Two great principles govern all interaction on earth: the male principle of
competition and the female principle of cooperation. The judicious balance
between these opposing forces functions both as a means of perceiving the
world as well as guidance for getting along in it.
In our contemporary perspective, these polarities assume a hierarchical
position, with corresponding values assigned to the superior and inferior
roles. War and peace are often interchangeably substituted for what we
identify as the male and female principles. Put another way, many people
observing and trying to ameliorate global problems posit that the male
principle, war, is wrong and the female one, peace, is right. Patriarchy
seems to subjugate, quantify, label and differentiate, while matriarchy
seeks to incorporate, include and envelop.
So patriarchy is wrong right?
The hierarchical superpositioning of masculinity over femininity is
inextricably connected to the nature of the problem itself. Fritjof Capra,
in The Web of Life, describes the problem as a "crisis of perception" where
problems are viewed as distinct, unlinked entities. In reality, the
interconnected male and female principles play a tug of war with each
other, balancing each other's creative and destructive powers, a natural
system of checks and balances. In Eastern philosophy, the yin and yang
cannot exist independently. An ongoing intimate dance between yang, the
male principle, and yin, the female principle, governs the seasons, the
transformation from daylight into darkness and the relationships between
human beings. The Egyptian ankh symbolizes the male and female union; its
name in Arabic means simply, "life."
Thus, the nature of the problem lies not in stratifying the principles into
a "better or worse" paradigm, but rather realizing that the problems of the
world, at the individual, local, national and global levels, result from
the imbalance between the principles of cooperation and competition. The
Western dominant culture has distorted its values to place more worth in
competition and aggression, and the mysterious feminine principle of
integration and synthesis is summarily dismissed as witchery or weakness.
Yet most importantly, inherent in this disproportionate attention to the
male principle is the unchecked capacity for destruction and objectification.
Perhaps this is why it is so troubling to see primarily males occupying the
vast majority of seats at the United Nations and serving as heads of state
for the majority of countries. Perhaps this is why it is disturbing that
the purportedly balanced and accurate news programs boast a majority of
males in the roles of interviewer and interviewee. Perhaps this is why the
theater of war, comprised of a cast of mainly men, is the ultimate assault
Liberation, the act of rescuing the damsel in distress, the art of war to
free people seen as incapable of carving out their own destiny, is a
patriarchal fallacy. The idea of liberating Iraq by force represents the
systematic domination of male over female, the forcible rape and ensuing
grief and shame of disempowerment that women have historically encountered
as victims of male-perpetrated violence.
Human nature, incorporating the experience of both men and women, has a
predisposition for conflict. People inherently perceive the world from
different perspectives and have an inclination to disagree. War, however,
is a different case entirely. Its entire existence rests on the premise of
otherness and separation, of a definitive right and wrong, of intensive
training and preparation for battle, of desensitization to that which makes
us uniquely and more deeply human: conscience.
Embodied in the female experience is this notion of conscience. It is the
intuitive, secret voice that whispers the directions for following a higher
path. It is the dreamlike symbolism revealed through humility and
introspection. Turning inward requires reflection and self-knowledge,
faith in the unseen. It is the root system which takes hold beneath the
soil before peering upward into the light. First we must go deep before
emerging into the world.
Iraq, the religious and historical cradle of civilization, is a potent
metaphor for femininity. It is the Fertile Crescent, the great mother womb
which gave birth to inventions like the wheel, the art of writing and three
of the world's far-reaching religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity
which share a common Abrahamic lineage. It is the home of archaeological
treasures buried deep in the vast desert sands. It is the home of unheard
weeping, suffering borne disproportionately by grandmothers, mothers and
The invasion of Iraq is a crime against all women, against all that is
feminine and sacred.
Around the world, countries amass arsenals of weapons like the testosterone
buildup in prepubescent males. Bombs and missiles gather tension as they
lie in wait of evacuation from planes which vanish from their targets
quicker than absentee fathers evading child support. Barbara Hope, in her
essay "Patriarchy: A State of War" recounts the U.S. Army basic training
jingle, "This is my rifle (slaps rifle). This is my gun (slaps
crotch). One is for killing, the other for fun."
The decision to go to war with Iraq is one which will impact all members of
Iraqi society, of American society and of people across the globe. A
democratic process of hearing concerns from all involved has been
systematically avoided and effectually discounted. The experiences of
women and children, of students and elders, of those who will be on the
receiving end of bombing campaigns and labeled 'collateral damage' have
been given zero space in a credible, public dialogue.
An egregious disparity gapes between whose narrative matters and whose does
The runaway train of male competitiveness has flattened in its tracks the
female experience, leaving a perpetual state of war and chaos where brute
force is the law of the land. The feminine principles of cooperation,
dialogue and diplomacy have been disregarded as ineffectual and powerless.
We have long outgrown the Roman motto, "If you want peace, prepare for
war." Men on either side of the battle lines may declare a victory, but
the women on both sides declare losses.
Leah C. Wells serves as the Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age
Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). Recently returned from Iraq, Ms.
Wells may be contacted at email@example.com.