The Biggest Threat to Women. Oh – and the Planet As Well.
Jan 21, 2015
It would be really useful to get rid of patriarchy right about … NOW. Yesterday would be even better. Billions of girls and women, plus countless boys and men, plus the odd ocean and forest would all be doing cartwheels.
We doubt we’re the first to suggest that the best way to accelerate the dismantling of patriarchy is via a totally united, sharply focused women’s movement of unprecedented proportions. So where is it? We all need it – desperately.
So what’s preventing universal, unconditional support between women? What’s hindering a massive eruption of global female collaboration?
In our view, the biggest threat to women – and hence to the planet as well – is the phenomenon of ‘divide and conquer’. Yes, it’s associated with patriarchy, but it actually manifests in many diverse ways – some deliberate, some inadvertent. But, together, they combine to drive many wedges between women, and act as a formidable barrier to solidarity.
The sole purpose of this post is to wildly increase the number of men and women willing to install a new app – let’s call it the Unity App – into their mental operating system. This Unity App will kick in every time a person is about to make a decision, and it will simply pose one question, “Will this bring women together or keep them apart?” Apart = Problem. Together = Solution.
Here are some of the ways in which we feel ‘divide and conquer’ pushes women apart. Please add yours below, and, more importantly, add your practical advice for how things can be improved.
Perhaps the most obvious, deliberate and dangerous is the tactic of the bully and the abuser, gradually isolating an individual woman from her sources of support. Most damaging in the hands of male perpetrators of domestic violence, but also an alienating tactic used by girls and women against each other. How can heightened awareness, plus knowledge of preventive strategies, enable women to help their peers avoid this trap?
A hugely divisive consequence of patriarchal systems emanates from their obsession with being competitive and adversarial, and their pathological desire to dominate and exploit. Indeed, the strategy of divide and conquer was historically used in many different ways by empires seeking to expand their territories.
Gloria Steinem broached this subject of division most eloquently: “I want to talk … about an imbalance that … has led to division, hierarchy and alienation from nature. It has led to governance by ranking rather than linking. It has led to worshipping various gods who look suspiciously like the ruling class. I'm talking about the division of human beings into the cults of masculinity and femininity, into false divisions that conceal both our shared humanity and our individual uniqueness. We are trained in this division very young, usually in our own families, and it normalizes later divisions into leader-and-led, subject-and-object, rich-and-poor, even conqueror-and-conquered.”
What this means is that, if we were to pick two women (or men) at random from around the globe, it’s quite possible there may exist, between them, numerous artificial wedges pressuring them to distrust, dislike and dismiss each other; such wedges relating to race, ethnicity, class, religion, nationality, values, seniority, age, physical appearance or level of education … not to mention those gender-based wedges that artificially splinter, within each one of us, the naturally occurring range of masculine and feminine traits.
Then there’s social exclusion. If girls and women within a certain culture are kept out of school, kept indoors, kept away from their peers for whatever reason, opportunities for collaboration and mutual support are diminished. Where such women have internet access, can we now expect to see empowerment by stealth, bypassing traditional male structures of control? The extraordinary work being done by World Pulse is an outstanding example of giving voice to the voiceless.
Politicians and the media also thrive on divisive tactics, polarising issues and fostering a culture of fear. (Think ‘War on Terror’ and the way people divide over issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, capital punishment, stem cell research.) Binary, adversarial thinking is a marvellous tool for whipping up emotions, obscuring reason, generating simplistic 30-second grabs, and yes, you guessed it, boosting ratings and advertising revenue. How can we prevent differences over these sensitive issues from becoming a barrier to collaboration around other issues?
A more subtle divisive pressure springs forth from the artifice of consumerism, materialism and the competitiveness of business. Here we see the master manipulators at work, trying to make each of us feel superior to the next person by shopping at ‘Hubris’ instead of ‘Humility’ … by stepping out in ‘Uppity’ shoes rather than ‘Acme’ … by choosing a BMW over a Honda. And if you work for one of these companies, they cleverly persuade you to buy into their ‘tribe’ and dedicate yourself to slaying your new enemies. (The enlistment process for corporate slavery is quite slick these days.)
We don’t believe it’s necessarily a prime aim of employers or brands to drive wedges between women, but, nonetheless, it’s often an inadvertent by-product. And it’s all a fiction … a social construct … a house of cards. Sadly, this patriarchal trait of competitiveness infects all of society, working to divide people and give us all reasons to distrust, dislike and dismiss that wonderful mother, daughter or brother sitting next to us, who just happens to be wearing a different ‘uniform’.
What else divides women, that adds to the problem rather than the solution?
How united are feminists? Is there any serious division around notions of privilege, colour, ideology? If so, how can the goal of solidarity rise above all else?
Is there distracting division or tension between those women who have kids and those who don’t? Between those who choose to stay at home and those who pursue a career? If so, how can unity become first priority?
Perhaps the most insidious of these divisive factors are today’s ugly addictions to ‘busyness’ and constant stimulation. (Funny how these two phenomena tie in very nicely with the false gods of productivity and consumerism, both of which serve the rich and powerful brilliantly.) What’s so alarming about busyness or constant stimulation is that they threaten to divide us from ourselves … from our time, from our energy and from our sense of who we really are. They drive yet another wedge between our genuine desire for meaning, community and inner peace, and our artificial desire to meet the absurd, fabricated expectations of society.
Which leads us to ask this question: is this the final frontier for the ‘divide and conquer’ method? Is its ultimate victory to split each of us into two: for most of the time a workaholic robot who wears their exhaustion as a badge of honour, and for the rest of the time a hyper-connected zombie texting, tweeting, liking, linking, updating, downloading? We may be coming across as flippant here, but we’re serious. And worried. Because we never want to hear either of these statements: “Yes, of course I’d like to save the world, but I’m too busy helping my boss trash Africa.” … or this: “Oh, I’m already helping to save the world. Look, I’ve just retweeted that quote by Gandhi.”
Granted, the online world can be a great gift to genuine change-makers, but it can also plummet us into the depths of distraction … and divide us from our true purpose. What’s your view?
In the near future, what other ‘divide and conquer’ tactics may serve to keep women apart? Restricting access to the internet, or slowing it down in specific countries, is one such contemporary tactic. Banning or limiting public assembly is still a favourite with the ‘command and control’ brigade. Can you suggest others?
Given the ingrained legacy of influences that largely determines who we are, what we think and how we act, all that matters now is this – within the minds of hundreds of millions of women, how can these artificial, divisive wedges be rapidly exposed for the primitive and damaging fictions that they are? How can we fast-track the installation of our Unity App? (By the way, why we’re emphasising women so much is that it’s predominantly men who are the authors of these fictions, as well as the lead characters. In essence, this fictional account is the story of the ‘old boys’ club’ writ large.)
Right now, how close is the women’s movement to a position where all girls and women across the globe can hear and live the message, ‘You are not alone. We will all support each other.’? And how close is the movement to a place where all who oppose them can expect the universal response, ‘Touch one. Touch all.’?
We love the expression, ‘Keep your eye on the donut, not the hole’. Regarding the theme of this post, the donut is the set of really big issues around rights, justice, sustainability. The hole is all those lesser issues that conspire to prevent women from connecting, collaborating and uniting. We’re sure the above phrase is the one Goethe would have coined if donuts had been the go-to snack 200 years ago in Germany. Instead he came up with this one: ‘Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.’
Two popular feminist hashtags are #smashpatriarchy and #destroythejoint. For all of us who wish to heal planet and people, it’s essential that we focus firstly on the pre-requisite steps of smashing the barriers to solidarity, and destroying the obstacles to unity. How best to do that?
If ‘divide and conquer’ can be used against all of us men and women who reside at least several rungs below the rarefied air of the old boys’ club, can we also use it against them, to peck away at their shiny fortress of greed? Yes we can. And it’s happening. And it’s going to happen a lot more.
One key strategy is to drive a big spiky wedge between companies who operate ethically and those who don’t; spending, investing and working with the former while ignoring the latter. Another painfully rough wedge can be inserted between those organisations that actively support the rights of women and those who don’t. (Memo to said companies: if you try to interfere with women’s reproductive rights via your insurance plan, or sell computer games where objectified women can be freely tortured and murdered, then you will be punished. You will be hurt at the check-out, you will be named and shamed, your entire brand will be boycotted. And these actions may flow through to your sponsors, partners, Board members and senior executive team. Because, yes, it is that important and, yes, it really does matter.)
Tying in with the notion of increased unity amongst women, there’s a particular concept called Conscious Evolution, which we sense is on the verge of being embraced by vast numbers of women worldwide. To quote from the website of Barbara Marx Hubbard:
Conscious evolution is the evolution of evolution, from unconscious to conscious choice. It is part of the trajectory of human evolution, the canvas of choice before us now as we recognize that we have come to possess the powers that we used to attribute to the gods. We are poised in this critical moment, facing decisions that must be made consciously if we are to avoid destroying the world as we know it, if we are instead to cocreate a future of immeasurable possibilities. Our conscious evolution is an invitation to ourselves, to open to that positive future, to see ourselves as one planet, and to learn to use our powers wisely and ethically for the enhancement of all life on Earth.
In our view, the healthy future of our world depends on the rapid erosion of the most damaging aspects of patriarchy … which in turn depends on the rapid rise of women as an unstoppable force for balance, care and nurture, as opposed to greed, arrogance and hate … which in turn depends on the rapid development of a genuine unity between women worldwide … which in turn depends on the rapid removal of barriers to solidarity. To us, that last one is the most pressing and practical task for all those women and male allies who, at this very moment, are fully committed to and capable of systematically dissolving those barriers.
This is the first domino that must fall, and, as it falls, it will remove the lid of suppression from Earth’s greatest source of renewable energy: the untapped potential of a billion daughters, sisters, mothers and grandmothers.