Women and the 21st Century
EDITORIAL, 20 Dec 2010
Cairo — Ladies, and beloved Nawal El Saadawi in particular!
“FEMINIST ALTERNATIVES” is the subtitle of this important world conference where you have honored me as a keynote speaker. Recently I addressed a Chinese conference in Beijing on the image of China in the world as the only foreigner, and received the Korean DMZ Peace Price, also as the only foreigner. So, I am progressing from honorary Chinese and Korean to the crowning achievement as honorary woman. Thanks, and thanks again.
I am deeply convinced that the major role in inching the world toward peace and away from violence and war is played by women, like in the fight against such other social evils as slavery, colonialism, the destruction of nature, segregation, patriarchy. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Bertha von Suttner, Rachel Carson, Rosa Parks, Betty Friedan, to mention some pioneers, lit the light, shed it on the path ahead, and many, many followed, also men.
What is so good about women? Carol Gilligan focuses on compassion across conflict borders. My experience with fellow women activists points to a capacity for holistic and dialectic thinking, reminiscent of daoism, pointing to a deep alliance between women and the Orient; three quarters of humanity.
But: holism is easily lost through university training in one “discipline”, noting the double meaning of that word: do not stray outside the field of your Ph.D. Particularly dangerous is disciplining into international law and economics.
And as to dialectics: women have handled super-complex conflicts in the family. But the comparative advantages of women are conditioned, and conditions change. Multi-tasking and complex conflict handling may change with women getting into unidisciplinary thinking and shrinking families.
Feminism has made an enormous contribution by identifying patriarchy as a pattern underlying capitalism and militarism. From the angle of negative peace patriarchy is a particularly vicious combination of direct, structural and cultural violence: harming and hurting, killing-beating; all kinds of inequity leading to all kinds of inequality; and justifications, some taken from the hard readings of Holy Scriptures. Making patriarchy visible through brilliant feminist articulation is a transcending contribution, reminiscent of the marxist focus on another deep structure hidden to the unguided eye: the interface of means and modes of production. Or Lenin and others on imperialism, Gandhi and many others on colonialism. Race. And agism: like placing people above 67 etc. in a ghetto called retirement (or children in a ghetto called schools?).
World-changing, but with three dangers in its wake.
First, superb articulation of suffering cements victimhood as a status to draw upon, depositing traumas in a trauma bank.
Second, a single minded focus on female suffering may exclude the suffering of others, much like the Jewish idea that no other suffering in human history compares to the shoa–a mistake I have never heard Palestinians make with the naqba.
Third, the absence of positive peace, visions of cooperation for mutual and equal benefit between the genders, including the daoist idea of suffering the sufferings of, and enjoying the genuine joy–when not at anybody’s expense–of the other gender. Up to fusion, including genderlessness, the shared humanity. Convincing violent Spanish men of the blessings of parity by making visions concrete and compelling. Remember, there are many men out there–millions, a billion?–afraid of just one thing: that women in power will treat men the way men treated them.
Gandhi distinguished between colonialism and the English, between antagonism and antagonists: Fight the former, not the latter. He invited the English to stay, on equal terms. Very persuasive. He removed fear, and put parity in its place. It worked, except for the diehards who were ignorant of the horrors of being owned by someone else, however benevolent, at times.
Many men are equally ignorant. They do not know how rape works on body, mind and spirit, as indelible trauma stifling the spiritual growth. Governments humiliate the other side by conquering their women and sowing their bio-genetic seed like they sow socio-cultural genes through occupation. War as rape. And many women are today parts of the governmental war machines.
Men also want love, intimacy, caresses, warmth, care and kindness, as do women, children, the aged and infirm. But that vision of love may be so overshadowed by hatred of patriarchy that many men sense only the hatred. Gandhi’s “fight patriarchy, not men“–love men-hate patriarchy–cannot be said often enough.
Human rights focus on the deprived. But those served by an unacceptable status quo are also humans and must be understood lest they use their power to stop any progress. Human rights make for good advocacy, but not for good conflict resolution.
So also for law: dualisms–like guilty or not, liable or not–are too simplistic. As is the single minded focus on GNP growth based on processing and trading, and misguided capitalism propels militarism into power. The human development indicators based on health and education imply an economy focused on distribution–an age-old feminine specialty all over the world. The economic growth theory we have is profoundly masculine, a product of competitive stingy males in a foggy North Sea island.
In short, excellent cards are in your hands. Play them well.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Dec 2010.
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