As a passionate advocate for women, and obviously therefore an advocate for putting women at the helm not only of corporations, but of cities and countries, I nevertheless think it’s dangerous to suggest that women are so benign, so aggression-free, that all violence would vanish if we alone were running things.
The front page review in Today’s New York Times Book Review section is of Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard who has written brilliantly on linguistics, says that violence in our era has decreased more than it ever has, and for a host of reasons– one of which is the effect of women. Noting this, the reviewer, Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton, writes, “The empowerment of women does, Pinker argues, exercise a pacifying influence, and the world would be more peaceful if women were in charge.”
Yes, we’d be more peaceful, certainly in terms of physical violence. But we do have our ways. I get nervous when I hear the Women Are Peaceful argument, not because we aren’t, but because I worry about being held hostage to our peaceable natures the way we were held hostage for so long to the “Would You Let A Woman Be in Charge of Pushing The Button?” question that impugned our decisionmaking powers because we menstruate. Our natures could be held against us in just the same way using the peace-loving theory: “A woman leader? How will she handle Afghanistan? Iran! Iraq! Places where violence rules and only men can understand….?” you get the drift.
We (“The American People”) always gravitate toward the tough. Even when it’s just a front, as with George W. Bush, who was decidedly ineffective against Al Quaeda, whereas our reasonable and peaceable President Obama has been mightily effective. The “soft on terrorism” accusation against Democrats, though, is just the kind of unreasonable brush that will paint us for our peaceable natures, if we’re not careful to make it very clear that, like child care and housework, World Peace isn’t just a woman’s job.
I’m not for All Women All The Time in any case, any more than I am for all men all the time. Which brings me to the story that my friend and former agent, Joni Evans told me. Not long ago, she heard an interview with Ted Turner by Pat Mitchell, who had worked for him for decades at CNN. Turner, known to generously acknowledge the strong women in his life, observed that the world would be a much better place if, for the next 100 years, women were the heads of state everywhere.
“Everyone clapped,” Joni says. But a day later, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stood up and said, in her wonderful way, Not so fast. ‘If you think that the world will be better off with women as their only leaders,” she said, “you have forgotten high school.’”