Op-Ed: Why Men Refuse To Give Up The Power Gauntlet

In a post- MeToo world, you would think by now sweeping changes would have been made to address the gender imbalance of power. But the reality is the needle hasn’t moved much at all.

The world is still being overwhelmingly run by men. In fact just three of them: Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
All are quite similar in some respects; they have all empowered themselves to stay in office for an unconstitutional amount of time, all are committed to rebuilding their defence and heightening their nuclear ambitions and all three possess an almost all-male cabinet.

If we look to the other side of the coin, we continue to see massive imbalances in seats of power. There are currently 20 women holding office as head of state or head of government, which represents 6.3% of the total of 315 world leaders and in fact, only 22% of all national parliamentarians are female.

The fact that women make up almost 50% of the global population displays a shocking underrepresentation of power.
We desperately need to balance out this power structure, especially when women show higher signs of empathy, collaborativeness, nurturing behaviour and creativity. Why wouldn’t we?

“There are currently 20 women holding office as head of state or head of government, which represents 6.3% of the total of 315 world leaders.”


Men’s addiction to power could best be explained by science. It all starts with testosterone, we all have it, but for men, levels are much higher and play a vital role in shaping this problem.

Studies show that for some, power is as addictive as cocaine and when tasted, it increases the already higher levels of testosterone, even making permanent neurological changes. Not to mention it also increases their vulnerability to corruption and their drive for risk-taking.

Putin, Trump and Jinping are all clearly alpha males that have tasted some of this. They have strongly asserted themselves as leaders at a precarious time in the world, exploiting a certain type of nationalism aimed at protecting and expanding their power bases. Their actions are clearly written within a masculine framework. One built on protecting their power, not conceding it.

Men obviously enjoy gathering in circles of power, as well-known primatologist Frans de Waal points out, “the human male is a hierarchical animal, whether we like it or not. Wherever men get together — in the military, the church, secret societies — they quickly arrange themselves vertically. I would even go further: without such an arrangement, men are miserable”.

We need to give women the same opportunity. They have only been running for office since the 20th century. So we’ve never had an appropriate sample size to reflect on. In fact, it was only in 1980 that the world witnessed the first democratically directly elected female president to power, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland.

There is a caveat, perhaps the most influential woman in the world, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, yet she has become a token for her gender.

She consciously doesn’t champion women’s rights, nor should she have to. In fact, she’s been called gender transcendent. But Angela Merkel, interestingly known as Mutti (mother) by her nation, gives us hope. She should only inspire and motivate other women to run for power without the weight of their gender.

There is clearly something not working in the mechanics of power in office. There must be reasons why women are not attracted to the highest seat in the land.

“We need to change that narrative for women early on so that they feel more confident to lead and inspire nations.”


The School of Public Affairs conducted a study in 2013 and found several contributing factors that lead women not to run for office, some of them were as follows:

-Boys are more likely than girls to have been socialized by their parents to think about a career in politics.
– Young women tend to be exposed “to less political information and discussion” than are young men.
-Young women generally get less encouragement to run for office than young men do.
– And young women consequently are less likely to think they will be qualified to run for office, “even in the not-so-near future”.

We need to change that narrative for women early on so that they feel more confident to lead and inspire nations. As the famed historian Mary Beard writes in her book Women and Power, “From Medusa and Athena to Theresa May and Hillary Clinton we all need to consider our cultural assumptions about women’s relationship with power.”

Perhaps we should just have a moratorium on men running for power for ten years just to balance the inequality out? Or have the very outdated constitutions altered to reflect modern changes in our society?

But for some, change can’t come fast enough. In America numbers show that the tide might be changing. Currently they have the highest amount of women running for office in its history with 527 women running for U.S. House and Senate seats as of the end of April. That’s a 67% jump from 2016.

We’ve also seen more female leaders elected to seats of power in the 21st Century than the entire 20th century combined.

So whilst there remain glimmers of hope, there are huge amounts of work to be done in order to encourage more women to lead our fragile world. Let’s just hope it’s not too late.

Written by Ari Stein, founding editor of 52 Insights