If you missed The New York Times Magazine‘s excellent “Saving the World’s Women” edition focusing on the issues facing women in the developing world, don’t fret! You can still read it online. I enjoyed the piece on how women’s rights are the cause of our time, the interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the piece about Afghan schoolgirls.
The piece in “Saving The World’s Women” that really stuck out, however, is the interview with the female president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The 67-year-old is Africa’s first woman elected to office and a lifelong activist who has been imprisoned and charged with treason for fighting against Liberia’s past oppressive government. When Liberians elected President Sirleaf to their highest office, the event was, as the Times put it, “a kind of feminist fantasy come true.”
But President Sirleaf’s interview dealt with another issue which I happen to think is a total fantasy—the notion that if women ran the world, we wouldn’t have any wars anymore.It is easy to argue that womankind’s supposedly “feminine” qualities mean that if women were in power, our world would be as nurturing and gentle as one big, nursery school. Women outside of Quentin Tarantino movies generally aren’t considered to be capable of brutal or violent behavior. For example, when asked about the “male character” in the awful story about the young Liberian boys who were refugees living in America when they raped an eight-year-old Liberian girl, President Sirleaf told the Times:
“I just think that unless you have that cohesiveness in the family unit, the male character tends to become very dominant, repressive and insensitive. So much of this comes also from a lack of education.”
That may or may not be true, but, personally, I believe cultural conditioning is more likely influencing the “male character” to be violent—and likewise, cultural conditioning encourages women’s violence, too. Yet when asked if wars would still exist if women ran the world, President Sirleaf continued along her rather sexist line of reasoning:
“No. It would be a better, safer and more productive world. A woman would bring an extra dimension to that task — and that’s a sensitivity to humankind. It comes from being a mother…It would take a very long term of women absolutely in power to get to the place where they became men.”
That “sensitivity to humankind” is a wonderful compliment, President Sirleaf, but, unfortunately, I think that it’s only a gender stereotype that women are inherently less violent and they “feel” parenthood and the loss of children to war more than fathers do. Maybe I’m just a cynic, but I don’t think cruelty and poor judgment knows a gender. Just because women largely have not been in positions of power in wars so far doesn’t mean they would be any less hawkish if they were to be in that position. Just think about it: If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, do you seriously think not a single American soldier or other world citizen would have died on her watch?
Gender stereotypes probably help get women like President Sirleaf elected, which is great, but nevertheless, stereotypes don’t do anything towards discouraging male politicians from being less violent. I know she means well by implying more women should be elected to public office so the world can change, but I don’t think we should delude ourselves as to how it might change.
I’m curious what you all think. Tell us in the comments section below.