Suddenly, good order and sensible government in the world depends on women. Britain's new Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany will need to sort out the Brexit mess. Hillary Clinton is the only person who can preserve civilisation from Donald Trump. With any luck the United Nations, too, will elect the woman we know could give it a more effective voice in events.

The Herald's political editor, Audrey Young, was moved by the accession of Britain's second woman Prime Minister on Wednesday to write a strong and honest explanation of why this is important for women.

"There may be no technical barriers to women's advancement but there are social ones," she wrote. "The fact is women are often held back by their own low expectations. Unless men recognise that and change it, they perpetuate it. That is why celebrating role models is important."

She got me thinking - guiltily, since a few weeks ago I wrote disparagingly of a Clinton rally where the appeal to gender was laid on thick.


Women have been elected to high office in so many countries over the past 50 years that it is hard to believe any have low expectations of success at any level of politics or professional life, but obviously I wouldn't know.

I have seen women draw back from positions they could have had, or relinquish them surprisingly soon, and have wondered if there is not some gender difference in attitudes to ambition and success.

I never thought of this as "low expectations"; I have admired what seemed to me an attitude that did not need positions of authority and status for personal wellbeing. Women, it seemed to me, did not define themselves by work as men do. But, again, I wouldn't know.

What I do know is that some men - quite a lot of men - are unwittingly, I think, very oppressive of women in everyday conversation. It is not uncommon to be chatting in a mixed group and notice one or more of the males completely cutting out the women. He makes eye contact only with me or other males, directs all his talk to us and if a woman says something to him he will reply but only obliquely to her, his eyes and words still directed to the men.

And he seems completely unaware he is doing this.

The women are aware they are being ignored, of course, but since they too sense that it is not deliberate, merely dumb, and they come across this sort of man so often, and it's a convivial gathering, they don't make an issue of it. So they sit and listen if they wish, or start a side conversation among themselves, or move away.

If these are the sort of discussions that women encounter as they climb a career ladder, it is no wonder they lose interest and look for more satisfying work. Their "low expectations" may have more to do with the thoughtless treatment they expect in a predominantly male environment than their sense of their own ability.

In which case, as Young said, it is up to men to recognise what is happening and do something about it. That shouldn't be hard. We just need to learn to converse in the way that women do. Basically, that means listening.

When a group of guys get together in a bar or somewhere, they don't really listen to each other. They tell each other stories. Each listens to the story only until he hears something that reminds him of something he did or another tale he heard somewhere, then he only half-listens to rest of the story, dying for it to end so he can jump in with his own before he forgets it.

They do this because the male mind cannot think of more than one thing at time. The result is that male conversation becomes a succession of unrelated anecdotes, each told with more strenuous hilarity and hyperbole than the one before to justify the fact that it has changed the subject. It becomes boring very quickly but it's all that they know to do.

Women's conversation is quite different. They listen to each other, acknowledging what the other has said, visibly thinking about it, asking questions about it, sharing similar experiences. None of them like to dominate, nobody talks too long, it is easy for everyone to contribute and it comes to satisfying conclusions.

Plenty of men do this too. The rest have to shut up and listen, concentrate and resist the urge to entertain. They'd quickly find conversations more interesting and life more pleasant.

The more women who can be encouraged into the discussions at the highest levels of public life and private enterprise, the better the discussions and decisions will be.