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Sometimes it seems that everywhere I turn, the story line pivots on hormones.
Recently the Boys Scouts denied Ryan Anderson, a gay 17-year-old, the rank of Eagle Scout because "he does not meet scouting's membership standard on sexual orientation."
Back in 1991, the Girl Scouts grappled with the issue of homosexuality and adopted a starkly different policy than that of their male counterparts. "As a private organization, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference." They've never found it necessary to revisit that policy.
And then there's the Catholic Church:
A few months ago, on orders from Pope Benedict, the all-male Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (popularly known as the Holy Inquisition) appointed a male archbishop from Seattle to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The LCWR is an association composed of 80 percent of America's Catholic sisters. What was the nuns' heresy? Focusing too much on promoting social justice and too little on opposing contraception and same-sex marriage. The head of the church's doctrinal office informed the nuns they should regard their receivership as "an invitation to obedience."
And Wall Street:
It does not use scripture to justify excluding and diminishing women, but its organizational ranks eerily echo those of the Vatican. Women comprise only 2.5 percent of U.S. CEOs of finance and insurance companies. Wall Street also treats its heretical women with contempt.
In congressional testimony in 1997, Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, warned that unregulated trading in derivatives could "threaten our regulated markets or, indeed, our economy." She called for greater transparency. Alan Greenspan treated her with "condescension," the New York Times later revealed. Larry Summers "chastise[d] her." When she persisted, Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and the head of the SEC, Arthur Levitt, Jr., called on Congress "to prevent Ms. Born from acting." The next year, she left the commission.
Sheila Bair, the former chairman of the FDIC, met a similar fate. In a recent interview in Fortune magazine about her new book "Bull by the Horns," she was asked if gender was a factor in her marginalization. She replied, "Certainly it was hard for us to get into the meeting sometimes, or even when we got into the meeting it wasn't the real meeting. The real meeting had already been held."
Why do the Boy Scouts fear homosexuals while Girl Scouts are more welcoming? Why does the Vatican assert that same-sex marriage is the most important issue while nuns believe social justice is, and why did Wall Street men risk and lose the economy while Wall Street women counseled moderation? The answer isn't surprising -- hormones.
John M. Coates and Joseph Herbert of the University of Cambridge took samples of testosterone levels of 17 male traders on a typical London trading floor (which had 260 traders, only four of whom were female). They found significantly higher testosterone levels on days when traders made more than their average profit. The authors hypothesized that if raised testosterone were to persist for several weeks there would be an even greater appetite for risk.
Dr. Coates concludes. "It's possible that bubbles are a male phenomenon."
While men are driven by testosterone, women may be driven by oxytocin. Emory University biologist Frans de Waal, in "The Age of Empathy," claims that human altruism grows out of empathy, which in turn is positively affected by oxytocin, a hormone involved in birth and breast-feeding.
A recent study found that men with newborns saw testosterone levels plunge by 43 percent in the morning and 49 percent in the evening during the baby's first month of life."Testosterone is a hormone associated with perceived hallmarks of masculinity such as libido, aggression and musculature," the Los Angeles Times observed. "Those can be useful qualities when competing for a mate, but less so when raising a child -- an endeavor that requires calm, attentiveness and an even temper."
Iceland's three main banks collapsed in October 2008, leaving debts more than 10 times the size of the country's GDP. Men were blamed. Writes John Carlin in the Independent, "Even men blamed men. The ruling party was overwhelmingly male, the bankers were practically all male and the rash, absurdly over-ambitious impulses that led a small nation of fishermen to believe they would all be swimming in champagne for the rest of their lives were clearly, categorically, exclusively male."
So the women stepped in. The male prime minister was replaced by the country's first female and gay PM. Women constitute the majority in her cabinet. The male CEOs of the collapsed banks were kicked out. The banks were renamed and nationalized, and women were installed as the new CEOs.
The Independent sums up the result: "Now the country is back on its feet. Why? Because women took over."
Are the Boy Scouts, the Vatican and Wall Street listening?
David Morris, of Minneapolis, is director of the Public Good Initiative at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance.