When posting on FaceBook during this stressful year I often mention the importance of empowering women if we want to move human history into a better future. The response I get overwhelmingly, especially from otherwise well-meaning men FB friends, is that women do or would govern as good as or as bad as men. The implication of this view of course is that empowering women would make no difference. That getting to a better future depends on other things, things that men can/could do equally well. This is NOT CORRECT. It is an underlying paradigm that influences and undergirds all patriarchies. It is a deeply entrenched assumption/view/belief/paradigm that will forever hold back major improvement if it is not eventually abandoned. Women WOULD bring a different perspective and approach to governing. That is the subject of my book War and Sex and Human Destiny, the full text of which is on this website.
Nations that cling to the view that subjugating women or restricting women to only the domestic sphere of our lives will remain patriarchies indefinitely. They will share many of the worse characteristic of patriarchies, arguably the worst of which is war. But there is also slavery, human trafficking, barbaric policing and other ills that the Enlightenment and the introduction of the concept of human rights introduced. Patriarchies around the globe are threatened, and even in liberal democracies, authoritarian patriarchs are fighting to retain control not only of nations but of human history.
Here's a post I put on my FaceBook wall today:
"The world we see around us, the world we have created thus far for better or worse, is a product of patriarchy for millennia. So that there is no misunderstanding, when I say in any of my posts that the empowerment of women is critical to the survival of the idea of liberal democracy as opposed to the continuation of patriarchy (patriarchies being defined as fundamentally all-male governing) I don’t mean just having a woman as the head of government. Or even a few women in a nation’s legislative body.
The exact percentage of women in leadership that can change the nature of a country so it switches from being patriarchal in character to something else is not an exact number. Studies indicate that for example when a governing body reaches somewhere between 25 and 35% women its orientations and decision choices begin to reflect a more female perspective (e.g. greater concern for community good and children’s well-being than concern for power and control).
In a fully mature liberal democracy, women would be sharing in governing at approximately a 50-50 ratio at all levels, local state and national. Furthermore, in a fully mature liberal democracy all racial and ethnic groups in the society would be sharing in governing.
Historically the world community has been slowly moving over the past several hundred years toward becoming more democratic, even liberal democratic, but I don’t think we yet have any fully mature liberal democracies. The Nordic countries and Iceland come close, although they do not have to deal with huge racial and religious differences. It’s those differences that make the United States experiment in democracy so unique and also such a challenge.
At this time patriarchal interests on the far right around the globe appear to be making a last ditch attempt to retain patriarchal control and orientation toward life and the environment in many of even the most developed liberal democracies. Trumpism is just the most frightening example because he is the leader of one of the richest and most influential democracies in the world. It will be a great triumph for liberal democracy if he is removed from office in a landslide. And a great tragedy if he is not.'
A FaceBook friend asked me a quesiton. All Americans are watching the protests and even rioting around the country to express rage over the killing by police of an unarmed black man, George Floyd. I had pointed out that the rioters were overwhelmingly men, and that war was a male behavior. My friend noted that many women were encouraging the rioters, and he wondered how what he was seeing related to a mother bear protecting her young. That seeming contradiction, women being opposed to war yet encouraging rioting, is a good question, and here is how I answered it.
I wrote, You’ve hit on one of several issues that makes it so hard to understand gender differences with respect to aggression. Namely, that women’s strong aversion to the use of physical aggression doesn’t mean that women’s can’t use aggression. In the time during which natural selection was shaping human psychological proclivities, we lived in small groups. Physical fighting within the group would potentially endanger the life of a woman or her children. Women were selected to avoid/try to prevent disagreements rising to the level of serious/dangerous physical conflicts that might kill them or their offspring. If you will, I have described this as the evolution of a strong preference in women for social stability.
This affects many choices women make that affect families and communities. BUT, and it is a big but, women were also selected to be fierce defenders of their children, and by extension their communities. The result is that women are, as a group, far more strongly opposed to major social unrest and especially violent unrest in their communities than men are. In general, it will be the men who will make up group of violent rioters, and women who are particularly bold will get involved in trying to calm the waters….keep the protest peaceful. Few women will be setting fires, although they may be looting. Again, women are not more moral than men.
And with respect to war itself, women, in general, will vote in greater majorities to avoid going to war than the men of the community. BUT, and it is a relevant "but" that contributes to the difficulty of understanding the fundamental gender difference, if women feel their community where they are raising children is under imminent threat of invasion or other great harm, women will fight! They will fight fiercely…like a mother bear protecting her children. In fact, I’ve been told by men who have fought alongside women that women can often be vicious fighters. And we can all be sure that very many women in communities where their grown children are being killed and many of their young men especially feel always under threat of death at the hands of the police...many of those women may feel that the only way to bring attention to this longstanding disastrous condition IS to riot.
So there you have it. With respect to war, if you want lasting peace you need to have women in leadership to temper the more volatile impulses of men. But you need not fear that women are not patriots who will urge the men to fight in defense of community….will even send their sons and daughters to fight. You just have to seriously convince them that a war is the only way. That negotiation and compromise is absolutely not possible. Sorry to be so long, but as I say, this gender relationship to physical aggression is a very complex issue.
Albert Einstein famously said, "Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result."
It’s pretty certain that if we want to abolish war, for example, the last 10,000 or so years of history indicate that we're going to have to do something different. Here’s something very different: citizens pushing nonviolently for any kind of social transformation should consider putting women on the front lines.
Women in Tahrir Square - 2011 - The Arab Spring
TV footage of surging masses of men in Egypt's Tahrir Square during major protests in 2011 left the impression that the protestors were virtually all male, but that was in part because the men push themselves into the spotlight. This is often the case when TV cameras show up. Articles from reporters indicate that many women were not only present in Tahrir Square, they made significant contributions. It is arguably possible that the presence of a critical mass of women was in no small part responsbile for the demonstrators’ consistent peacefulness.
Here is a radical proposition, but one worth consideration. Movements committed to pressuring for any social transformation using nonviolence should, whenever feasible, adopt a controversial but potentially very powerful change in tactics. Rather than mobilize men as the majority participants of marches, sit-ins, demonstrations, work-stoppages and so on, women should be the protestors.
Changing the Social Conflict Chemistry
Why? Because this immediately alters the conflict chemistry. The context is no longer a male contest of wills, which provokes emotions that easily escalate into violence. Instead, men who are the enforcers of the system are facing, and threatening, determined women: their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters.
This single change maximally reduces the likelihood that the situation will turn violent. It does not guarantee it. As with all nonviolent direct actions, there will be risks for the activists, perhaps even arrest or beatings. If their opposition is led by a brutal dictator—a Hitler or a Kadafi—the risks may be to life itself. But women roused to a worthy cause do not lack courage.
In a nonviolence movement, keeping a protest from turning violent greatly magnifies the protestors’ power. As an added plus, it does not require laborious training of men in how to respond nonviolently when attacked, something that is essential to well-planned nonviolent protests where men are going to be the chief protestors; women are already strongly inclined to avoid turning physically violent.
Women's Suffrage Movements
Consider that the successful U.S. women’s movement to secure the vote was nonviolent on the part of the women seeking change...but required determined and courageous women. Many were arrested. Several of the major leaders, were subjected to force-feeding. Nevertheless, they persisted. The film Iron Jawed Angels presents one view of this struggle.
Ending a Brutal Civil War
As another real-world example, we can study the peace campaign of the Liberian Women’s Peace Movement. Liberia isn't a "natural" African nation. It was formed when freed slaves from America returned to Africa at the end of the U.S. civil war. This movement didn't last very long, but it resulted in a country with a constitution, a democracy, and a name.
Things did not go well. Over time, Liberia degenerated into a tyrannical dictatorship, most recently under the presidency of Charles Taylor. In 1999, a "second civil war" broke out. This set off the barbaric use of rape, mutilation, and murder, something seen elsewhere in Africa as well. Some studies indicate that 90% of Liberian girls and women would experience rape in their lifetime.
After eight years of this mayhem, social activist Leymah Gbowee had a dream one night and when she awoke, she decided to call the women of her church together to pray for the end of the war. By the end of the meeting the women had pretty much decided that something more than prayer was necessary. They decided to begin a campaign, a nonviolent campaign, in which they would seek to have an audience with Taylor, to convince him to join in peace negotiations. They would wear white T-shirts and turbans, they would stake out the road along which his caravan drove each day, and they would stake out the market. They would not give up until Taylor conceded to see them.
Then a woman stood up to say that, the fact was, she wasn't a Christian. She was a Muslim, and she knew a lot of Muslim women who felt exactly the same way. Women of the two faiths joined together and began their "action."
It was said of Charles Taylor, who put on a great show of piety, that he was so evil that he could "pray the devil out of hell." An inspiring film entitled "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," documents how things worked out, including how the women of Liberia held the warring men hostage until a peace agreement was signed. AFWW provides an educational viewing guide of the film that presents in detail at each stage of the film how the women's efforts demonstrate the best practices for ANY nonviolent social change movement.
The film also shows how the women were supported by men of good will who were also eager to see the bloodshed cease. The support of good men was also the case with the U.S. suffragists; for example, a great deal of the money for the movement came from men, most of the women having no money of their own. But the women were the front lines.
But that's not the end of the Liberian story. When it came time for the next election, the women of Liberia helped elect Harvard Educated Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the first elected women head of state on the African continent (2006).
Liberia's men and women continue to struggle to build on this wonderful transformation in a land that is bitterly poor and crippled with a debilitating history of strife. But clearly, a determined and savvy application of nonviolence could cut through a nasty, brutal, violent civil war even in this day and age. And such a movement can be achieved by determined women who have the support of men of good will.
In 2001, I published a novel set in the Minoan world of the Bronze Age (Voice of the Goddess). To promote the book I gave a talk entitled "If Women Ran the World, How Might Things Be Different." My point, drawn from my background in biology and anthropology, was that the Minoan's sophisticated, state-level society appears to have been remarkably lacking in violence—no violent acts are depicted on any of their numerous art artifacts or paintings. They probably ran their affairs much as the Norwegians, Icelanders, Costa Ricans, or Swiss do today: rejectors of war.
Those same artifacts indicate that this was a culture where women were respected and powerful leaders. In talks I would say, "women, in general, are biologically different from men, in general, because women have an evolved suite of behavioral inclinations that strongly foster social stability and, that includes avoiding war."
I eventually went on to write Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace, my first attempt to explain, from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist, why women have evolved stability-fostering preferences. Other books and essays followed that include explorations of this same issue: Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War; War and Sex and Human Destiny; and A Future Without War.
This explanation for why women, in general, have some psychological traits that differ from men in ways relating to conflict resolution and caring for community DOES have to do with raising children, but not in the way most people think. Most people think that women are more nurturing…women are NOT by nature more nurturing than men: they can be bad mothers, and a lot of learning goes into being a good mother. Moreover, men who bond early with their offspring can be equally nurturing. It is an evolved deep-seated preference for social stability that guides many of women's social choices.
In Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace I also described:
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Dr. Judith Hand writes historical fiction, contemporary action/adventure, and screenplays. Hand earned her Ph.D. in biology from UCLA. Her studies included animal behavior and primatology. After completing a Smithsonian Post-doctoral Fellowship at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., she returned to UCLA as a research associate and lecturer. Her undergraduate major was in cultural anthropology. She worked as a technician in neurophysiology laboratories at UCLA and the Max Planck Institute, in Munich, Germany. As a student of animal communication, she has written scientific papers on the subject of social conflict resolution.
Astronomy image credit: NASA: Full Hemisphere Views of Earth at Night.