Gender Equality for Solidarity and Sustainability
Patriarchy in Human History
The origins of violence (between humans, and between humans and nature) are lost in human pre-history. But we know that patriarchy is the most common and pervasive root of violence (physical and/or psychological) that has afflicted, and continues to afflict, human civilization. Patriarchy is, essentially, a man-made cultural construct in which men have dominion over women and nature. Scholars have determined that it became the prevalent social system in conjunction with the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago. Since then, it has been taken for granted as "the natural order of things" by all ethical and religious traditions worldwide. In both East and West, most of the ethical traditions took patriarchy for granted and contributed to solidify it as the prevailing culture. Likewise, most of the religious traditions worldwide were contaminated by the patriarchal mindset of masculine hegemony and contributed to make it part of the collective ethos to a degree that reaches down to the visceral level.
Resilience of the Patriarchal Culture
The agricultural revolution brought about a transition from hunting/gathering to cultivation and domestication as the main source of human sustenance. The patriarchal culture of control and domination emerged, as was sustained and reinforced by, the full range of agricultural practices and technologies then known to convert energy to work: basically, "using" solar energy to grow crops and derivative forms of energy such as animal energy and human energy. The domestication of animals was enhanced by the domestication of humans via various forms of slavery, some of which continue to be practiced even today as ugly manifestations of patriarchal violence. More recently, further advances in science and technology have delivered enormous social benefits but also have enhanced the patriarchal energy budget by exploiting the energy content of fossil fuels. Since the late 1700s or early 1800s, the industrial revolution has augmented the degree of patriarchal dominion to the point of impacting not only the integrity of human civilization but the stability of the entire planet that serves as human habitat.
Gender Equality for Solidarity
Patriarchy is a social disorder that leads to idolatry of money and all manner of violence; for money leads to power, and violence is used to preserve that power and the prerogatives that come with power and honors. This would be the same regardless of gender or any other human characteristic of those in power. Granted that since the inception of the patriarchal system most positions of power have been held by men, and most violent abuses of power have been committed by men, it would be silly to think that it is simply a matter of replacing patriarchy by matriarchy. Actually, advances in science and technology are evening the field between men and women when it comes to seeking domination; it is no longer a matter of sheer bodily force, so matriarchs could be as abusive as patriarchs have been. A more sensible solution is cross-gender solidarity, a new culture of peaceful and fruiful collaboration between men and women. Cross-gender solidarity may not be sufficient to resolve all social issues, but it is certainly necessary: peace and social justice are unattainable as long as 50% of humanity keeps trying to dominate the other 50%, whether it is men dominating women or vice versa.
Gender Equality for Sustainability
Sustainability is not achievable by technological innovation alone. The combined effects of population and consumption growth cannot be sustained forever in a finite planet. Climate may or may not change dramatically in the years and decades ahead. The supply of usable energy may or may not be exhausted. The food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe may or many not become lethal. The worldwide economic and financial systems may or may not collapse. Peace and social justice may or may not be achievable in every nation or locality. But one thing is certain: it is impossible to have an infinite number of people consuming an infinite amount of resources in a finite planet. Unless new frontiers are opened by migration to other planets, it is clear that neither population nor consumption can keep growing forever. In order to avoid massive violence as the planet is overcrowded and degraded, human cooperation at all levels is the only viable option. Human cooperation requires a culture of solidarity, and this in turn requires a culture of equality at all levels, starting with gender equality; for gender inequality is the most pervasive form of inequality in all human societies. In brief, gender equality is required for social solidarity, which in turn is required for ecological sustainability.
Social and Religious Dimensions of Gender Equality
It is widely recognized that both mitigation and adaptation strategies will be required to manage the transition from consumerism to sustainability: mitigation of human activities that degrade the human habitat, and adaptation of human activities in response to changes (natural or forced) in the human habitat. The amount of violence (between humans, and between humans and the human habitat) that ravages the world today makes it unlikely that significant mitigation and/or adaptation can be accomplished by political means. A fundamental cultural mutation is needed, in both individual and collective consciousness, to evolve from patriarchy to gender equality and on to solidarity and sustainability. This transition can happen only at the intersection of the social and ethical/religious dimensions of human life. Patriarchy in political institutions, and even more so in religious institutions, is the greatest obstacle to gender equality, and therefore the greatest obstacle to attain a new civilization of solidarity and sustainability. How can gender equality be achieved as long as masculinity remains dominant over femininity? How can it be achieved as long as God is imagined as being exclusively male? How can it be achieved as long as only men serve in roles of religious authority?
Gender Equality in Society and Religion
It is by now evident that fostering gender equality is an irreversible "sign of the times" in civil society. It is a worldwide phenomenon, and credible empirical data shows that there is a positive correlation between gender equality, economic development, and population stabilization. Sadly, it is also becoming evident that patriarchal religious institutions have resisted advances in gender equality with every tool at their disposal, including various forms of religious intimidation and psychological violence. Honest questions about reserving roles of religious authority for men alone are summarily dismissed as "sociological" arguments seeking to destroy "sacred" religious doctrines, as if theology could be divorced from human experience, scientific knowledge, and the events of human history. Every conceivable rationalization is being used to delay admitting that most religious traditions have been contaminated by the man-made patriarchal culture, but patriarchy is a social system that can pass and will have to pass if a new civilization of solidarity and sustainability is to be attained. Thankfully, a post-patriarchal world is coming.
New Horizons in a Post-Patriarchal World
Human-centered development is an exceedingly complex process but it is clear that gender equality is a key ingredient to carry it forward, and the last thing we need is to use God as scapegoat in order to perpetuate a patriarchal order of things. Since patriarchy emerged in conjunction with the agricultural revolution, it cannot possibly be part of any pre-existing "natural moral law." It need not be taken for granted forever as "the natural order of things." It is incumbent on all people of good will to foster the transition from patriarchy to gender equality. Likewise, it is incumbent on all human institutions, both secular and religious, to foster liberation from patriarchal structures that no longer serve the good of humanity. This applies in particular to patriarchal religious institutions, for something that is not good for humanity cannot possibly be for the glory of God. These are the splendid new horizons for humanity in a post-patriarchal world: gender equality, social solidarity, and ecological sustainability.
"Violence against women is as old as patriarchy."|
Vandana Shiva, Our Violent Economy, Yes! Magazine, 18 January 2013