions and our options from major life decisions down to making-do to fill our grocery lists.

    Where is John H’s “inclusive and multicultural community”? Obtaining a credit card on our own for women has the same high interest rate as men, which is only right, but we live with lower pay scales to meet the monthly payments and our health care options are still ruled by old white men. Is being allowed some of our Constitutional rights actually being allowed to be “liberal” in our male dominated lives?

  5. As far as it goes, that 2016 survey of college students does not give a very accurate picture on the political gender divide in the country for that generation. How about such a study of those who did not attend college? Better yet, how about a survey of the generation that had 10 years of adult living after high school? Those critical ten years hammer into place the attitudes and views of every generation and would give a better picture of where our society is heading.

  6. JoAnn, the credit card example was just one of… way too many to list. My point with listing it is that it’s something my daughter would find inconceivable, and it wasn’t that long ago. The reduced rate of pay is another example of the subjugation. There are still many improvements to be made. We just need fewer people fighting against the advances (and these intransigents are mostly men, of course). Again, I don’t view this as a liberal/conservative issue; it’s just human to me. (To be honest, though, I think conservatives are generally significantly more misogynistic.)

    I didn’t mean to suggest my community is perfect. Far from it. However, it is one that is made up of many cultures, where you can find different languages, religions, skin colours, etc. A member is constantly exposed to a large variety of people and ideas. And our school system actively promotes tolerance, especially related to multiculturalism, gender, and sexual preference. Just growing up in a community like this is valuable, and I’m glad it’s benefited my children. How many deeply bigoted people have never even met a person from that “other” group they don’t like?

    JoAnn, I’m sorry if I offended you. Perhaps I came across as patronizing? (Another side effect of my white male privilege?) I didn’t mean to. I’m just passionate about the topic. It really matters to me. I imagine it happens to everyone at some time or other, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been deeply embarrassed, even ashamed, of my gender and its long history of subjugation.

  7. Regarding the people that broke into and vandalized the Capitol on 1/6/21 and the other violent marches, it has been found that most of those violent people who are looking for a fight (yes, mostly men) have served in the military. What does that say about the mindset that is drilled into the young minds of their enlistees? It appears that the military makes no effort to turn that mindset around once they have served their time and return to living a ‘regular’ life. Obviously, many don’t easily fit back in.

  8. There is a real difference between Liberal and leftist, sadly that often gets ignored. It was the quiet persistence of several women that made me question my former republican leanings and when I searched for facts to back those beliefs up I found the liberalism, actually centrism since US liberals are, on a world wide scale, very capitalist and centrist, had the facts and stronger, more humane, arguments. I deeply regret my past support of politicians like Reagan . As to rights? I have understood for a long time rights come with responsibilities and obligations. Sadly too many on our increasingly fascist right wing ( aka the trump wing) don’t care about responsibilities or obligations.

  9. Mr. Justice Frankfurter advised us early on that the only right that is afforded to women in the Constitution is the right to vote. We have needed the Equal Rights Amendment for far too long.

  10. I would think that women’s (on average) bent towards being more inclusive (according to this study) would be explained by the fact that (on average) women have a harder time in life. When you are on the receiving end of something, you tend to be more aware of the problem in others. Since women face more difficulties, they’re more likely to be empathetic to those who face difficulties. Kind of like how warmongering monster Dick Chaney had a much more accepting attitude about gay people than most hard right people. His daughter is gay, therefore he could conceive as gay being okay. Experience is a strong educator and if you’re a straight, white dude – your experience tends to not teach you as many hard lessons about life being unfair and needing repair.

    Of course, the Democratic party and liberals in general sometimes make the mistake of assuming 1 characteristic means more than it does. Remember how Ivanka was going to be a calming influence because she was a woman? Turns out a life of wild privilege made her a scamming monster like her dad. A former co-worker of mine is both black and gay. You’d think that would imply some fairly liberal attitudes. He’s the most wildly conservative, conspiracy theory believing, Alex Jones-esque person I know. It’s a weird world out there.

  11. I didn’t know I was liberal until I took the “political compass” questionnaire (google it). I rank further left than Bernie Sanders. My spouse isn’t as liberal as me so we have some heated discussions sometimes especially about my perceptions vs his. I grew up believing I could do anything I wanted until my older generation mother and same generation men told me no. You can’t do that. Whenever I asked why, I never got a proper answer that didn’t involve “because that’s not the way it is.” (For their view).

    It’s that toxic masculinity that has pervaded our society for generations! Until women are leaders, we can’t prove that the male leaders are really terrible at whatever decisions they make. Men are toxic to humanity and we women need to show them a better, less war-like way to survive together. I don’t think I’ll ever live to see that happen because as you know, I’m a dreamer. 🙂

  12. Speaking of care, fairness, benevolence, etc. etc. and LOVE:


  13. When Rev Barber calls for a ‘moral order’ in his ‘poor people campaign’ he calls to ‘sisters and brothers’.
    I notice that being used more often by others.
    The women shall lead us.

  14. OK… Creating valid survey questions is a highly subjective issue left to the experts and I know I am not one. I think that it is too easy to get deeply flawed survey questions. The example you gave looks so reasonable, but the reasoning for answer one way or another depends strongly on what you know about the definition. of each of the terms and as you point out, these two option often have something in the middle. Often the questions don’t even pretend to be reasonable. I have gotten Republican party fund raising letters disguised as “Surveys”. There are questions like, “Would you support Donald Trump, or candidates that want to kill babies?”. At lunch table conversations with my more conservative co-workers, they have tried to use “surveys” to prove a point and then a little research shows the survey is full of false comparisons that, in real life don’t have either or answers, full of loaded questions to get the answers they want. On top of that, I think there is a tendency to give answers that you think the surveyor is looking for, or that make you look like a better person than you really might be. So, I have a strong distrust of surveys.

    Secondly, in the current political environment, especially on right, I believe that until you get to the point that a legislative body is closer to 50-50 men and women, you are going to see many men push back even more strongly on issues that women might be more sympathetic too, just as a sheer misogynistic reaction as it appears that men may be loosing their grip on power or control.

    I will also agree that if you are in a minority situation, you often start thinking like to people around you. I knew a person that was a career Psych Nurse, and after spending most of their life around crazy people, they seemed like they had more in common with crazy than normal.

    Thirdly, it seems that running for political office at the state or national level might be more about ego rather than a desire to help your fellow Americans and that alone may be why you see so many men running for office.

    Having more women in state and national legislative bodies would make a world of difference, but I am not sure it will happen soon, at least not in the US.

  15. The only people you should trust are those who can not make up their minds. The only truth to accept is one that is ambiguous.

  16. I have a friend who is widowed and has been using internet dating. She is having trouble finding anyone, because she is progressive and the men on these sites are overwhelmingly conservative, many of them Trump supporters. She isn’t interested. I don’t know if this means that most men are conservative, or that conservative men can’t find women who will put up with them lol!

  17. This was a brilliant post.

    We cannot have a diverse and inclusive society without free speech, and we cannot have free speech without a diverse and inclusive society.

    The question revealed a fundamental lack of understanding of how America works. No surprise.

    That actually substantiates Sheila’s assertion about Americans not understanding the First Amendment. Further, it supports the idea that America dehumanizes its citizens, and recognizes the reaction against humanizing them.

  18. BTW, is there a forum where people can further discuss Sheila’s posts?

    And there are several people’s Comments that I’d like to engage on as well.

  19. Fran, it’s near Vancouver, BC. The Greater Vancouver area includes large populations that originated in various Asian and European countries (e.g. Greek, Italian, German, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc., etc.). Canadian primary and secondary schools teach of our multicultural strengths. They teach about gender and sexual preference, and that it’s just another aspect of being human. My children have had school friends whose families originated from the UK, Europe, China, India, the middle east, and other places. Many religions were represented, many kids were born in Canada, some weren’t. There’s no stigma around this in their eyes. My children suggest that as many as 50% of the kids in their high school wouldn’t be classified as simply “straight”. (In my school days, this was generally hidden out of fear. I only learned of various LGBTQ people in the years after high school.) My three kids are currently dating people who descend from China, UK, and Iran, respectively. One of my children prefers the same gender slightly over the opposite. One of my children’s partners is bisexual.

    To illustrate the situation with a real example, in my son’s 7th grade class (years ago), he was one of only three white kids. The class was a great melting pot of humanity. This is highly beneficial to all in limiting many types of bigotry.

    I’m proud of my kids. Above all, they are very decent, empathetic people.

    We definitely have our racists and bigots, but only a small portion of the country really matches up well with the USA right-wing. (Unfortunately, you can see some of them in the recent trucker debacle. I’ve seen videos made by one of the leaders. He explains that the government is out to “depopulate the white race.” He’s disgusting.) Even our rightmost party (called the Progressive Conservatives, by the way) really matches up best with the Hillary Clinton wing of the Democratic party; pragmatically pro-business. That said, it’s a little unsettling, because this party has been moving right and getting more crazy since Trump’s election. They can’t win, though; it’ll just peal off some conservatives for the Liberal party, which is our moderate group, led by Trudeau. (I wish he were stronger, and more leftwing, of course.) I prefer the New Democratic Party, as they are the strongest regarding support for education and unions. Bernie Sanders and AOC would match best against the NDP.

  20. Too bad,

    There really are no ties that bind in this society. It’s decayed to the point that there is nothing but faithless automatons roaming about like zombies for the most part.

    Faithlessness in government, faithlessness in religion, faithlessness in relationships, and, faithlessness in self.

    Humanity is drawn to faithlessness like moths to a flame. Whomever has the loudest voice seems to be the brightest flame. And more often than not, the brightest flame is deadly.

    A human’s conscience can definitely be a guide. But when we are constantly told, your conscience is a vestige of something long past, based on myth, based on something only goat herders believe, because we have become so advanced and self-reliant we recognize an aparent truth by the brightest flame, and run towards self-destruction.

    Shakespeare said; “to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.”(let your conscience guide you)

    Faithlessness Equals; unfaithful, false, disloyal, traitorous, perfidious.

    If an individual can’t be conscientious about their conscience because they are concerned about a loud voice or a bright flame, then they have already lost any allegiance to faithfulness, and incredulousness has taken the place of obvious truths and realities.

  21. I think the statistics cited by Professor Kennedy are on the mark but I also think Dan’s critique of loaded interrogatories bears further expansion. My now deceased wife took a graduate course in “Tests and Measurements” in pursuit of her doctorate and was called in after taking her final by her professor (who wrote the book used in the course) and was told that he was going to break tradition and give her an A+ for the course as he had never had such a performance on his tests, telling her that he knew something about tests and measurements and testing performances on his own tests. As a result she often lectured me on the validity and reliability of true-false, multiple choice, essay and other means of testing tests in her field of education, lectures I never forgot.

    Subjectivity in measuring the validity and reliablity of particular tests of tests is difficult to assess, and even if it weren’t, a measure of the degree of such subjectivity on the claimed result and conclusions drawn therefrom is problematic. Loaded questions, as Dan suggests, are worthless in such connection with their brazen and decidedly unscientific bent designed to attract a political rather than a scientific response.

    So where are we with our small n(s) and other such means of assessing assessments these days? I don’t know, but I presume they are more refined than when she was awarded her doctorate in January, 1970. Can any contributor to this blog elucidate me on what progress we have made since in this narrow niche, if any?

  22. Gerald,

    Man that was well said!

    Truthfully? Well, in my humble opinion, we’ve regressed. Or, some might claim progression as looked at in a mirror effect. In other words, backwards.

    How to become more human? A conscience for one and morals for another. They go hand in hand, one uses the other to form an empathetic and honestly righteous outlay to follow. But, if one’s morals are loaded with turpitude, well, garbage in garbage out.

    The thing that separates us from animals are our conscience and our morals!

  23. A survey based on a sample of only full-time college students?
    Please obtain a copy of the survey itself and make it available,
    with the answers given by gender to each question.

    The presumption, expressed, that women are more human than men
    is (looking for a word to match my sentiments) … … …foolish, uninformed,
    misandrist, sheepish, and conformist to the current brainless woke tropes.

    Men and women co-evolved adaptively to circumstances they lived in.
    Now circumstances have changed more quickly than our genes can cope
    with, with predictable results.

    It’s possible that men’s characteristics are non-optimal for this very precise
    moment in time, but there may soon come a time when violence and the desire to protect one’s family in the trenches of local and worldwide war will save the species.

    How war happens might be a good subject for your next piece. Ukraine might be
    more legible for men than women, but casting blame won’t save anyone.

    Will/would peaceful negotiation solve Ottawa?

  24. As for morality, it’s best elucidated on the basis of reality, John, not fairytales, even myths that have some congruencies with human societal needs. There’s a lot more reality now than there was in ancient MidEastern tribal times. Use it as a guide.
    And after all, the “holy books” are all wildly patriarchal and misogynist, eh?

    We can’t become more human. We’re just human, which means we change and adapt.
    We could become nicer, but … there are wolves among us.
    Who deals with the wolves? The nice guys? The tough women?
    It ain’t simple

  25. Some random thoughts, often agreeing with much that Sheila and other commenters have stated.

    College students – They are the easiest way to gather a large number of people to answer questionnaires. It is a recognized problem.

    Questions – I remember for many decades how it was clear that Americans LOVED capital punishment — until one survey added the option “or life imprisonment without parole” – that changed everything – of course, I usually find fault with the choices I am offered in any survey, but in reality, I would hate to be the one designing them.

    Men are from Mars – read the book and also saw the one-man show “Defending the Caveman” – very funny, but also full of stereotypes – I actually discussed this with Mama Farber, and concluded that I was from a different galaxy – my mother replied “Yes we are, but your father is an Earth man” – I think that may explain my warped view of the world.

    One last thought – never confuse the aggregate with the particular – Women are more compassionate – OK, let’s get Schlafly, Palin, and Coney Barrett
    Men of color more compassionate – thank you Clarence Thomas
    And those conservative old white guys – where would you rank William O Douglas among all of the Justices that have ever served? Way to the left of any women, I would imagine.

    Another thought provoking post – thank you Sheila

  26. There are many issues with the wording of these sorts of surveys, but, that aside, “…values defined by care, fairness, benevolence, and protecting the welfare of others, reflecting greater empathy and preference for cooperative social relations,” are my values, as well.
    It is my belief that these are the sorts of values that permitted Homo sapiens, and our forebearers to survive, and thrive, despite
    the obvious presence of selfish motives.

  27. I’m so sorry to have entered this conversation so late!
    As a transgender woman, non-binary leaning female, who plays with gender in her life, and who grew up as a boy and lived as a man for roughly 42 years, and have now lived as a somewhat androgeneous woman for another 30, I feel like I am in a strong position to comment on masculinitity and femininity. This has also been an area of study for me since my late twenties.

    When Edsall says that women score high on “care, fairness, benevolence, and protecting the welfare of others, reflecting greater empathy and preference for cooperative social relations.” he is listing what are the stereotypical feminine traits. But everyone keeps missing what these traits represent. These are things that encourage a person to be open to what is happening around them. And what does that do for you? You become aware, educated about what is happening in your life and the lives of those around you.

    So now you ask, what good is that? Well lets look to the masculine. Dr. Kennedy doesn’t tell us what Dr, Edsall’s scholars say about men, but you can bet it follows typical male stereotypes of masculinity to include powerful, controlling, managing, directing, forcing, (at this point when I used to do workshops on gender and spirituality, someone woman would say “asshole”). So men are about doing things, making things happen, controlling, some my say creating, but I don’t agree with that and will explain why later.

    What do you need, to be able to act appropriately, to use your power and control in the way most helpful to society? To quote from my statement in the paragraph above, you need to “become aware, educated about what is happening in your life and the lives of those around you”.

    The feminine understands, the masculine acts. Without the feminine the masculine acts without understand or guidance, which makes the masculine actor, yes, an asshole.

    Here’s the cycle that comes out of these ideas. We open to the world without agenda for maximum understanding of what is happening around us. Our mind absorbs the information and recognizes patterns (we usually call it women’s intuition, but men can do it too, but having been taught “not to be feminine” they often have difficulty with it). Those patterns come together to give a strong and flexible understanding, which can then be used by the masuline to guide determining the action that the masculine will take.

    The end take is that the feminine isn’t only what a woman is supposed to do, and the masculine isn’t only what a man is supposed to do.

    The feminine traits are what we should all, man and women, be using to understand what’s going on. And the masculine, which we also should all use, then makes use of what the feminine learned, in order to know how best to act. The feminine connects us to what’s happening, and the masucline makes use of know what’s happening to know how to best act.

    One of my favorite examples of this (especially as many of you are older) is the Donna Reed Show from the late 50s and 60s. In the show some problem came up, typically recognized by Donna. She would talk to her husband Alex, and he would not understand or think it wasn’t really of any concern or blow it off in some other way. But Donna would go around to different people and ask all kinds of questions, gathering information, and when she figure out what the problem was, and how to fix it, she never fixed it. She went to Alex and asked him questions that led him to do what he, the man, who according to our patriarchal masculinity is the one who acts, should do. Donna was the quintessential feminine, opening, connecting, listening, absorbing, processing, and then as “the feminine” she would pass her information and understanding to Alex, “the masculine” for him to act.

    One last thing. I said I would talk about men “creating”. When I transitioned one of the books I read was “The Politics of Women’s Spirituality”, and one of the writers therein said (paraphrased).
    The richest man in the world can buy10,000, a 100,000 acres of apple trees. He can grow and sell apples, make apples sauce, cut down the wood for firewood, or cut it up for lumber. All thoe things he can do with those apple trees are control. Only an apple tree can create an apple, and that is power

  28. It’s really easy to make a point if you only gather the evidence that agrees with you, Anne.
    Only a cherry tree can grow cherries, but anyone can pick tham.
    Donna Reed? How about Richard Dawkins?

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