2013-02-27

Feminism and the Roots of All Problems

War and Peace

Interestingly, it is men who have advanced the strongest claims about the effects of women’s empowerment on prospects for world peace. Francis Fukuyama’s 1998 Foreign Affairs article, “Women and the Evolution of World Politics,” begins with detailing murderous male chimp behavior and proceeds to argue that a world governed by females would be more peaceful because men are the biologically violent gender.

Fukuyama’s critics – including, Barbara Ehrenreich, Katha Pollit, and Jane Jaquette – countered that Fukuyama gave
“insufficient weight to the dynamics of the nation-state system…Wars start not in biology… but in realpolitik.” (Jaquette)
British “transhumanist philosopher” and author of The Hedonistic Imperative, David Pearce, has recently (2011) picked up Fukuyama’s thesis:
“The genetic source of most human predatory behavior has been identified: the Y chromosome… For evolutionary reasons, almost all wars are started and waged by men. Enacting legislation that allowed only women to stand for national public office would probably save hundreds of millions of lives this century—possibly more…” (Pearce)
I suspect that Jaquette is right that modern war has more to do with the dynamics of the nation-state system than Fukuyama or Pearce acknowledge. Still, removing the male aggression, plausibly, would have some effect. Even better than female-only national governments, however, might be this radical notion: equality. Conditions of equally-shared power tend to produce changes in the men, moving them away from those aggressive Y-chromosome correlates that more often come to the fore in all-male company. Even if we accept the simplistic equations of women with peacefulness and men with aggression, wouldn’t it be better to bring out the peaceful side of men rather than remove all of them from office, leaving them to stew (and get into fights)?

Other Issues

Poverty. Forty percent of female-headed households in this country fall below the poverty line. Perhaps eradicating the root assumptions that produce sexism would also change assumptions that our economy has to have winners and losers, that competing for dominance is good and necessary and that cooperation so that we can all live decently is just an idea for wimps.

Environment. Are the ecofeminists correct that a greater genuine and authentic honoring of feminine nurturing – not just a placating card and some flowers on Mother’s Day – would shift all our attitudes toward a nurturance of the earth? Do the values that go with women’s empowerment represent the best hope for addressing environmental degradation and adopting sustainable lifestyles planet-wide?

Race and class issues. The Other is often out of our sight – hidden off in a factory or a field or a side of town that we rarely visit. When it comes to the Other gender, however, few of us are so segregated. For many of us, indeed, the Other is right there sharing our living quarters and bedroom. Maybe true justice begins at home, and if everybody could work out in their personal lives a way to recognize kinship while also embracing and celebrating difference, then maybe we could better do that outside our homes as well and end injustice based on race or class.

There’s a case there to be made for feminism as not just a commitment to end isolated injustices based on gender. It’s a way of seeing every major social issue as flowing from the same underlying psychosocial dynamics that also produce those gender injustices. It’s a strategy for working toward a world in which relationships of equality and respect replace relations of dominance and exploitation – a strategy that sees addressing gender issues as the first, best place to learn how to relate with genuine equality and respect.

In a world successfully cultivating such relationship capacity, perhaps war, poverty, and all forms of discrimination would be on the way out, and living sustainably, aware and appreciative of our bondedness to the earth, would be rapidly spreading.

Maybe.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the view that if you want to work to end racism or poverty, then work directly to end racism or poverty. It would be, after all, a feminist point to distrust hierarchies of issues that place some at the center or the top and other issues at the periphery or bottom.

There’s no doubt that social issues do interlink. Perhaps they do so in a centerless web rather than all flowing outward from the roots of our gender attitudes.

I don’t suppose there is any grand unified theory. My life, so far, with feminism continues to be a mish-mash of not entirely coherent yearnings – rather like the stacks of magazines on my parents’ coffee table.

For all that, it’s a story, I hope, of slowly learning how to be, moment by moment, on the side of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. On the side of the forces that create and uphold life. On the side of the ongoing dance for peace and justice.

* * *
This is part 5 of 5 of "Feminist Theology"
Previous: Part 4: "Lynchpin to World Peace"
Beginning: Part 1: "I Was a Teenage Feminist"