Friday, February 22, 2008

Women and War: Catch 22

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


Jim of L-Town said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

While there is much that I agree with in this article, the premise that HRC is the most electable woman is precisely the problem.
How did we end up with HRC? The truth is her HUSBAND was the former President of the United States. That is not a qualification. In other words, she is electable because her husband has been elected. That's sexism on parade. Would she have ever been elected a U.S. Senator from N.Y., a state that was not even her home when she was chosen, if not for the fact her husband had been a popular President?
Would a feminist feel the same way if Condeleeza Rice were running for President? She may too be electable, but would a woman vote for her just because she presented the best chance to elect a gender and not a person?
HRC has some of the highest negatives of any candidate in any previous election. There is a vast number of people who would refuse to vote for her no matter who she was running against. Many of those people are women, by the way. My wife being one of them.
My wife and I are intrigued by Barack Obama and at this point are supporting him over HRC by a long shot.
If through a trick of politics Obama is denied the candidacy I can see a vast number of voters sitting this one out, which gives us what? Another four years of what we've had.
So while I appreciate the argument in the article, it misses the mark by a mile.
As I said in a much earlier post, we have had 12 years of Bushes and 8 years of Clintons, it's time for a new family to lead this nation. This, afterall, is not a monarchy.
The complaints I hear about Obama is a lack of experience. It's that lack that intrigues me. Perhaps what we need is someone with a completely different look at the system. One without all the baggage that longtime politicos like the Clintons bring to the table.
It's hard to follow an argument that HRC had to vote for the war because she would not be able to run for an office she said at the time she didn't want. That's two lies in one position.
That also implies she didn't believe in the war and everything she said, loudly and proudly, at the time belies that position.
She could have quietly voted for the war and not made the enthusiastic speeches she made in support of it. Sorry, the argument does not work, at least in HRC's case.
Good to be back.

A sinner saved by God's Grace.

Jim from Michigan

Peter Dane said...

If you are a true pacifist, I don't care what your gender is, I will never put the safety and freedom of my progeny in your hands so long as I draw breath.

Lindy said...

Wow... some comments,eh?

Just wanted to say that I think this is a totally rockin', spot-on post. Thanks Susan!


JimB said...

I think we need to learn to think of women as persons who can have the character and strength to lead. Every four years, we select a president and we talk about, "issues." Which would be a perfectly reasonable approach if we knew what the future contains. We don't.

No one knew Mr. Bush would face 911. No one knew Mr. Clinton would face the Serbian / Albanian conflict. No one knew that both would be looking at a major shift in the demographics and politics of Europe, or an ongoing recession in Japan, or ......

My point and I do have one, is that we need to reconsider how we evaluate leaders. Were we to do that, we would find a new set of emerging leaders and some would certainly be women. As long as we are stuck on "issues" we have the system we have.


RonF said...

I think the premise that war is all about men and that electing women to public office will stop wars is pretty funny. Has anyone here ever hear of Golda Meir? Does the name Margaret Thatcher ring a bell?

It takes two people to make peace. But it only takes one to start a war, and then the people attacked have a choice to make; defend your self, or submit. History has shown that appeasement or submission doesn't end well. English Prime Minister Chamberlain conceded Hitler's demands and proclaimed "Peace in Our Time." That lasted, what - 6 months? Then Poland was overrun and the Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals were slaughtered. Nobody stopped Pol Pot and millions were killed for no reason. The world has sat by and watched Darfur - all the talk in the world hasn't saved one life there, nor will it.

The complaints I hear about Obama is a lack of experience.

It's true. That's what you hear. But I think that the real problem is that said lack of experience translates into a lack of expertise. What has he actually ever done? He gives a great speech. He's an inspiring speaker. But the head of the executive of the world's most powerful country has to be able to translate ideals into action. I see no evidence that he has ever done that, nor that he's going to be able to do that.