Human Liberation Requires Full Female Participation

My son is five years old. He is very interested in the jobs people do. In particular, he loves thinking about, learning about, and doing his own versions of fighting fires, cleaning, cooking and serving food, growing food, building things, helping people who are sick or hurt, and saving people’s lives. He likes getting to know adults who do these jobs.

He notices when a job is mostly done by men or by women. He notices when people say things like “firemen” instead of “firefighters.” The first time he heard the term “firemen,” he didn’t understand. He had only heard the word “firefighters” before. (Adults often feel like the sexism in language isn’t that important. I’ve been reminded of how much it shapes our worldview.) It was interesting to watch someone who had assumed that firefighting was an activity of all people find out that it had excluded women. His response contradicted the sexism that can leave me taking sexism for granted as just part of how the world works. It reminded me that there’s nothing at all normal or right about excluding women from any human activity.

It seems to be profoundly important to my son that at one time women were not allowed to be firefighters, police officers, doctors, or construction workers and that women and men fought to change that. He notices that still most firefighters and construction workers are male, and it means a lot to him that some are female. He notices that nurses are mostly female, and it means a lot to him that some are male. He notices when people use sexist language, and he wants to play and talk about it. He understands that sexism has a bad effect on people and limits what’s possible.

Sexism is one of the oldest oppressions, or maybe the oldest. The chronic patterns of male domination and sexism have run deep throughout human history and affect so much of how we see the world, and a lot of the time we aren’t at all aware of them.

I was walking through the airport today. On the wall I saw the names of all the government officials who had decided to build the airport many decades ago. They were all men. So much of the society I live in has been designed and led by men. Of course women have always done huge amounts of less visible leadership and vast amounts of work to keep the species going. But the structure of much of the society I live in was decided on and designed by men.

Women need to be fully active in every part of society and decision-making. This is important for all liberation, and really for the future survival and flourishing of our species. I think there are two parts to this. One is that women and men need to insist on women being everywhere, at the center of deciding everything. Two is that women need to reclaim their minds so that they are not limited by sexism, internalized sexism, or the emulating of male patterns or models of leadership. And I think both parts need to happen at the same time. Women will only be able to lead as themselves when enough people are insisting that women lead and be at the center of deciding about everything. We can’t wait to have rational female leadership before we insist that women be active, central decision makers in every sphere of human activity. And we can’t pretend that just agreeing that this is a good idea is the same as making it happen.

Regarding the current U.S. presidential election, I think we vastly underestimate what a profound difference it would make to have a female U.S. president. Regardless of all the irrationalities of the role of president and the overwhelming irrationalities of the U.S. empire, deep sexist distresses would be hugely challenged by a woman being president of the United States. I think the implications would be more profound and far-reaching than most of us have the attention to notice.

My son is now trying to understand the basic idea of governments, local and national. As he learns more, I’m quite sure it will matter to him that for a long time women weren’t allowed to vote and that for even longer women have been systematically kept out of government and therefore from making some of the biggest decisions about how we live and organize ourselves. And I know that learning about all this will be different for him if I can tell him that although for hundreds of years no woman was allowed to be president of the United States, many of us worked together to change that and it’s no longer true.

If the next U.S. president is a woman, that will be something very positive in my son’s life and sense of the world. I think this might be true for all of us. I know this election raises many complex issues, but if a female wins the presidency, that in itself will be a huge cause for celebration. It is clear to me, as the mother of a five-year-old boy, that it will be a hugely positive step forward in human liberation.

I think we need to face what a profound effect sexism has had on human existence and how important it is that we stop systematically denying the female half of the population the right to exercise full power over all decisions that affect human beings and our planet.



Reprinted from the e-mail discussion list for RC Community members

(Present Time 184, July 2016)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00