Wednesday, December 31, 2003

It's A Man's Man's Man's World - so far

In a post last week, I gave an extract from Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows in which he dreams about a world in which the East had developed its own science, and hadn't had to make do with the imposition of the West's. (Is there a word for "nostalgia for a future that will never happen"? That's what I read into Tanizaki.) He wrote, "Suppose for instance that we had developed our own physics and chemistry: would not the techniques and industries based on them have taken a different form, would not our myriads of everyday gadgets, our medicines, the products of our industrial art -- would they not have suited our national temper better than they do?"

A couple of days later I heard James Brown singing the lyrics to "It's A Man's Man's Man's World",
You see man made the car
To take us over the road
Man made the train
To carry the heavy load
Man made the electric light
To take as out of the dark
Man made the boat for the water
Like Noah made the ark
This is a man's man's man's world
I wondered what it might be like for women to live in a world made by men. Would not the things in our world have taken on a different form, more suited to their "gender temper", if they had been the builders?

Susan T. has observed that, based on her experience with various Aikido clubs, that the tendency towards endless multiplication of sects and schools is peculiarly male habit. Women who teach martial art don't seem to be so obsessed with setting themselves apart to perpetuate their particular style. This suggests that organizations built by women will have a different structure from those built by men.

We'll soon see: the growing number of women in the workplace, and those the growing number of them in a position to determine organizational structure, provides a way of testing this hypothesis. If it's true, we'll see new ways to structure companies, and eventually, to structure markets. The tell-tale sign will be a rash of management books about "female organizations".

For now, female gains are mostly in the professions, rather than in corporations. This may at least in part be due to the more horizontal power structures in the legal and medical professions, vs. the more hierarchical (male?) organization of large companies. As female pioneers in the corporate world gain power, they may create structures that will attract more women. Since social effects depend non-linearly on the number of participants, we'll probably see an unexpectedly rapid shift in structures once the process takes hold.

We may well see different kinds of technologies, too. While one could argue (with difficulty) that pure science is not socially constructed, the same is not true of technology. Once products are, as a matter of course, made by women and not just for them, we will see a different aesthetic. The stereotype is that men are obsessed with how things work, and women with what things do. If this is any indication, there will be more attention to function and less on performance parameters once the Female Age dawns.

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