Feminism, recent

Are Contemporary Feminists Too Agreeable?

If you list all of the many thousands of words and phrases that can be used to describe someone’s personality, in English or in any other language, you will find that certain clusters begin to form. A word like ‘calm’ will likely be applied to someone who can also be described as ‘stable’ or ‘measured’ or ‘cool headed.’ So too someone who is ‘withdrawn’ will often also be ‘reserved,’ ‘dour,’ or ‘moody.’ Starting in the 1960s, psychologists began to systematically document these words and phrases and arrange them into a taxonomy. The result was the now famous Big Five personality model, which boils down all these descriptors to just five general traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Each of our personalities can be meaningfully described with reference to these traits and research has demonstrated that they are both relatively stable across a person’s lifetime and hugely influential in determining certain life outcomes.

Of all of the Big Five, agreeableness is perhaps the most complex trait. It is, in a very basic sense, a lot like ‘niceness.’ Highly agreeable people tend to put the needs of others first, see the best in people, and act with sensitivity and tolerance. This makes them pleasant to be around: they’re warm, friendly, and generous spirited. Highly agreeable people tend to value agreeableness in others as well as in themselves.

But there are downsides to being highly agreeable. Because they are inclined to prioritise other people’s desires, agreeable people are often taken advantage of and, because they are conflict averse, they are unlikely to protest when this happens. Highly agreeable people are also more prone to groupthink and so may inadvertently cause harm when they are swept along by the madness of the crowd.

It has long been known that agreeableness is not evenly distributed between the sexes. The bell curve for women is roughly half a standard deviation further towards the ‘agreeable’ end of the spectrum than the bell curve for men. As with any normally distributed trait, these group differences are most apparent at the tails, with extremely agreeable people far more likely to be female, and extremely disagreeable people more likely to be male.

This sex difference could be a result of nature, or nurture, or a combination of both. Jordan Peterson is among those psychologists who have speculated on the evolutionary origins of female agreeableness, suggesting that this trait could have been selected for because infants with agreeable mothers were more likely to survive.

Socialisation is also likely to have some role to play. Socially desirable feminine behaviour is highly agreeable: sweet, caring, slow to anger, empathetic, and self-abnegating. Since agreeableness is such an obviously desirable trait in a wife and mother, it makes sense that girls should have been traditionally encouraged to cultivate this trait, not least by other girls and women.

As far as I’m concerned, the origins of this difference between the sexes don’t especially matter, at least not for my purposes here. The point is that there is a gap—and a substantial one—between men and women in this most crucial of traits. And it affects the feminist movement. After all, this is a movement composed overwhelmingly of women. It is also a movement that has changed dramatically over the last century, not least in its composition. The group of people who describe themselves as feminists is now far larger than ever before and, not coincidentally, the priorities of the movement have shifted as it has become more mainstream.

The feminists of the Second Wave were a small group of committed activists who were also very unusual people. Given the hostile reception they were often met with, they were by necessity women who could tolerate being unpopular. My educated guess would be that, in terms of the Big Five profile, the typical Second Wave feminist was likely to be both substantially higher in the openness trait and substantially less agreeable than the typical non-feminist woman. She would need to be, in order to be attracted to the radicalism of the movement in the first place, and in order to weather the storm of social disapproval. Many of the women who formed the core of the Second Wave made dramatic changes to their lives as part of their activism: leaving their male partners, living with other feminists, and rejecting their old social networks. Although the Second Wave feminist movement emerged from the wider Left, it was frequently in conflict with it. For instance in 1969, at the New Left’s Counter-Inaugural to the Nixon inauguration in Washington, feminists who rose to speak were heckled by male comrades shouting “Take her off stage and fuck her!” and “Fuck her down a dark alley!” This was not a movement that was generally welcomed by the men who dominated progressive politics: you didn’t become a Second Wave feminist because you wanted to be liked.

But, as a result of the success of the movement over the last half century, the social costs of identifying as a feminist have decreased. A large proportion of young Western women now describe themselves as feminists, with some surveys suggesting the figure may be as high as two thirds. Nowadays practically every politically engaged Left-leaning woman, along with a significant number of men, describes themselves as feminists, to the point that the feminist community and the progressive community have become essentially the same group.

One of the effects of this is that the personality profile of feminists has changed. Where once the feminist movement was made up of women willing to be labelled as weirdo outsiders, contemporary feminists now look much more like typical men and women. There is no longer any expectation that becoming a feminist requires you to change your appearance or your day-to-day life, let alone leave your family and head off to live in a women-only commune. For men and women in progressive circles, it is now quite possible to describe oneself as a feminist and be met universally with gracious smiles. There is no demand for personal conflict or sacrifice. In fact, there is no demand to change anything about oneself at all. In other words, there is now no reason why highly agreeable people wouldn’t flock to the feminist movement. If anything, given the personality profiles of people who favour egalitarianism, as well as the agreeableness gap between men and women, the average contemporary feminist is probably more agreeable than the average person and certainly a lot more agreeable than her Second Wave forebears.

This is, I think, the cause of the so-called ‘intersectional turn’: the embrace by feminism of the ideas and priorities of other left-wing activist groups. Advocates of this turn would argue that feminists have simply become more receptive to the concerns of women who are not white, straight, able-bodied, cis, affluent, and otherwise privileged, with a resultant ideological shift within the movement. While feminists in the past ignored the oppression of other identity groups, the argument goes, the Third Wave has finally woken up to that mistake and made efforts to correct it. And from this has come the rise of trans activism, sex positivism, and cultural relativism. Supporters of these shifts argue that they benefit the most marginalised women—trans women, sex workers, and women of colour, particularly Muslims—and have thus enriched the feminist movement as a whole.

But I don’t buy that. Not only does it underplay the role of women of colour and working class women in the Second Wave—although it certainly does that—but it also misrepresents what is happening in the feminist movement right now. We are not seeing a righteous and overdue ascendence of marginalised women within the feminist movement. What we are seeing instead is the feminist movement—still disproportionately led by relatively privileged women, as it always has been—unthinkingly absorbing the priorities of other activist groups without considering the effect this might have on women as a whole.

Take cultural relativism. Third Wave feminists argue that the unearned sense of moral superiority which served to justify European colonialism continues to enable the mistreatment of non-Western groups in the present day. When Western countries try to impose their values on others—whether through misadventures overseas, or through policies that affect immigrant groups at home—they perpetuate this colonial legacy. The solution to this, we are told, is to reject the assumption that our moral judgments are necessarily correct. So, for instance, we mustn’t make the mistake of assuming that Sharia law, the veil, or female genital mutilation are innately harmful practices that ought to be resisted. In fact, they should be viewed as ‘feminist’ in some circumstances.

Why have Third Wave feminists adopted cultural relativism with such gusto? Because it benefits women? Hardly. We know that the parallel Sharia court system that has been allowed to develop in Britain disadvantages women in a host of ways, particularly in cases of domestic abuse. And in countries like Saudi Arabia, where the official legal system is based on Sharia, women are denied even the most basic freedoms. The Iranian women currently risking their lives in the fight against compulsory veiling insist that this form of oppression limits women’s ability to take part in public life. I would say that the mutilation of a girl’s genitals is so obviously abusive that there should be no need to even lay out the argument, but then I suppose I would be accused, in the words of the French Association of Anthropologists, of reproducing the “moralistic arrogance of yesterday’s colonialism.” The feminist ex-Muslim Maryam Namazie perhaps puts it best when she writes:

The situation of women living in Islam-stricken societies and under Islamic laws is the outrage of the 21st century. Burqa-clad and veiled women and girls, beheadings, stoning to death, floggings, child sexual abuse in the name of marriage and sexual apartheid are only the most brutal and visible aspects of women’s rightlessness and third class citizen status in the Middle East.

But the trouble is that Third Wave feminists are afraid of being called racist. Petrified of it, in fact. And this is where the agreeableness gap comes into play. White Third Wave feminists could choose to defy the regressive Left and fight against the abuses of Muslim women by Muslim men, and so risk being ostracised in progressive circles. Or they could choose to ignore those abuses (out of sight, out of mind, after all) and instead parrot the handful of Muslim women who excuse all manner of misogyny with the empty rhetoric of ‘agency’ and ‘empowerment.’ In the current political climate, the latter option is far easier, particularly for highly agreeable people desperate to be seen as nice. Being ‘problematic’ isn’t nice. Expressing uncomfortable truths isn’t nice. Angering other activist groups on the Left by insisting that the interests of women should come first definitely isn’t nice.

It’s not just that contemporary feminists are more agreeable on average. There is also a culture within feminism that forces women to act even more agreeably than they might otherwise. This means that while it is perfectly acceptable as a feminist to ‘punch up’ against cis, white, affluent men, it is unacceptable to make any argument that could be interpreted as ‘punching down’—that is, criticising those who are not at the top of the privilege hierarchy. If a group is disadvantaged in any way, so the thinking goes, then it is the job of Third Wave feminists to soothe, pardon, and support them in any way possible. To mother them, essentially. This might mean men of colour, or trans women, or sex buyers who complain about being stigmatised. It could even mean men who are aroused by violence against women, since they are potentially the victims of ‘kinkshaming.’ Third Wave feminism is endlessly accommodating of the interests of men affiliated with the Left who have any claim to oppression, regardless of the effect it might have on women.

Second Wave feminists didn’t care very much about being nice to those outside of their movement. Antagonism and unpopularity was just the cost of doing business as a fringe political group. But the contemporary feminist community is no longer fringe, and this is why we are seeing the agreeableness gap having such an impact. Being agreeable can be a positive thing, but there are also costs involved. One of these has been the marginalisation of women’s interests within their own political movement.


Louise Perry is a freelance writer and campaigner against sexual violence based in London, UK. She tweets at @louise_m_perry


  1. This article reminds me of Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with his own power, he creates a monster who wreaks destruction on his life.

    This article: ‘Boo hoo, the fraudulent presuppositions and vicious tactics that have been successful for us are being used against us just like we used them against those we dont like. Why is this happening, are we just too nice?’

    The subtext: ‘Please help us re-bottle this genie and confiscate his whip, so we can get back to lacerating you with it.’

  2. The author might be on to something with her agreeableness theory. Another, possibly related characteristic usually over represented in women is masochism. That too might be applicable here, along with its judeo-Christian grandma: guilt.

    Largely, however, it seems that after achieving its goals (more or less, at least in the western world), feminism was left floundering, in search of new purpose, and ended up jumping on the first whacko bandwagon that rolled into town when they would have been better off simply disbanding.

  3. Great piece! Interesting take on personality traits within the movement changing as popularity and acceptance for feminism shifted as well. There’s a sports equivalent (the origins are different, but this is where it’s most used) to this. It’s called “The bandwagon”. Only when a sports franchise is doing well and has a shot at championship play do many “fans” show up with their new jerseys and support the team.

    This article makes a pretty strong case for the idea of bandwagon feminism. When it’s easy, when there’s no investment to join, when it’s popular, THATS when the bandwagon feminists show up, buy giant foam “number one” hands, and chant the slogans. In a sports scenario it’s pretty harmless. In a movement like feminism it’s probably more harmful as understanding of the issues and implications are definitely more important.

    This concept may also tie into the other article posted recently on quillette. (God DAMN that comments thread went off the rails quick!). Where only those who are higher in trait disagreeable are willing to go against the grain of trans activism that the bandwagon feminists let hijack the movement.

  4. Well, it would be refreshing to watch a white female college administrator appear on television one day, and demand that a brown-skinned man who has honor-killed his daughter be put to death.

  5. Are Contemporary Feminists Too Agreeable?

    Nope. First, in almost all instances women that I talk to claim equal rights feminism at most. The few that claimed more radical feminism crumble on even the slightest opposition with facts. As Caitlin on the forum indicates, most women are likely not feminists except for the equal rights kind but are not in favor of discriminatory measures like female quotas.

    The problem on the progressive side is that the success of feminism has been viewed by other groups and eagerly adopted. Claiming victim status is the kryptonite of reasonable men. We just have not found a way yet to defuse the kryptonite because our superpowers: logic, rationality, and facts, turn out totally useless in opposition to a crying victim. This male paralysis has given radical feminists a large number of years to walk through the institutions.

    Notice how the #metoo discussion was almost totally avoided by men after Damore and Strumia showed what happened when the feminist dogmas are questioned with facts and logic. There was not a lot of agreeableness in sight.

    I think that agreeableness, empathy, etc. were ‘designed’ by evolution for the private space where genetic interests are strictly aligned. However, these traits work very bad in the public spaces when wildly different interests need to be adjudicated and cool heads should prevail. Reasonable men have to find a way to start talking back to people claiming victim status or I foresee great troubles for our western societies.

  6. Nothing to do with agreeableness.

    Men would never fight back properly against even the nuttiest emotional drivel coming from all feminism because there is such a strong unwritten societal rule that men protect women (and children), and this rule is enforced by men.

    Trans women have no such crutch. Welcome to the (real) mirror :wink: Now radical feminism can see what it looks like to the (vast majority of people) outside.

  7. Yes, the problem is that Feminists need to be more insufferable! LOL can these people get any more delusional and self-absorbed?

  8. I disagree with the hypothesis. I do agree - well, it’s a fact - that women are statistically more agreeable than men. Indeed, learning that even late in life, has really helped me, as a woman, navigate job and personal relationships far better than before.

    But I don’t think the newest feminine - Whatever-Wave - is aligned to the kookiest elements of Far Left groupthink because they’re agreeable. I think they’re aligned because they’ve lost sight of their cause: They don’t really care about women’s rights anymore. And that’s because women have achieved parity under the law. Is there still sexism? Of course. But compared to the feminist ‘fight’ even in the 1970s, women now have near 100% equality of opportunity except as it pans out biologically (eg, women have to worry about biological clocks and careers; men don’t. Men can’t bear and breastfeed; women can).

    So what is there to fight for? They’ve shifted to the Intersectionality cult. Their entire casus belli has become almost unnecessary, so rather than quit their jobs, quit their research, quit their 'activism," their writing, their plays, their professorships, their talking points–they shift the goalposts. This is so they can stay in power.

    And they are largely upper class to begin with, so they desire power; power is extremely important to them, far more important than mere invisible Brown people getting mutilated, tortured, and killed without having anything to do with them. They cannot bear not being involved in something, either positively or negatively. The Muslim women getting mutilated and killed and threatened don’t interest them in the least because a) they don’t care about women anymore and b) it has nothing to do with them; they are not to blame, and c) it doesn’t align with their new cult, Intersectionality, where Muslims are high up on the victimhood pyramid. In other words, they use “feminism” as a tool to position themselves in power, not to help women.

  9. Now this very much agrees with what I have been seeing.

    It is a fun argument, though. You want women fairly represented, then we need more in garbage collection and in prison… What’s that you say? Those jobs don’t count? Why ever not? And then the evading of the question begins.

  10. Ugh, “What are little girls made of. Sugar & spice & all things nice …’”
    Women only do such & such because they are too much like …women’? Thanks Louise for proving the continuing relevance of Feminism. Stereotyping much?
    Did it ever occur why they were being so ‘nice’ or if ‘nice’ is just a means to an end? ‘Nice’ doesn’t always entail ‘niceness’. Never been ‘had’ by the ‘agreeableness’ of a woman?
    The top dogs of the second wavers such as Greer & co & their ‘true believer’ counterparts of today have always been about “smashing down the system”. ‘Women’s Liberation’ as they like to call it is about women ‘defining themselves’ on their own terms & that’s not equality in a man’s world. What this translates to in reality is a desire for a socialist utopia of sorts. Given the historical stench of socialism they’ve had to resort to uniting themselves or being ‘nice’ to the strange bedfellows of Islamists & anyone else with a united grudge against capitalism ie ‘the white man’ to grow in strength. The beauty of these alliances is they’ve also managed to strengthen their numbers by exploiting youth social justice concerns & naivety.
    So no, contemporary radical feminists are not really being agreeable or nice just using it to maximise power. Women just like men don’t mind a bit of power too, they just get there differently sometimes.

  11. I couldn’t agree more. Among contemporary feminists, their overwhelming agreeableness is what stands out above all. And while we are at it, the trait they most clearly lack is neuroticism, obviously.

    Astonishing as it may seem, they share these qualities with social justice warriors, Antifa activists, radical trans activists, Islamists and their other allies. This, and of course their shared thirst for power and their willingness to sacrifice sanity and the foundations of a healthy civilization to achieve their goals.

    I also agree with the author of the article that it really does take a certain amount of agreeableness to stick together in such an unlikely coalition - for all sides involved. Until the day of victory has finally arrived. At this point they might discover some unpleasant truths about their friends…

  12. Further to this, I have wondered whether the ‘witch-hunt’/‘cancel’ aspects of social media are true expressions of female power - men seek power personally by physically dominating others into submission; women seek power by creating cliques that shame others into submission.

    Because social media is useless for physical male aggression, but perfect for group shaming (such vast reach!), it is the perfect vehicle for realisation of The Age of Aquarius.

    I realise these are crass generalizations, and they require some faith in biological sexual dimorphism according to natural pressures that are almost totally absent in modern society.

    But the thesis is that the worst aspects of social media are more an expression of female survival traits.

  13. A favourite topic of mine, because it co-incided with my divorce, and I related it to my ex’s legal strategy of deliberate accusal of all sorts of stuff that weren’t actually true, simply in order to enjoy a better divorce settlement. For the record, she has apologized for her ‘bad judgement’ subsequently.

    So, Brock Turner, the zeitgeist sexual assault case, where a privileged college student ‘abused’ an unconscious ‘minority’ girl behind a dumpster noless.

    OK, I have read all the police reports and court proceedings.

    Here are the facts that you probably don’t know from the media and social media frenzy.

    Brock Turner was not rich. His mom is a nurse (sister); his dad is in the military. He got to a top college on a swimming bursary - he trained at least 5 hours a day, and was close to making the US swim team. This is no excuse, but just destroying the privilege vs poverty narrative.

    The victim, now named, was from a relatively privileged family. Dad is a pretty well known therapist in drug abuse (ironically).

    She was 24. He was 19. So what actually happened on the night?

    He got drunk with friends and then went to a campus party. She was not a student, but her sister was, and she got drunk with her sister and friends, and ended up at the same ‘frat’ party.

    Here is where things get hazy, as they always do.

    The victim was definitely drinking neat vodka from a bottle. The victim definitely declined to go back to her sister’s dorm when her sister and friends left the party. I.e. the victim definitely decided to stay at the party on her own.

    The victim definitely called both her sister and her fiance subsequently, and the calls were described as ‘incoherent’ by both the police and court proceedings. In other words the victim was clearly inebriated, although her sister testified that the victim seemed ‘ok’ when the sister left the party, and the victim remained.

    The victim and her sister’s group of friends definitely met and engaged with Brock and his group of friends outside the frat house during the course of the party. The sister testified that Brock tried to kiss her several times during the night and she rebuffed him. No problem from her side on that.

    After the victim’s sister left, there is little coherent testimony.

    The victim herself claims to have no recall of the evening after she was dancing and drinking vodka from the bottle. This is important.

    The next definite event of the evening is that two foreign students cycling back to their dorms saw Brock on top of the victim, apparently sexually moving (dry humping) when the victim looked unconscious. It is widely reported that they were ‘behind a dumpster’, but a picture of the situation shows that they were not ‘behind’ the dumpster, but next to it, in full view of the cycle path.

    The two students accosted Brock. He had his zip open and was smiling stupidly. One of them tackled him when he tried to run. That happened 25 yards from the dumpster, and the assailants testify that he was unable to run straight.

    Campus security was called. The victim vomited shorty afterwards, of her own accord, on the record, and was able to deal with vomiting on her own. So, important first observation - the victim was not entirely unconscious, or was able to recover consciousness in the subsequent 20 minutes while vomiting.

    The victim was taken to hospital. She has (or claims) no recall of the incident.

    The rest is history. The victim’s testimony is legend.

    The only evidence of vaginal penetration in the case was Brock’s own testimony that he fingered the victim consentually, while she gave him a back rub. Indeed, blood and skin fragments of the victim were found under Brock’s finger nails.

    This was widely reported in the media as ‘penetration by a foreign object’ - the legal term. That’s what first got me interested in the case - like what a sicko, he stuck a bottle up this woman when she was unconscious. No, turns out it’s just a legal term. Anything other than the penis, including fingers, is called a ‘foreign object’. And again, the only evidence of penetration was Brock’s own immediate testimony that he had fingered the victim.

    Brock’s blood alcohol levels were larger than the victims as measured. Much of the jury’s contemplation was taken up by whether the legal definition of sexual assault according to the victim’s obvious incapacity, should also include the perpetrator’s incapacity.

    In other words, isn’t it just a little patriarchal to assume that men have good judgment in a situation where a woman can claim legal protection according to her insobriety?

    The real question is why this case became such a cause celebre. The victim was clearly drunk, perhaps to the point of passing out (apart from being able to vomit on her own). Brock was clearly even drunker, according to blood alcohol measurements.

    The victim clearly made some bad decisions, including deciding to stay at the party on her own. What was that about?

    The only evidence of sexual penetration is Brock’s testimony that he fingered the victim consentually.

    So, is Brock a monster that needs to be removed from society? It’s not clear from the evidence.
    What is clear from the evidence is that both parties were drinking irresponsibly.

    That’s pretty much it.

    So, feminism being too agreeable? Not at all in this case. ‘Black’ woman, white man. Older woman, younger man. Rich woman, poor man.

    All depends on your own hierarchy of victimhood?

  14. Talking about being too agreeable.
    I find the different, at times competing and even overriding concepts of feminism rather confusing.
    So possibly feminism also has the purpose to distract from and silence certain topics.
    Here’s how I got to that impression.
    At kindergarten age I pretended to be dead when the door to our room was flung open after bedtime. We did it instinctively, trying to avoid the orgy of violence that was then about to take its course. Since it is impossible for a kid to maintain the deadman state for a prolonged time and since one only has a fraction of a second to drop into that state, one starts listening to everything that goes on on the other side of the door. Nature of the steps, changes in voices, intonations, breathing, emotions, level of tensions, anything, even the texture of the silence between any sound, as strange as this may appear. It certainly taught listening. Also to things that people do not intentionally talk about or intentionally do not talk about.
    Feminists talk a lot about deception, betrayal, abuse, violence, oppression. And sure, there is hardly any family or personal history that hasn’t been affected by those in one way or the other. These are real issues.
    However, whatever destructive habits originate from women normally doesn’t appear on their radar as a problem. But it is obvious to me for a variety of reasons, that some of them and certainly some feminists actually struggle themselves with exactly these issues.
    Since it is only acceptable to identify them in men or someone as evil as men, feminists actually deprive themselves from effectively addressing what festers in themselves.
    Beating and all sorts of cruelties by a woman is not violence. Because men are violent and women are not. I am not making this up. I was told that as a kid and was always baffled how an adult person could actually sort of believe that.
    Rather than cynicism it may be the fear that their hell would entirely collapse on them and crush them if they started looking at their own issues.
    Things within ourselves that damage us can only be neutralised by actually addressing them. There is no way around that and it can neither be delegated nor outsourced nor walked away from.
    As long as family violence for example is only painted as a problem originating from men, one continues to deprive violent, abusive women or women who seek out abusive relationships from addressing their issues. That in itself actually is a crime against humanity because it deprives those women from ending their suffering.
    For people who have been subject to mindless violence and abuse, and then may possibly act it out themselves, it is not a solution to figure out how the world should change to miraculously evaporate their internal problem.
    All that matters are the options which they have to change their lives for the better by addressing their issues.
    What do the feminists do about theirs?
    So when young feminists do not address certain issues, is this because they have accepted a core purpose of feminism?
    When hearing about the different waves of feminism I can’t help thinking of the women who are actually drowning in the imposed silence.

  15. Thank you for writing this, because although you are wrong, it was an excellent springboard for thinking about something that is so central to our history and our societies. In particular, the view you express is a mistake people make about not only men but society in general.

    Instead, I think that usually, people at the individual level, obtain power, or more accurately leadership, through developing cooperative relations with groups of other men, and impressing them with their skills, their good decision making, their knowledge and anything that can benefit others. You could call it developing their capital of respect. This doesn’t mean they need to be nice or liked personally, even though it can help. Think of Einstein and Newton (the former affable, agreeable and well liked personally, the latter a bit of unpleasant and antisocial character). Both were admired for their achievements, and their agreeableness was secondary or even irrelevant to their success.

    Respect and reputation as the foundation of men’s social structures is observable across societies and time periods, as people much prefer to be lead by someone they admire than by someone they resent. It’s what has been observed by anthropologists across many societies, and it is still observable today to be true in the workplace, in politics, in sports, as it is in cultural items such as literature, folk tales. Much of boys development of social skills is about building team spirits, maintaining good relations with large ranges of friends, and impressing others with their talents. This also goes to explain boys preferences for stories involving heroic deeds, and their admiration for the achievements of people with great skill, bravery or other outward displays of their worth. Think of Alfred the Great or Alexander the Great, or more modern leaders such as Churchill. Think of people’s admiration for footballers, cosmonauts, explorers. Think of characters of fiction and literature, be it St George or Gandalf the Grey.

    I’ve given male examples so far, but women have often been able to command the same respect from men in roles of leadership. Think of Bouddicca or of Elizabeth I - the first was able to motivate her followed in rebellion against the Roman empire through charisma and also good guerilla tactics that payed off initially (although they were clearly doomed from the start). Elizabeth I was able to rally the country in preparing for the Armada, and was not afraid to lead her country into war. She was also adept at picking and promoting talented individuals like Drake, and was good at distributing rewards and favours across her subjects.

    Of course, leaders also have to know how to handle troublemakers, and repress usurpers who try to hijack the hierarchy. This means they can’t be soft hearted. Think of generals in an army punishing sentries who fall asleep, or captains of ships who must punish mutinous officers. These actions tend to bolster the leaders reputation in the eyes of the rest of the group, as it strengthens the bonds that hold it together.
    This is also why personal agreeableness can be somewhat of a weakness and it is why Machiavelli warned that a prince

    This is why people often incorrectly assume men, or more generally people and institutions, use force or coercion to obtain power. But this is a mistake of cause and effect. People use coercion and force because they are in power, and they are often faced with situations where they cannot please both parties and must resolve a conflict. The justice system of all states is essentially an organisation of this principle.

    In fact, people who fail to first be respected and who try to use force to dominate others quickly get hated and called bullies. They might get away with things for a while, but they tend to reach a sticky end, or become paranoid in their last days. Think of King John or Stalin, or how most dictators fear their own people more than any foreign force. The same applies to the mass resentment of the EU versus the respect for American leadership that arose from its exploits in ww2.

    Typically when force or coercion are used, it tends to be among rival groups, tribes, factions. Individuals by themselves are too weak and isolated to attempt this.

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