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URGENT MESSAGE FROM MOTHER
Gather the Women, Save the World
By JEAN SHINODA BOLEN
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2005 Jean Shinoda Bolen
All rights reserved.
The original Mother's Day Proclamation, written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870, was not a commercial idea created to sell cards, flowers, or candy. It was a proposal to bring women of all nationalities together to bring peace to humanity. Howe had seen the horrors, devastation, and the aftermath of the American Civil War and saw war rise again, this time in Europe with the Franco-Prussian War.
This first Mother's Day Proclamation was a call to gather the women. It was directed to women to add their voice to "the voice of a devastated Earth" and called for women to take counsel with each other to find the means to bring peace to the world. The sentiments in the proclamation express what women the world over have felt since wars began. Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it may be truly possible to bring this intention to fruition. Since the second half of the twentieth century, there has been a significant shift in the status and influence of women in the world, as well as an urgent necessity to find a means to end the threat of war, with nuclear weapons poised for use. Matthew Arnold predicted in the nineteenth century, "If ever there comes a time when the women of the world come together purely and simply for the benefit of [hu]mankind, it will be a force such as the world has never seen." Empowered maternal concern is an untapped feminine force that the world needs to balance and transform aggression.
The groundwork for women coming together to be such a force was done by the women's movement: women in the 1960s and '70s who opened doors that the Baby Boomer generation came through in great numbers. In a matter of decades, women had opportunities and positions in the world that women had never had before. The second element that would make this possible is the communication technology that developed during these same years, so that information and images are now sent almost instantly all over the world. Women can meet, discuss ideas, and make plans through e-mails, arrange for translations, have conference calls, and forward news to all their friends with a key stroke. The third element is the emergence into consciousness collectively that it is up to women to change the world.
The original Mother's Day Proclamation was an expression of the concern that women can have for each other's children, the importance of expressing grief and sorrow, and then getting on with finding ways to bring about peace.
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of tears!
Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1870
One hundred and thirty-five years later, on December 26, 2004, Amalia Avila González, mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Victor González, flew more than nineteen hours from San Francisco to Amman, Jordan. Victor González, nineteen, was killed in combat in Iraq, barely a month after he'd arrived. During eight days in Jordan, Amalia Avila González met Iraqi refugees, including mothers like her who had lost a son or a relative in the war. The delegates from Global Exchange and Code Pink, the two groups that organized the trip, traveled with translators, but González said she understood what they felt because of their common bond as mothers: "They cried."
Motherhood, Mother Archetype
The Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders in Geneva, which I attended in 2002, was an historic first meeting of several hundred delegates. This was an unprecedented international meeting at the beginning of the twentyfirst century, sponsored by the United Nations, that recognized the untapped potential of women spiritual and religious leaders as a necessary force for peace. At this conference, the Gandhi-King Peace Award (previously given to Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela, and Jane Goodall) was given to Amma, who is best known in the West as the hugging guru. In her acceptance speech, this spiritual leader from India said, "With the power of motherhood within her, a woman can influence the entire world. The love of awakened motherhood is a love and compassion felt not only toward one's own children, but toward all people, animals and plants, rocks and rivers—a love extended to all beings."
Amma's definition of motherhood was archetypal and eloquent: "It is not restricted to women who have given birth; it is a principle inherent in both women and men. It is an attitude of the mind. It is love—and that love is the very breath of life."
Mother archetype, maternal concern, and Amma's description of motherhood are interchangeable. Until maternal concern has a strong voice—that is heeded—on matters of peace and security, the agenda for the world will not change: it is about control and acquisition of power, which are the basic patriarchal goals. The specific items on the agenda change, but the motivation remains. Power-oriented leaders determine what matters; men follow; women obey the men and tend to household and children. Patriarchy considers this the natural order and war an effective or necessary means to gain control.
Different Perspectives on War: Gender Differences
Six months after the Women's Global Peace Initiative in Geneva, the president of the United States decided that the danger that Saddam Hussein posed was sufficient to necessitate invasion of Iraq. When the invasion began, there were journalists embedded with the military and television crews on the ground. There were maps with arrows marking the unimpeded progress of the invasion, which had been code-named "Operation Shock and Awe." As a generality (by this I mean that what I am saying applies to most men and most women, but definitely not to all), there was a decided gender gap in response to the invasion, even among women who believed that it was necessary.
I think it would be fair to say that men were impressed, interested in seeing and hearing about the equipment and the strategy. In bars, large screen televisions were turned on as they normally are to football. The experience was, in fact, very much analogous to watching a sport. The arrows marking troop movements were like those that are used to demonstrate successful plays: who carried the ball, who ran interference, how many yards were gained. That our team is bigger and stronger and has a decided advantage is all the more reason to cheer, as our team moves ahead and scores. Only war is not a game, even when it is on screen.
Most women were also following what was happening on TV during the first days of the invasion, more with concern than admiration. For mothers, an 18-to-24-year-old son or daughter is not much more than a kid. It was easy to imagine one's own in harm's way. It was also easy to think that innocent people were going to be hurt. When the nighttime sky was illuminated by bomb blasts, it crossed our minds how hard it must be to live there and how terrified the children would be. The weekend of the invasion coincided with a Millionth Circle gathering in the Bay Area. I had several friends staying with me who had come for the meeting. We watched television together and were appalled that this was happening. The only lightness came from appreciative comments we made about David Bloom, our favorite embedded journalist. In just a matter of weeks, I learned that he had died. Within the year, what we older mothers dreaded came to pass: every day there were photographs of young people killed in Iraq with their names, rank, age, and home towns. Unmentioned were the six or ten others wounded, many horribly so, for every soldier who was killed, and the silent damage that will surface as traumatic stress disorders when the troops come home. Unnewsworthy were the numbers of casualties in the civilian population.
There are gender differences. Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen says that the essential difference is that women are natural empathizers, while men are better at systemizing. Most women who were tested agreed with statements such as, "I get upset if I see people suffering on news programs," or "It upsets me to see an animal in pain," or "Friends usually talk to me about their problems," or "I can usually appreciate the other person's point of view, even if I don't agree with it." Men who are tested usually do not agree that this is so for them.
When the agenda for the world is determined by men, it means that decisions and actions that affect the planet, its people, and all life upon the Earth are made by the gender that most likely does not know or care about what others are feeling, experiencing, or suffering. Until women are really involved in what goes on in the world, essential information and crucial concerns are not brought to the table.
What if it were up to mothers to make the decision to go to war? This was so for the Iroquois Confederacy, the people who are also called the Seneca Nations and who still maintain their sovereignty in the northeast United States. The elected Council of Clan Mothers were grandmothers, women whose own children were grown and who were beyond their childbearing years. They determined the priorities for the confederacy, including whether to go to war. If war was decided, the conduct of the war, including electing the war chief, would then go to the Men's Council, whose members had been nominated by the Council of Clan Mothers. Deliberations were not made in haste. The experience of the past seven generations and the effect upon seven generations to come is taken into consideration. A wise and sensible consideration, because war and its aftermath invite retaliation, retribution, and revenge for the past and may involve generations to come.
Maternal Concerns, Women's Rights, First Wave Feminism
Women want a world that is safe for children, one in which they do not live in fear themselves. It will never happen unless women as a gender become actively involved and full partners in determining the fate of the Earth and life upon it. Toward this end, every effort to empower and educate women counts, as well as every neighborhood and school made safer. For peace to become a reality, women have to gather together, learn from each other, and then work with men toward ending violence as a means of winning arguments or gaining power—in households or in the world. In recent years, American women have specifically mobilized maternal protective instincts and sister-bonds effectively. It has resulted in MADD—Mother's Against Drunk Driving, which has affected laws, sentencing, and created the designated driver. The Million Mom March, a demonstration for gun control, was started by Donna Dees-Thomases after a gunman randomly shot a group of school children. It was an appeal to gather outside the White House on Mother's Day 2000 to demand the passage of gun control legislation. Seven hundred and fifty thousand demonstrators showed up, while simultaneously sixty marches took place across the country. Protecting innocents, enough is enough! outrage, and indifference from the powers that be are making activists out of mothers.
To gain a voice and have an influence in the world, women have had to first stand together to overcome ridicule and disregard. Individually and together, women have had to face threats of violence against them and been willing to be arrested in order to gain the right to vote (suffrage). It took seventy years of political effort for women to vote in the United States, achieved through a constitutional amendment in 1920. In Britain and Ireland, women over thirty gained the vote in 1918, by an act of Parliament. "Suffragettes," now a respectable word, was initially derisive—used to minimize women Suffragists. Their efforts were denounced from pulpits as being against God's will. When they marched in the streets, they were spit upon, laughed at, and some were arrested. Of those who were jailed, numbers of them were beaten. It is easy to forget that rights women take for granted now are historically very recent and were gained for us by women who were strong and courageous together. The right to own property, the right to keep money earned, the right to marry without a father's or a father surrogate's permission, the right to be educated, and the repeal of laws such as one that gave a husband the right to discipline his wife with a stick, as long as it was no thicker than his thumb, all occurred in the context of women seeking the right to vote. This was the first wave of feminism.
Second Wave: The Women's Movement
The second wave was the women's movement. It brought about social, economic, personal, and political changes, and defined new rights. It had its beginnings in the mid-1960s with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and President John F. Kennedy's 1963 Report on the Status of Women, which documented women's economic inequalities.
The women's movement began in the minds of women who began talking together about their own lives and examining the premise that they were inferior to men and the laws and common practices that supported this. Consciousness-raising groups arose spontaneously whenever one or more women decided to call friends together. Ideas are infectious, and ideas of inequality and oppression became understood as patriarchy and spread rapidly through the collective consciousness of women. Each consciousness-raising group generated energy, and both contributed to and drew from the women's movement.
In these circles, women shared personal stories, saw common themes, and became aware of sexism. With the support of each other, individual women challenged stereotypes, defined themselves, spoke truth to power, and strove for egalitarian personal relationships with men. They raised each others' awareness of what needed to be changed in society and in personal situations. The ringing theme in the '70s, the decade of the women's movement, was "the personal is political." Women had found out that their personal lives and politics—power inequality—in the economic, social, and political spheres were related. Relationships, stereotypes, and laws changed as a result, and these changes rippled out and were an influence in the world.
Third Wave: The Women's Peace Movement
I believe that the third wave of feminism is taking shape, much as waves themselves form in the ocean. They arise from deep below the surface, away and out of sight just as thoughts, intuitions, and feelings arise in the psyches of individual women and gain momentum as they spread to others. New ideas become a movement when the force and energy behind them overcomes resistance to change. I believe the third wave of feminism will be a women's peace movement that is growing out of the recognition that only when women and children are safe from violence, deprivation, and abuse will the cycle of violence begetting violence, which underlies terrorism and wars, end. Compassion, spirituality, the desire and necessity for peace, and maternal concern, combined with feminism is the force that can save the world.
The first Women's International League for Peace and Freedom conference, held in 1915 in the Hague, The Netherlands, was the equivalent of the first Women's Rights Conference held in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, which began the suffragette movement in the United States (which took until the next century to achieve). In 1915, during World War I, 1,300 women from countries at war against each other and from neutral countries attended. Their vision was similar to that expressed in the original Mother's Day Proclamation. Their proposals for a lasting peace are still relevant, as is the active organization that grew out of this conference.
Excerpted from URGENT MESSAGE FROM MOTHER by JEAN SHINODA BOLEN. Copyright © 2005 Jean Shinoda Bolen. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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