Testosterone and politics

If you do nothing else this weekend, Read Catherine Bennett’s wicked essay on the gender gap in politics. She begins with the strange tendency of the mass media to examine the physical attributes of female politicians while remaining strangely uninterested in the legs, breasts, complexions and hair of their male counterparts. And ends with this lovely blast:

Even in Spain, however, discrimination does not fall mainly upon the plain. Female members of Zapatero’s cabinet have already been depicted, by one of many critics, as a ‘battalion of inexperienced seamstresses’. Experienced or not, the impact on Spain’s identity of so many seamstresses, one of whom is both pregnant and defence minister, is all the more fascinating in the light of a new report on the effect of testosterone on male behaviour. Researchers concluded that City traders are martyrs to their hormones, powered to take risks by testosterone spikes to which they then become addicted, creating yet more testosterone; then plunged, after the effects of too much recklessness, into the state of ‘learned helplessness’ that is brought on by a rush of cortisol.

Since women are less vulnerable to both testosterone and episodes of over-excitement than young men, the authors of this study proposed that banks may want to employ more women and older men on their trading floors.

Given that we still live with the consequences of the risks taken by the gang of hopeless testosterone addicts who constituted Blair’s sofa cabinet, it is plain that Gordon Brown, once he has recovered from his current cortisol high, must nip this problem in the bud. In the interests of their country, his more hormonally active male ministers, from Ed Balls to James Purnell and Andy Burnham, the much advertised ‘young ones’ of the last reshuffle, would surely respond to a request that they undergo castration, once they have completed their families. And if that seems a lot to ask, one can only point out that they would certainly find the only other option for cabinet testosterone control even more painful. Involving, as it inevitably would, the introduction of senior women.