Monday, October 09, 2006

If women ruled the world

"Men should be barred from public office for 100 years in every part of the world. ... It would be a much kinder, gentler, more intelligently run world. The men have had millions of years where we've been running things. We've screwed it up hopelessly. Let's give it to the women."
~Ted Turner,, 20 September 02006.

Last month, media magnate turned philanthropist Ted Turner addressed a gathering in New York on the Iraq war, and various other themes of contemporary politics. And, as one account noted; "When asked about the possibility that the next U.N. secretary general might be a woman, Turner went a step further, advocating that men should be barred from public office for a hundred years in every part of the world."

I don't know how serious he thought he was being, but let's dwell on this a moment. As a potential solution, Turner's suggestion has a startling blunt elegance -- and undeniable poetic justice -- about it. Whether it would resolve as many of our present problems as could be desired is another matter. I'd like to think so, but it seems to me that the territorial parochialism, and attendant aggression, that we see in the behaviour of people claiming to represent the interests of nation-states, may be inherent to that system, regardless of which sex is in charge. Many women who have succeeded in politics have been accused of adopting, if not outdoing, some of the most Machiavellian strategies and militaristic postures of their male counterparts (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?). A powerful argument elaborated by many feminist theorists of international relations is of course that the state is inherently "gendered", the implication being that if enough women were in charge, states wouldn't be as divisive, chauvinistic and exploitative as they are -- and perhaps they would cease to exist in their current form altogether.

It's a topic of very great interest, but I'm not aware of very much serious futures work having been done on the matter. There was an excellent BBC television series of a couple of years ago, entitled "If...", each episode of which offered topical scenarios set in the next few decades, using a combination of documentary and narrative techniques (fictional narrative interspersed with interviews featuring contemporary commentators and decision makers). One edition imagined how things might be "If... Women Ruled the World". But where else can we find scenarios envisioning a radical feminisation of global politics? I'd be grateful to hear from others better informed than me.

Contemplation of this kind of sweeping structural reform is the bread and butter of the distinctive approach to alternative futures taught at the "Manoa School" for over three decades now. In Jim Dator's graduate class on Political Systems Design, teaching this astonishingly underexamined process is based around students having to address, through structural change, some of the major problems with governments today:

we will consider six of the many complaints levied against all existing governments: that they are bureaucratic, placing the convenience of the governors over the needs of the governed; that they too nationalistic, privileging the nation-state over both smaller and larger units; that they are undemocratic, thwarting participation of some, while favoring other, groups and individuals; that they are repressive, using and causing both direct and structural violence; that they are patriarchal, insisting on a gender binary and within that binary privileging men and masculinity (particularly violence), while ignoring or marginalizing the mobility of gender as well as the participation and perspectives of women; and that they are unfuturistic, basically discounting the future and concerning themselves with at best immediate and in many instances past, and almost always comparatively trivial problems.

Back to Turner's proposal, then; it's hard to say to what extent a systematic change addressing just one of these six indicative problem areas, namely, patriarchy, would alleviate the others. I'm not sure that a pure reversal of the long-standing male domination of public space would meet what I regard as an urgent need to enhance mutual respect and cooperation between genders (as well as across other social fault lines). Substituting one variety of domination for another has not worked particularly well in the decolonised states of sub-Saharan Africa, for instance. But generally, given the gravity of our civilisational predicament, this kind of big-picture thinking is sorely needed, and specifically, in light of the starring role that men have played in bringing our "civilisation" to the brink of self-destruction, we need to ask if a less testosterone-driven global politics wouldn't bring about a good measure of positive change -- and who can doubt it? It's a shame, but no surprise, that billionaire philanthropists apparently find it easier to broach such essential and provocative questions than anyone actively involved in politics.

So, what if women ruled the world? I'd be very interested to hear what others have to say on this topic. Not merely an opportunity for some spectacularly politically incorrect standup comedy, this is truly a matter of paramount relevance to the quandary we find ourselves in the early twenty-first century. But there's also room to wonder, long before Turner's suggested female century neared its end, if we wouldn't have an entirely new set of representational issues to deal with... What if robots ruled the world?


shali_isdes said...

That reminds me of a twilight zone episode I saw once...

I don't consider myself a femminist but if I did I'd sure have a lot to be pissed off about. Placing women in the current governing system instead of men might help mitigate current circumstances somewhat, but the system was created by men, and works for men. Perhaps once they got comfortable they might try some radical adjustments to the system? That's a nice fantasy, but since its never going to happen, its still just a fantasy.

I don't consider myself a femminist because I don't think its the fault of men that women are abused and neglected, its the product of our culture. Boys are similarly de-humanized and forced to play into the dominator roles we have created for them.

We do have a male dominated society and culture. What we need though is not to trade women for men but a steep new respect for all things feminine. This counts as the earth, the land, and our basic sustinance first. The earth is the ultimate woman, the ultimate godess. Then respect for feminine roles, such as caring for children and elderly, nurturing ourselves, slowing the pace of life down a bit. And of course, the respect for the feminine within men, something traditional Hawaiian culture was quite good at.

I'm not really sure how government would be different under such circumstances. But would it matter? We don't need our government to dictate our lives. We need families and communities to support each other and get along. Maybe women would create less government...

I'll get off my soapbox now...

shali_isdes said...

Of course, all that moralizing stuff is just fantasy too...

tokyocrunch said...

"My girlfriend is convinced that there'd be no more war if women ran the world.

Like no woman has ever started a fight for no reason.

'Hey, this is England. Why am I being invaded?'

'Oh, I think you know why...'"

h/t Drew Carey

william said...

I think Ted Turner is right, we all would be a lot better off if women ruled the world. Men have ruled our world for thousands of years and made a total mess of doing this. Men fail to understand the insanity of warfare and why it is so stupid to settle disputes between countries with war. Male rulers have also totally failed to eliminate poverty in our world.

Someone mentioned Margaret Thatcher, i wish to point out she is not a ordinary women. Many female politicians today feel they have to act and behave like men to be respected by the voters. It would be better if voters voted for caring and nurturing women, instead of the macho clowns they now vote for.