REACTION to news of an all-woman version of Lord of the Flies will not have pleased Warner Bros. You could almost hear the whine of chainsaws as critics revved up to tear into the idea. To add my own gripe, why has the studio hired two male scriptwriters? That should have all of us shaking the coconuts from the trees, hoping one would knock sense into the filmmakers’ heads.

More striking, however, were accusations that it was a lousy idea. Not because it was a rehash of an old book but because, we were told, if left to fend for themselves women would never descend into the kind of savagery depicted in William Golding’s tale. Of all the charges, this one misses the mark.

The idea of a plane crash leaving you stranded on an island with your fellow pupils is bad enough; if all those classmates are girls, then a scary prospect becomes nightmarish. Where anyone gets the idea that the female of the species is nicer than the male I have no idea, but in my experience we can be vicious. And not just with our tongues.

Golding’s novel was never intended as a dissection of adolescent boys’ behaviour. It was not a handbook for teachers or parents and guardians. His gaggle of lost and hungry kids is not an illumination of the immature mind, but a morality tale for all humankind. Upstanding Ralph and thuggish Jack, brainy Piggy and the frightened littluns represent so-called civilisation. The speed at which they revert to primitives is an allegory of the way in which human beings are hard-wired for self-interest, barbarism and environmental destruction. Golding was not making a point about boys v girls. While all his books show a predominantly male vision, if he had wanted to compare the sexes he would have done that.

Yet, while he barely gave the so-called gentler sex a thought, Ronald Searle was aware that schoolgirls can spell trouble. St Trinian’s was comedy, but it had truth at its core. Nobody seriously came a-cropper in those madcap escapades, but the mischief his heroines wreaked will strike a chord with anyone who has dealt with teenage girls. Most of their high jinks are harmless and even charming, but in every group there is usually one who can make life horrible for her victim, even if only for a short while.

Perhaps because of my own experience with bosses and colleagues – not in newspapers, I should quickly add – the idea that the world would be better if it were run by women has never convinced. Whenever they have had political power – think Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor, or Margaret Thatcher – citizens have been no more secure than when a man was at the helm. Sometimes less so. And recently, with Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale leading three parties at Holyrood we were promised a more temperate, less strident discourse. Any sign of that yet?

You can, of course, point to the likes of Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un as examples of power run amok, but a diagnosis of narcissism or paranoia is not unique to men. What, too, of those sisters who have upheld brutal regimes? Many played their part out of terror, but some applauded what was happening, be it in the era of Hitler, Soviet Gulags, or the harshest days of Chairman Mao.

It’s not news that women can be catty or cruel. And while an all-female class might not push Piggy off the cliff – though a few are capable of that – when they gang up on someone, you’d better watch out. The damage they cause might not result in visible bruises and cuts, but it can trigger a lifetime of low self-esteem and depression. Thus an all-woman Lord of the Flies could arguably be even more sinister than the original, with the bullies’ scapegoats willingly walking the plank.

This is extreme, grisly stuff, but it has a relevance for today. In the struggle for equality, we must be honest. We should acknowledge that we are not the better or superior sex. Thanks to history, child-bearing, circumstances and physique, wives, daughters and sisters are disadvantaged and easily oppressed from the outset. We can appear more thoughtful and nurturing, more conciliatory and sympathetic, but those qualities can often be traced to the culture in which we have been raised, rather than to any intrinsic chromosomal virtue.

For too long we have not been able to stand up for ourselves because of justifiable fear of the consequences. That for more than a century it has been safe to raise our voices is a tribute to suffragettes’ selfless courage. But it also says something about the gradual dawning of a more approachable masculinity. So almost 70 years after publication, perhaps there’s mileage in a new, all-male remake of Lord of the Flies. These boys, however, would be raised not by public schoolmasters, but by their hands-on, caring dads. Wouldn’t you like to see how they fared under pressure?