by Ellen Snortland
Without breaking through the female leadership dearth, women will never be able to prove they can end war
In “Lysistrata,” the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, women demand peace by withholding sex until their husbands agree to stop the Peloponnesian war. In the modern era, many of us — women and men alike — demand that women have an equal place in decisions to wage war orpeace, historically moving from bedroom “girlcott” to calling the shots, literally. Alas, we are far away from achieving control over matters of war or peace in the halls of power.
One of the yearnings of my heart as a women’s rights activist has been to get a critical mass of women in positions where we can demand the “boys” put down their bombs and guns. Enough bang, boom, bang, boys! Move over, you’ve screwed up the world and now it’s our turn to see if we can not only do better but clean up your mess. But how do we get a “tipping point” — enough women into power in a culture that deeply mistrusts, and often despises, peaceful people? It’s one of those Catch 22s. (A “Catch 22” as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule.”) In this case, more women leaders are our hope for peace — but in order to trust them they need to be warriors, not pacifists. Get out of THAT little catch.
The US Civil War had few public pacifists, male or female, with Quakers being an important exception. Many women, North and South, joined in the war effort. Women “warred” by rolling bandages, nursing, knitting socks or taking over the family farm, business or plantation. Obviously, as in any era or country, women were deeply involved with the conflict because they were related to the wagers of war. From politicians to officers to conscripts, everyone had a human stake in the War Between the States.
Ironically, wars serve to expand the scope of what women learn to do, and thereby expand their dreams and possibilities. How are you gonna keep Jane chained to the stove once she knows she is just as capable as men — whether father, husband, son or brother — to do “men’s work?” Each time the US has engaged in war, American women have become more involved in public issues and demand more rights as citizens and representation in leadership.
During the Civil War the suffragists, led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, waited. They put on hold their mission to get women the right to vote. The war effort was more important, even though they ardently believed that getting half the population the vote would make a difference in creating justice and peace. Catch 22.
Fast forward to the “Great War,” which we now call World War I: The suffragists were put down by anti-war and pro-war women alike for being selfish. “The women’s vote can wait. Peace and patriotism are more important!” (Jeanette Rankin of Montana, the first woman ever elected to the US Congress, voted against going to war before women even won the vote in 1920.) Another Catch 22. How can women vote against war if they can’t even vote?
Now we’re facing yet another Catch … we’re up to Catch 25 or so, right? We have feminist anti-war groups who, after soul-searching, feel compelled to endorse a male who voted against our going to war in Iraq. A male who, if he gets the nomination, I fear will be hammered, nay, NUKED by the GOP campaign machinery for being against the war in Iraq. And ironically, the first electable woman to come forward since women won the vote in 1920 is being hammered and nailed by some of her sisters for voting the way she did on the war.
If she hadn’t voted for war, she would NEVER have gotten as far as she has now. Does anyone really think an openly pacifist woman would ever win the presidential nomination in this country? As much as I wish it could be so, I can’t see it. So we’re supposed to wait for another female candidate? Wow. HRC is as strong a candidate I can think of, regardless of gender, as we’ve seen in decades.
My heart’s desire lies not only in my belief that HRC can turn the country around in a shorter amount of time than anyone else, but that women will eventually have the power to force the boys running the government to put down their weapons. Until then, we have to have people trust that we too can go to war if we have to.
Look, sisters and brothers, we don’t have females entering into the presidential pipeline; none that I can see anyway. Where are they? Where are the other female senators, who, like their male counterparts, set up exploratory committees and test their tootsies in the presidential waters? Until and unless we break through this female leadership dearth, we will not be able to see if we women can end war. Catch THAT. Perhaps we once again need to employ Lysistrata tactics.
Ellen Snortland can be reached at www.snortland.com.