Myth #1—Men are naturally more power seeking than women.
There is a large body of psychological literature affirming that women tend to eschew competitiveness, dominance, and direct expressions of anger while being willing to show fear, sadness, and dependency, whereas men do the opposite. As a result of observing these behaviors, most people do not realize that the need for power is a human trait, not a gendered one. Men’s greater likelihood of displaying power and aggression does not translate into them having a greater need for power. Winter (1988), after studying the power motivation across six cultures, concluded that
“Some questions about sex difference in power motivation can be easily answered. Studies by Stewart (1975) and Stewart and Winter (1976) strongly suggest that both the nature and level of women’s interest in power are the same as those of men. . . . Are men more interested in power than women? In fact, there is no consistent tendency for one sex to score higher than the other in power motivation. (p. 2)”
So the truth is that men are more comfortable in openly seeking power and acknowledging that they want it. We remain unaccustomed to women doing so and are more inclined to think negatively of them when they do. They are simply not acting like women. which explains why so many women hold a negative view of Hillary Clinton.
Myth #2—Power is Power: A woman who wants a power position is not likely to behave any differently than a man once she achieves it.
Winter (1988) also noted gender differences in how power is expressed. He formulated two basic categories of power. One he called egoistic dominance, defined as physical and verbal aggression, rough play, and attention seeking. The other he called responsible nurturance. Not surprisingly, men were more likely to express their power in the form of egoistic dominance, and women were more likely to express their power through responsible nurturance.
In a more recent study of competitive orientation Van Lange, De Bruin, Otten, and Joireman (1997) delineated three basic categories of relational style: prosocials, individualists, and competitors. He defines each category as follows: “Prosocials tend to maximize outcomes for both themselves and others (i.e. Cooperation) and to minimize differences between outcomes for themselves and others (i.e. equality); individualists tend to maximize their own outcomes with little or no regard for others’ outcomes; and competitors tend to maximize their own outcomes relative to others’ outcomes, seeking relative advantage over others. (Van Lange et al., 1997, p. 733).”
I think you can see the similarity between what Winter (1988) called responsible nurturance and Van Lange et al.’s (1997) prosocial orientation. They are both descriptions of individual assertion of power, power used in such a way that the group benefits as well as the individual. The conclusion from this social research is that men are more likely to use their power to advance themselves (sorry, guys) while women are more likely to use their power to work toward the greater good, even if they enjoy their individual power.
The bottom line: What kind of power-seeking a person engages in, particularly if he or she is seeking the position of the most powerful leader in the world, is critically important. The President of the United States must be in it for all of us, not just, or primarily him or herself. I encourage people to listen hard to the messages of both candidates and assess their statements based on how often they are touting themselves versus the welfare of U.S. citizens and the citizens of the world.
Van Lange, P., De Bruin, E., Otten, W., & Joireman, J. (1997). Development of prosocial, individualistic, and competitive orientations: Theory and preliminary evidence [Electronic version]. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 733–746.
Winter, D. (1988). The power motive in men and women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 510–519. Retrieved March 2, 2003, from http://spider.apa.org/ftdocs/psp/1998/ march/psp543510.html