Not So Much the “Weaker Sex”

Research suggests we need to re-think our perception of women as “the weaker sex,” particularly when it comes to a crisis. I thought about this today when several friends posted about their husband’s “man colds,” and how their husbands are unable to get anything done while sick. It’s a silly stereotype, but many women feel stronger than they are given credit for. Now the research seems to agree.


This article references the maritime code of conduct – women and children first! – as having come about due do a large ship disaster in 1852. This behavior rule has spilled over into the way we handle our communities during a crisis to this day, often lumping the women and children into a single group for whom others must care and protect, while the men are tasked with fixing, building, finding, protecting, and feeding.


But when community disasters play out in real life, response interventions are most successful when they allow the women to help. Many women feel naturally inclined to help and provide, anyway, and may feel an even greater pull to do so in a traumatic moment. In fact, communities that encourage women to participate in disaster response have reported that women volunteered in GREATER numbers than did men.


What are the benefits of women being leaders after a crisis, and not just victims?


First of all, women may prioritize different things than men. Having women participate means that more voices are heard and better decision-making can be accomplished. Women know things that men don’t know, the researchers found, because they serve different roles. In one report, researchers found societies where women are strong leaders of the household are better poised to recover from disaster than communities where women are seen as being subservient to men.


Additionally, women who participated in disaster response and rebuilding efforts felt more empowered, and felt greater buy-in about the community in the future. The crisis, then, created a new crop of leaders out of the women.


Women survive crisis in a different way than men. They reach out to others and rely on relationships. They focus on the survival of the people. They may, according to some researchers, be more proactive about future change. Women don’t need protection during a crisis, after all. They need to lead.


Is chivalry dead? When it comes to life and death situations, maybe it should be.