Was there ever a more ridiculous topic for a debate than “that society would flourish under female rule”? For those of us gathered at the IQ2 debate in Sydney last night, it might as well have been rule by cats, or Luke Skywalker. Earth will be a smouldering lump of carbon before women get to rule anything — so why are we even thinking about it? Luckily the (all-female) debating teams got that and played the subject mainly for laughs.

On the affirmative side, feminist icon Eva Cox said that women had been reasonable for far too long, and were sick of being reasonable. The world was being ruined by “a particular form of masculinity that has given me the shits,” she said, adding that she remembered when governments talked about “society”.

“But neo-liberalism came along in the late ’70s and it said that the problem was government and if necessary, you got rid of government and you had this self-correcting thing called the market that was going to fix everything.

“We need to stop talking about living in an economy and start talking about living in a society. Economics is how to pay the bills, not what the bills are.”

Cox, a respected sociologist and activist, concluded by saying that men had been ruling the planet for thousands of years and basically “they have fucked it up, so now it’s our turn”. Thunderous applause.

For the negative, social commentator Jane Caro started well, announcing she was there to lower the tone. Echoing Betty Friedan, she said that true equality would not be achieved until there were as many mediocre women in power as mediocre men. She also said that women were held to impossibly high standards that were never applied to blokes.

“It is sexist to expect women to be better than men. But they have the right to be just as bad as the men.”

Gesturing at Cox, Caro said that although Cox was always on at her to “do something!”, all she really wanted to do was drink too much red wine and watch old episodes of Law and Order.

“Here, we slackers on the Left want to be as useless, lazy, rude, flatulent and vulgar as any bloke.”

Many people had an unconscious bias in which they thought that men automatically had merit, while women had to prove their worth, she said.

“So there must be a lot of merit in white private school-educated middle-class men,” she proclaimed, to sustained laughter.

Best speaker, of course, was Crikey’s own Helen Razer, whose philosophical credentials and sharply logical brain make her an Antipodean Kant.

Speaking for the negative, Razer went back to philosophical principles to reject the biological imperative of gender.

“The impulse to reduce human behaviour of all kinds, including gendered behaviour, down to biology is so strong, I’m tempted to say it’s biological. But it can’t be. We are, by nature, social.  And so, if you’re going to say that a lady would be a better leader than a man because of her biological sex, you are, clearly, an idiot.”

Ruling the world was not like running a household, she said.

“The world is bigger than us. We might have made it that way, but it has long since ceased to have any resemblance to us. And the world as it has been made, beyond our control, cannot be managed by our private qualities. Saying that we can manage the vast world with the same qualities we would use in a household, for example, is a bit like saying that a household budget gives us a good guide to managing a national budget. Which it doesn’t.”

And anyway, inequality between the sexes was not the world’s most pressing problem, she said.

“Anyone who wants to imagine a world that flourishes needs to think far beyond equality of the sexes. Equality of the sexes means nothing or even less if it fails to address the inequality that is the alpha and omega of our politely brutal West. Give all the sheilas prominent positions … Will violence end or will it just take a new form?

“My dirty money’s on the latter. Because no human produced by this inhuman world, male or female, has half a chance of ending [inequality]. Unless they stop dreaming meekly of some Disneyfied equality and start fantasising boldly about true liberation.” Finally, instead of board quotas, someone was actually calling for a revolution — hooray!

We then retreated to the bar while the audience voted for who had won the debate. And it was the negative — the world would not flourish under female rule! The arguments carried on in the Angel Place green room, fuelled by almost undrinkable red wine. If this woman ruled the world, there would be better-quality alcohol at debates.

Peter Fray

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