It’s been a summer of blood and tears, here, there, and everywhere. The news has been unrelentingly painful — cries of “Don’t shoot!” in our streets, massacres around the globe, Ebola, kidnapped schoolgirls. The suicide of a beloved actor who laughed through his tears set off an avalanche of pent-up feelings on Facebook.
One frustrating aspect of the news has been the apparent lack of female input in ceasefire negotiations. As I understand it, there was not one woman representing either Israel or Gaza in this summer’s talks (not even Tzipi Livni who sits on Israel’s security cabinet), and few if any women at any other peace negotiations. (The photo above was taken in a camp for the “internally displaced” in Iraq.) I’d love to learn that this is inaccurate, believe me.
You’d think, in 2014, men would be embarrassed to so blatantly exclude women. Remember Congressman Darrell Issa’s men-only panel on birth control here in the U.S. just a few years ago? At least the all-male photo-op of Bush signing an abortion bill earned them some bad press.
What if we reversed this? What if men were excluded from negotiations that involved their lives? Imagine the outrage! Their heads would explode!
It’s not that women are more peaceful. From Margaret Thatcher to Sarah Palin, women can be as misguided as men and their missiles (to paraphrase MLK). And it’s not that women would necessarily do a better job at finding creative, nonviolent ways to resolve our inevitable conflicts — although, wouldn’t it be interesting to find out after thousands of years of mostly male-only decision-making?
In an article published in The Atlantic, “Gaza: It’s a Man’s War,” Elana Maryles Sztokman wrote:
The dearth of women in decision-making positions means that perspectives from 50 percent of the population are largely missing. And it’s not just any 50 percent — it’s the 50 percent who, as a result of their powerlessness, silencing, marginalization, and objectification in times of war, have life experiences that would add tremendous value to the conversation.
This in-your-face exclusion of women has made me a pissed-off peacemaker and cranky crone. For solace, I devoured Rebecca Solnit’s slim new book in one sitting. Men Explain Things to Me is the best read of the summer. Her seven essays offer an articulate description of subtle and not-so-subtle ways women are silenced and erased and how this hurts us all (something feminists of all genders know). The title essay went viral in 2008 for good reason (it opens with a scathingly funny anecdote), and “The Longest War” should be required reading, although it will make you weep.
Gynocentric Speculative Fiction
The lop-sidedness of this summer’s male-led rampaging and feeble efforts at mending prompted me to seek literary examples of turning-the-tables for counterbalance.
From Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915) to Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), most utopian visions created by women exalt education, the arts, and safety — a world in which Malala would not be shot in the head for wanting to go to school and the Nigerian schoolgirls would not be kidnapped. In The Female Man, Joanna Russ imagines a world in which a naked woman could walk around the equator twenty times, with one hand on her sex and a large emerald in the other, and all she’ll suffer is “a tired wrist.”
Utopian literature allows us to view the shortcomings of our own time and play with the “what ifs” of a better world. I checked my bookshelves, reaching past the egalitarian stories for a full dose of gynocentric antidote and found three books that did the trick.
In Lois Waisbrooker’s A Sex Revolution, written in 1893, men agree to change roles with women for fifty years as a social experiment, to see if women can end war.
Sultana’s Dream is a fantasy written in 1905 by Bengali Muslim feminist Rokeya Sakhawat Hossein in which women take charge, shun war, and confine men in a reversal of purdah (the practice of secluding women from public view).
In Sally Miller Gearhart’s 1978 underground classic The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women, Earth stops cooperating with males, and women head for the hills to unlearn patriarchy. It’s a painful, magical, and nuanced fantasy with an unresolved ending.
After a few hours immersed in fantasies of women in the lead, my mood improved. I was ready to resume my work for a world where people are encouraged to reach for their best potential as full participants on the planet we share, regardless of gender identity. Spirits lifted, I returned to my research on a chapter about times women have pushed their way into all-male negotiations. Stay tuned …
To Go Deeper:
Articles & essays
“Gaza: It’s a Man’s War” by Elana Maryles Sztokman, The Atlantic, August 7, 2014.
“Studies Show that Including Women in Peace Negotiations Improves Changes of Success” by Eetta Prince-Gibson.
Barr, Marlene S., ed. Future Females: A Critical Anthology, (Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1981)
Gearhart, Sally Miller. The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women (Persephone Press, 1978/ Spinsters Ink, 2002)
Hossain, Rokeya Sakhawat. Sultana’s Dream and Selections from The Secluded Ones (Feminist Press, 1988)
Rohrlich, Ruby and Elaine Hoffman Baruch, eds. Women In Search of Utopia: Mavericks and Mythmakers, (Schocken Books, 1984)
Russ, Joanna. The Female Man (Bantam Books, 1973)
Solnit, Rebecca. Men Explain Things to Me (Haymarket Books, May, 2014)
Waisbrooker, Lois. A Sex Revolution with introduction: “Women in the Lead: Waisbrooker’s Way to Peace” by Pam McAllister (New Society Publishers, 1985)
Mu(sick): Poet Madiha Bhatti, a young Muslim woman, offers a “snap-worthy” rap protesting misogyny and calling for lyrics that empower women and stop polluting the minds of men and boys. Well worth a listen. For video plus the written lyrics go to: http://uncsiren.com/musick/
Poster from Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, 1958 sci-fi movie depicting a cheating husband’s worst nightmare.