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Friday, January 07, 2005

Sex and management styles

This post was stimulated by some heated conversations between my students about men and women management styles in Portugal. Over the six years of teaching in the same Institution (Escola Superior de Ciências Empresariais in Setúbal) I've seen the conversations on this topic change from indifference to fury. I take that as a good sign.

One turma pointed out to me that their class of 35 students had begun with substantially higher numbers and a ratio of men to women that was roughly 50%. The ratio is now down to five men and thirty five women - just one of the signs of a black hole we have in Higher Education where people, especially young men, are disappearing. (Disappearing to organise parties and drink beer if some of their female ex-colleagues are right!)

Notwithstanding this potential shortage of educated prospective mating partners, women's prospects look optimistic. The percentage of women in Higher Education in Portugal surpasses most, often all, other European countries including in the hard and natural sciences. In Portugal the pattern of women researchers is different to the rest of Europe, where their presence is higher, and in government institutions Portugal is the only country that has more women researchers than men (Eurostats, Science and Technology, Nov. 2001)

In contrast to other countries in Europe, women have not had to fight hard for their rights in Portugal (see Virginia Ferreira). Most of the decisions taken about women's rights were top-down decisions made by the (predominantly male) political elite as they manoeuvred or danced Portugal into the European Union and the twenty-first century. Outdated laws, like men having the right to read their wives' mail, a woman needing her husband's permission to travel out of the country and obligatory housework were thrown out (in the late 1970's) without opposition and to this day Portugal has what is considered to be one of the most advanced legal constitutional frameworks based on the equality of women and men.

However, this lack of involvement of women in the changes to their legal status has probably undermined their everyday practices. And as women are so busy working (with one of the highest rates of female employment and very little part-time work) long hours (Portugal has the longest working day in the EU) while organising child-care and coping with ageing family members (Portugal spends the lowest percentage of GDP on social protection) at poor rates of pay (Portugal has the lowest salaries in EU) they don't have much time to catch up on social practices where they can enjoy the benefits of being so equal!

I thought I would leave my thoughts with a translation from the beginning of a book by Ana de Castro Osório ("Ás Mulheres Portuguesas") written in 1905. Ana de Castro, born in 1872 and who lived in Setúbal, was a feminist and the founder of the Liga Republicana das Mulheres Portuguesas (Women's Republican League). She was a great believer in the autonomy of women, not only at the judicial or political level but also in terms of social practices. She said

Feminism: it is a word which men in Portugal still laugh at or resent, according to their temperament, and that makes even women blush, the poor things, as if it were a serious error that some of her colleagues had committed, but which was not their responsibility, good grief!...

And yet, there is nothing more just, there is nothing more reasonable than this steady, though slow, walk of the female spirit into its autonomy
(Osório, 1905:11).

And so it is, one hundred years after Ana de Castro wrote those words, that I drink a toast to the walk of my female students into their autonomy!

Osório, Ana de Castro (1905), Às Mulheres Portuguesas, Lisboa, Livraria Editora Viúva Tavares Cardoso.


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