Women are deeply impacted by war, racism and poverty–the three evils named by Martin Luther King. But when we stand for peace as women, it is not to make a case for our special victimhood, but to represent a different vision of strength. Women-initiated and women-led actions have a special energy and power. That power comes not from excluding men–most of these actions welcome men as participants‹but because of the joy and visionary potential that arise when we come together as women to defend the values of life and caring that we hold dear.
No set of qualities is innately or exclusively `female¹ or `male¹. Men can be compassionate, loving and kind, as women can be tough, brave, or callous. But patriarchy assigns the qualities associated with aggression and competition to men, and relegates to women the devalued roles of nurturing and service. Patriarchy values the hard over the soft, the tough over the tender; punishment, vengeance and vindictiveness over compassion, negotiation, and reconciliation. The `hard¹ qualities are identified with power, success and masculinity, and exhalted. The `soft¹ qualities are identified with weakness, powerlessness, and femininity, and denigrated.
Patriarchy finds its ultimate expression in war. War is the field in which the tough can prove their toughness and the winners triumph over the losers. Soldiers can be coerced into dying or killing when their fear of being called womanlike or cowardly overrides their reluctance to face or deal death. War removes every argument for tenderness and dissolves all strictures on violence. War is the justification for the clampdown that lets the rulers impose control on every aspect of life.
And we need to remind the world that modern warfare never spares the civilian population. Rape is always a weapon of war, and women¹s bodies are used as prizes for the conquerors. Women and children and men, too, who have no say in the policies of their rulers face death, maiming, wounding, and the loss of their homes, livelihoods, and loved ones in a war.
We need feminist voices for peace because the issues of women¹s freedom and autonomy are being used cynically to justify anti-Arab racism and military takeovers of Arab countries.
We protest the hypocrisy which trumpets the oppression of women in Arab societies while the oppression of women in the West is never raised as an issue. Nor is the racism, economic oppression and endemic violence of Western culture acknowledged when the West is hailed as the flag bearer of freedom. Women cannot walk safely through the streets of the West, nor can we be assured of the means of life for our children, of health care in our illnesses, of care and support in our old age. The ongoing daily violence against women and children worldwide, the violence of battering, sexual assault, poverty, and lack of opportunity, the global traffic in women¹s bodies, is ignored.
Oppression of women is real, in Muslim societies and non-Muslim societies, around the globe. But women cannot be liberated by the tanks and bombs of those who are continuing centuries-old policies of exploitation, commandeering resources for themselves, and fomenting prejudice against the culture and heritage which is also a deep part of a woman¹s being. We need a feminist voice for peace to say that those who truly care about life and freedom will work to support, not conquer, those women in every culture who are struggling for liberation and social justice.
Racism and patriarchy are the recruitment tools for the legions of enforcers: the soldiers, police, judges, bureaucrats and officials who protect institutions of power. Patriarchy, racism, homophobia, discrimination against Arabs and Muslims, anti-Semitism, ageism and all forms of prejudice keep our eyes trained downward, looking at those we see as beneath us, instead of looking upward and seeing clearly how we are being manipulated.
The global corporate capitalist system also exalts toughness and ruthless competition, and exhibits utter disdain for caring, compassion, and nurturing values. Women staff the maquiladoras and the sweatshops that produce the cheap goods of the global economy. The vast majority of the world¹s poor are women and children.
Information on upcoming women¹s actions can be found on www.codepink4peace.org or www.unitedforpeace.org. For more information on the Women¹s Vigil and January 17 events, contact the Women¹s Peace Vigil at 202-393-5016.