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Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2016
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Fostering Gender Balance in Society


SUMMARY & OUTLINE

This supplement is a digest of recent events and significant contributions to fostering gender equality - and human development - in various secular cultures and institutions. It is acknowledged that the distinction between the secular and religious dimensions is an artificial one, often blurred in real life situations. In those cases, if the material is predominantly secular it is included here; else it is included in Supplement 6. The selected items are the editor's choice. Suggestions by readers are welcomed. Reporting on good role models is a high priority. The following sections are included this month:

1. Men, Women, and Cross-Gender Solidarity
2. Men and Women in Marriage and the Family
3. The Patriarchal Culture of Command and Control
4. Gender Balance for Solidarity and Sustainability
5. Gender Balance for Adaptation to Climate Change
6. Women in Roles of Leadership and Governance
7. Men and the Changing Face of Masculinity
8. Men, Women, and the Human Habitat
9. Dismantling the Patriarchal Gender Binary in Society

The promotion of gender equality in society is a slow and painful process, and it is barely beginning to unfold worldwide. But it is a dynamic process, one in which progress begets progress. It is important to stay tuned to relevant news coming from all world regions and all world cultures. The Google News box displayed to the right may be helpful. Readers can enhance their web sites with their own version of this box - which is continuously refreshed as significant events are reported - by going to Google News, clicking on "Add a section," and follow simple instructions under "Create a custom section." This is a free service, but you must register in order to use the customization tool.

If you know about recent developments that should be mentioned in this page, please write to the Editor.

"If we are going to see real development in the world,
then our best investment is women."

— Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Progress of the World’s Women:
Transforming economies, realizing rights
(POWW2015)

UN Women, May 2015

1. Men, Women, and Cross-Gender Solidarity

Definition of Gender

"Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, activities and attributes that a particular society considers appropriate for men and women, explains the World Health Organization. The distinct roles, reinforced by legal systems and religion, have historically given rise to gender inequalities not only in health care but with education and employment opportunities. Globalization has challenged the most archaic perceptions of gender roles through books, films, and other media; new technologies in satellite television and the internet; and policies of multinational corporations and tourism. Human rights groups reach across borders to lend support and inspiration to those in other lands; the United Nations and other international organizations target gender equality as a major goal." YaleGlobal

Definition of Gender Balance

Gender balance is 50/50 male/female presence in a group. So it is a matter of numbers, but it is more than just a matter of numbers. Gender balance is required in both responsibility and authority, in the family and in all human institutions. It must become internalized to the point in which patriarchal individualism and male hegemony are neutralized by a new sense of communion between men and women, and between humanity and nature. It must be a fully inclusive sense of communion that overcomes any exclusivism on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, or any other reason. It must be a communion that seeks the integral development of each and every human person, from conception to natural death. And it must be a communion in which all humans endeavor to take care of each other while also taking care of natural resources. Nothing in this world is perfect, and this new order of things will not be perfect but, far from being utopian, it is in fact inevitable if humanity is to survive in the long term.

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LINK TO THE BOOK
No More War: The Human Potential for Peace

Futurist, behaviorist, and evolutionary biologist Dr. Judith Hand presents a compelling argument in her film “No More War” that if we chose to do it, we can achieve what no people before us could: a future without war. She introduces cutting edge hypotheses on the origins of cooperation, altruism and morality, indicating how they relate to the human potential for peace. The origins of war are explored, including a consideration of why men and women, in general, differ when it comes to using physical aggression to resolve conflicts. A proposal is offered that the time is right for us to mount a global, social transformation movement to abolish war and reasons are given for why we can, at this time, embrace the goal of ending war with confidence. Why participation of women as full partners with men in decision-making positions is a necessary condition, not an option, is stressed. Two complementary elements of a nonviolence campaign to end war are introduced: Constructive Program and Obstructive Program. Suggestions are offered for ways viewers can be involved in this great cause. Learn more.

A Future Without War is Judith Hand's website, where most of her writings can be readily accessed. The following are some links to material that should be of interest to readers of this journal:

Violence (war in particular) is the greatest obstacle to sustainable human development. Judith Hand is making a significant contribution to peace by pointing the way to a culture of global solidarity and nonviolence. The reader is cordially invited to visit A Future Without War for more information on this important piece of work.


RECENT NEWS ON GENDER SOLIDARITY:

2. Men and Women in Marriage and the Family

Gender Balance in Marriage and the Family

In the post-patriarchal era, marriage is to be seen as a covenant of mutual submission between husband and wife. The patriarchal model of male hegemony will be seen as a forgettable aberration in human history. Marriage is about responsibly sharing the gift of love and the gift of life, not about one-sided domination and control. Fathers are called to be fathers. Mothers are called to be mothers. Both authority and responsibilities are to be fully shared. This will not cancel the natural differences between men and women. It will make husband and wife more accountable to each other. It will allow fathers to continue their personal development to become more nurturing without loss of masculinity, and will allow mothers to continue their personal development to become more assertive without loss of femininity. The family will then become a "domestic school" in which children, boys and girls, learn by osmosis that things are better when authoritarian violence is replaced by just and merciful authority and, at the same time, loving care is not confused with permissive abuse of family resources. It should be possible to advance further in this direction, because this was the natural order of things before male domination became institutionalized (Cf. Genesis 1-3).


International Day of the Girl Child 2013:
Innovating for Girls’ Education

Innovation: a novel solution to a social problem that is
more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions

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UNICEF Statement: "The fulfilment of girls’ right to education is first and foremost an obligation and moral imperative. There is also overwhelming evidence that girls’ education, especially at the secondary level, is a powerful transformative force for societies and girls themselves: it is the one consistent positive determinant of practically every desired development outcome, from reductions in mortality and fertility, to poverty reduction and equitable growth, to social norm change and democratization." READ MORE

3. The Patriarchal Culture of Command and Control

The following is quoted from Wikipedia:

"Patriarchy is a social system in which the male gender role as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.

"Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, and economic organization of a range of different cultures. Patriarchy also has a strong influence on modern civilization, although many cultures have moved towards a more egalitarian social system over the past century.

"Patriarchy literally means "rule of fathers" (Greek patriarkhes), "father" or "chief of a race, patriarch". Historically, the term patriarchy was used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family. However, in modern times, it more generally refers to social systems in which power is primarily held by adult men.

"Anthropological and historical evidence indicates that most prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies were generally relatively egalitarian, and that patriarchal social structures did not develop until many years after the end of the Pleistocene era, following social and technological innovations such as agriculture and domestication. However, according to Robert M. Strozier, historical research has not yet found a specific "initiating event" of the origin of patriarchy. Some scholars point to about six thousand years ago (4000 BCE), when the concept of fatherhood took root, as the beginning of the spread of patriarchy."

For more on patriarchy, click here.

The patriarchal mindset of rivalry and domination is pervasive and induces a culture of "command and control" and transcends family relations and contaminates all human relations as well as the human attitude toward the natural habitat. An excellent exposition of the need for a good dosage of "ecofeminism" to overcome patriarchy is provided by Patrick Curry in Chapter 9 of his book, Ecological Ethics. Following are some excerpts:

"Insofar as patriarchy identifies women with nature and dominates both, they are internally linked, so the struggle to resist or overturn either must address both."

"Ecofeminism is a meeting of two strands. One is feminism itself: the awareness of the pathological effects of dominant patriarchal or (to use a more recent term) masculinist structures, both 'inner' and 'outer' -- particularly, of course, on women but also, ultimately, on their oppressors -- and the attempt to replace them with ones that also value the feminine."

"The other element is a recognition of, and deep concern about, the equally masculinist domination and exploitation of nature through the very same habitual structures of though, feeling and action that devalue and harm women."

Curry goes on to analyze the master mentality, both dualist and hierarchical: "humanity versus nature; male versus female; and reason versus emotion... the domination and exploitation of nature and women proceed by the same logic, the same processes and, by and large, the same people... only ecofeminism brings a critical awareness of the extent and ways in which the subordination of women and ecological destruction are integrally linked."

The chapter unfolds with a review of work by ecofeminist leaders such as Vandana Shiva (India) and Wangari Maathai (Kenya), and proceeds to deconstruct the androcentric (male-centered) mentality while, at the same time, making it crystal clear that ecofeminism is definitely not a matter of demonizing men. In fact, men are victims of patriarchal practices as much as women; in one way or another, domination that goes around comes around. Only an ethics of care, as in a mother holding her child, can break the vicious circle of patriarchal command and control whereby humans abuse the human habitat at their own peril. Indeed, as Lynn White proposed years ago, St. Francis of Assisi should be recognized as the patron saint of ecologists.

ON THE HISTORY OF PATRIARCHY

The Creation of Patriarchy, Gerda Lerner, Oxford University Press, 1987

The Patriarchal Family in History, Christopher Dawson, in The Dynamics of World History, ISI Books, 2003

What is Patriarchy and Why is it the Most Powerful Force in the World Today?, Mary L. Wentworth, GSN, August 2005

Patriarchy, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2008

Moving Beyond the Pathology of History: Why We Need a Shift in Human Consciousness, Jean Houston, Huffington Post, 21 September 2010

SOME RECENT NEWS ON PATRIARCHY

The Real Shame: India’s Patriarchy Roars Back After Delhi Gang Rape, By Nilanjana Bhowmick / New Delhi, Time World, 18 January 2013
My patriarchy is better than yours, By Hani Yousuf, International Herald Tribune, 17 January 2013
Parliament and patriarchy, Ramachandra Guha, The Hindu, 31 December 2012
Shrouded in patriarchy, Victoria Rossi, The Hindu, 15 January 2013
Benign patriarchy is deadly, , The Gleaner, Jamaica, 6 January 2013
Why we must not skirt the real issues—rape & patriarchy, Patralekha Chatterjee, DNA, 14 January 2013
Patriarchy begins with the textbook, Bhavya Dore, Hindustan Times, Mumbai, West India, 9 January 2013
No Patriarchy, No Police State, No Capital Punishment: A Report on the Rally Against Rape, Soma Marik, International Viewpoint, 7 January 2013
Our Violent Economy is Hurting Women, Vandana Shiva, Yes! Magazine, 18 January 2013
Microfinance and Patriarchy: 'A Drift Away from Serving Women', Knowledge@Wharton, Forbes, 18 January 2013
The Bible Is Man-Made: Why Patriarchy Still Reigns, George Elerick, Huffington Post, 21 ecember 2012
The tragedy of homo disappointus, Deepanjana Pal, DNA, 19 January 2013
Were the First Artists Mostly Women?, Virginia Hughes, National Geographic, 8 October 2013
Cave Women Rocked: Science Shows Prehistoric Gender Equality, Piper Hoffman, Care2, 8 November 2013

4. Gender Balance for Solidarity and Sustainability

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Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director
IWD 2014: Equality for women is progress for all


Source: UN Women

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LINK TO THE WEBSITE
FEMME: Women Healing the World
An inspiring documentary by Emmanuel Itier
Produced by Sharon Stone
FEMME is now in theaters!
If there are no dates scheduled near you,
consider sponsoring a screening!

"A celebration of women around the world actively transforming and healing our global society. Sharon Stone and leading experts in religion, science, history, politics and entertainment, discuss solutions to the multiple crisis’ we are faced with. Femme focuses on utilizing a feminine approach with nurturing energy to inspire a new hope for the future." Director: Emmanuel Itier. Starring: Sharon Stone, Maria Bello, Maria Conchita Alonso, Shirin Ebadi, Mairead Maguire, Gloria Steinem, Marianne Williamson, Jean Houston, Angela Davis.

Actress Sharon Stone co-produced “Femme: Women Healing the World”, Santa Barbara director Emmanuel Itier’s documentary that features more than 100 women, both famous and unsung, from around the world who are working to transform the planet through a number of fields, from politics and philosophy to spirituality, science and entertainment. Stone – whose leg-crossing scene in the original 1992 “Basic Instinct” is one of modern film’s most iconic moments, which also happens to represent a women using her sexual power to manipulate men, for better or worse – has said about FEMME:

  • Film is a powerful medium for inciting change: “We’re using the documentary format to reach out and talk about issues are relevant and important. Allowing this beautiful point of view to be expressed in a powerful way is intelligent, thoughtful, mindful and compassionate…. The more we have sympathetic communication the better that we do with one another.”
  • This is an important moment for women in the world: “We’re (in) Year 11 of a world war, and we have to think about that women are less invested in conflict and more interested in creativity and the development of nurturing and conflict resolution….It’s just a practical matter in many ways. When we look at the stress that all of those things have put on our economic climate, we can see that if we don’t (address this issues) from a more creative and nurturing perspective, the global economy cannot hold this continue desire for conflict and the negative impact of not caring for one another. There’s no logic in that math equation.
  • You can do something about it: “We can look at peace as something we expect our leaders to accomplish, and something that we understand as a verb, as an action. There are simple, seemingly small things we can do each day with more peaceful intentions, and create a climate of peace in action. Then we habituate ourselves to a different kind of sensibility and peace begins to flower from these small actions that become a state of mind.”
  • It’s not just for women: “I think that old saying ‘Behind every great man…’ is not an untrue sentiment. We were meant to partner – in our jobs, in our schools, in the world. We bring different elements to play. But it’s not ‘just’ women – it’s ‘with’, ‘together’, ‘partners’…. We are in a paradigm shift where we can partner in our mate in a non-gender specific way, any age, ethnicity. But in the world, we as women in our intuitive nature, bring something woman to man.”

  • 5. Gender Balance for Adaptation to Climate Change

    This section is excerpted from
    Women are powerful agents of change
    CARE Climate Change

    "As a rights-based organisation, CARE's climate change strategy is geared towards the empowerment of poor and marginalised people. CARE is deeply concerned about constraints that the inequitable distribution of rights, resources and power – as well as repressive cultural rules and norms – place on people's ability to take action on climate change. We believe that a wide range of development goals are achievable only if decision makers at all levels recognise the unique risks faced by poor and marginalised people and their essential roles in planning, implementing and evaluating action on climate change.

    "The majority of the world's poorest people today are women and girls. Climate change is making it even more difficult for them to realise their basic rights, and it is exacerbating inequalities since they are more vulnerable to its impacts than men.

    "Moreover, many women are denied access to new information about climate change and participation in important decision-making processes despite having unique skills and knowledge – about low risk farming, sustainable water management, family health and community mobilisation, for example – vital to effective adaptation.

    "For all these reasons, and because women are central to the food and livelihood security of their families, we place a special emphasis on gender equality and women's empowerment."

    For more, including links to other CARE resources, click here.

    KEY LINKS TO ADAPTATION & GENDER

    COLLABORATION BETWEEN INDIA AND SIERRA LEONE

    One specific case worthy of study in Women Bringing Solar Power to Sierra Leone, The Guardian, 15 September 2011. The following summary is excerpted from YaleGlobal, 16 September 2011.

    "Developing renewables to meet the growing demand for energy is a top priority in the 21st century. So is enhancing collaboration among developing countries. By training semi-literate women from rural Sierra Leone in solar-energy techniques, Barefoot College in western India works towards achieving both these goals. Twelve women attended and then returned to villages in Sierra Leone to assemble 1,500 household solar units at a new branch of Barefoot College in Konta Line, where the training will continue, reports a blog for the Guardian. The governments of both countries have played their part; Sierra Leone invested $820,000 in the project, and India provided equipment. The vast majority of households in Sierra Leone go without power. Following its decades-long civil war, electricity is Sierra Leone's "most daunting infrastructural challenge," notes a World Bank report. Lighting extends education and socializing into the evening hours, and the women are planning on manufacturing solar units to spread the new power."

    6. Women in Roles of Leadership and Governance

    Gender Balance in Society and Secular Governance

    What children learn in the family (the "domestic school") defines their way of thinking and acting for a lifetime. Gender balance in marriage and the family is then lived out in all dimensions of social relations, including secular governance. However, persisting gender imbalance in social relations and institutions of governance is a serious obstacle to the advent of post-patriarchal families. Nowhere is this more evident than in the objectification of human bodies (mostly female) for business purposes. There is of course the pay gap between men and women with comparable qualifications. More nefarious symptoms include the persisting double standard on the value of virginity for boys and girls; the increasing number of "single parents" (mostly mothers) resulting from seeking gratification without accepting responsibility; and the millions of unborn children (mostly girls) killed for reasons of expediency or simply to avoid the "inconvenience" of raising a child. It must be recognized that, when there is gender inequality and imbalance in human relations, the entire fabric of society is corrupted. It is well known that "what goes around comes around," and this is also true in gender relations, even though male and female violence may tend to exhibit different modes of expression. The mindset of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" manifests itself in an endless number of ways across the entire gender spectrum. It is no coincidence that, in the Book of Genesis, gender violence is the first and most universal outcome of corrupting the original communion between man and woman.

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    NO CEILINGS: THE FULL PARTICIPATION PROJECT
    -- This is an effort led by Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Clinton Foundation to bring together partner organizations to evaluate and share the progress women and girls have made in the 20 years since the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. This new effort will help chart the path forward to accelerate full participation for women and girls in the 21st century. The full participation of women and girls is critical to global progress, development, and security.


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    Hillary Clinton
    Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton (born October 26, 1947) is a former United States Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady of the United States. From 2009 to 2013, she was the 67th Secretary of State, serving under President Barack Obama. She previously represented New York in the U.S. Senate (2001 to 2009). Before that, as the wife of President Bill Clinton, she was First Lady from 1993 to 2001. In the 2008 election, Clinton was a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. She is currently running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. To contact the office of Hillary Clinton, click here.



    ROLE MODELS

    10 Leaders Who Redefine Leadership

    Emily Garcia & Kim Crane, World Pulse, 12 December 2013

    Women on the Rise in African Politics
    Anne Look, Voice of America, 8 February 2014

    No Ceilings: The Full Participation Report
    Clinton Foundation & Gates Foundation, April 2015.

    7. Men and the Changing Face of Masculinity

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    New Internationalist
    RESOURCES

    8. Men, Women, and the Human Habitat

    Women and Biodiversity Feed the World,
    Not Corporations and GMOs

    Vandana Shiva

    Originally published in Common Dreams, 20 May 2015,
    under a Creative Commons License

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    'Women have been the primary growers of food and nutrition
    throughout history,' writes Dr. Vandana Shiva, 'but today, food
    is being taken out of our hands and substituted for toxic commodities
    controlled by global corporations.' (Photos: Georgina Smith/CIAT)

    The two great ecological challenges of our times are biodiversity erosion and climate change. And both are interconnected, in their causes and their solutions.

    Industrial agiculture is the biggest contributor to biodiversity erosion as well as to climate change. According to the United Nations, 93% of all plant variety has disappeared over the last 80 years.

    Monocultures based on chemical inputs do not merely destroy plant biodiversity, they have destroyed soil biodiversity, which leads to the emergence of pathogens, new diseases, and more chemical use.

    Our study of soils in the Bt cotton regions of Vidharba showed a dramatic decline in beneficial soil organisms. In many regions with intensive use of pesticides and GMOs, bees and butterflies are disappearing. There are no pollinators on Bt cotton plants, whereas the population of pollinators in Navdanya’s biodiversity conservation farm in Doon Valley is six times more than in the neighbouring forest. The UNEP has calculated the contribution of pollinators to be $200 billion annually. Industrial agriculture also kills aquatic and marine life by creating dead zones due to fertilizer run off. Pesticides are also killing or damaging aquatic life .

    "Genetically engineered Golden Rice and GMO Bananas are being proposed by corporations hiding behind the cloak of academia as a solution to hunger and malnutrition in the Global South. But these are false miracles."
    Besides the harm to biodiversity and the climate, industrial agriculture actually undermines food and nutrition security. Firstly, industrial agriculture grows commodities for profits of the agrichemical (now also Biotech) and agribusiness corporations. Only 10 percent of the annual GMO corn and soya crop goes to feed people. The rest goes to animal feed and biofuel. This is clearly not a food system that feeds the world.

    Secondly, monocultures undermine nutrition by displacing the biodiversity that provides nourishment and the diversity of nutrients our body needs. Herbicides like Roundup do not just kill the milkweed on which the monarch Butterfly larvae feed, they kill sources of nutrition for humans – the amaranth, the "bathua," and the mixed cropping that produces more "Nutrition per Acre" than industrial monocultures (see Navdanya’s report on Health per Acre).

    Having destroyed our sources of nutrition by destroying biodiversity—and creating vitamin A, iron and other deficiencies—the same companies who created the crisis are promising a miracle solution: GMOs. Genetically engineered Golden Rice and GMO Bananas are being proposed by corporations hiding behind the cloak of academia as a solution to hunger and malnutrition in the Global South. But these are false miracles.

    Indigenous biodiverse varieties of food grown by women provide far more nutrition than the commodities produced by industrial agriculture. Since 1985 the false miracle of Golden Rice is being offered as a solution to vitamin A deficiency. But Golden rice is still under development. Billions of dollars have been wasted on a hoax.

    "Apart from being nutritionally empty, GMOs are part of an industrial system of agriculture that is destroying the planet, depleting our water sources, increasing green houses gases, and driving farmers into debt and suicide."
    On 20th of April, the White house gave an award to Syngenta which had tried to pirate India’s rice diversity, and owns most of the 80 patents related to Golden Rice. This is reminiscient of the Emperor who had no clothes. Golden Rice is 350% less efficient in providing vitanim A than the biodiversity alternatives that women grow. GMO ‘iron-rich’ Bananas have 3000% less iron than turmeric and 2000% less iron than amchur (mango powder). Apart from being nutritionally empty, GMOs are part of an industrial system of agriculture that is destroying the planet, depleting our water sources, increasing green houses gases, and driving farmers into debt and suicide through a greater dependence on chemical inputs. Moreover, these corporate-led industrial monocultures are destroying biodiversity, and we are losing access to the food systems that have sustained us throughout time. Biodiverse ecological agriculture in women’s hands is a solution not just to the malnutrition crisis, but also the climate crisis.

    Women have been the primary growers of food and nutrition throughout history, but today, food is being taken out of our hands and substituted for toxic commodities controlled by global corporations. Monoculture industrial farming has taken the quality, taste and nutrition out of our food.

    In addition to destroying biodiversity, industrial agriculture is the biggest contributor of greenhouse gases (GHGs) which are leading to climate change and climate chaos. As I have written in my book, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis, 40% of all GHGs—including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and methane—come from industrialised globalized agriculture. And chemical monocultures are also more vulnerable to climate change as we have witnessed in the unseasonal rains at harvest time in 2015.

    On the other hand, organic farming reduces emissions, and also makes agriculture more resilient to climate change. Because organic farming is based on returning organic matter to the soil, it is the most effective means to remove excess carbon in the air, where it does not belong, and putting it in the soil, where it belongs. Navdanya’s research has shown that organic farming has increased carbon absorption by 55%. International studies show that with 2 tons of Soil Organic Matter (SOM) per hectare, we can remove 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which can reduce the atmospheric concentration of carbon back down to pre-industrial levels of 350 ppm.

    In addition, organic matter in the soil also increases water-holding capacity of the soil, reducing the impact of floods and droughts. Just 1% increase in Soil Organic Matter can raise the water-holding capacity of soil by 100,000 liters per hectare. And an increase of 5% can raise it to 800,000 liters. This is our insurance against climate change, both when there is drought and too little rain, and when there are floods and excess rain. On the other hand, cement and concrete increases runoff of water, aggravating floods and drought. We witnessed this in the Uttarakhand disaster in 2013 and in the Kashmir disaster in 2014.

    At harvest time of spring 2015 India had unseasonal rains which destroyed the crops. More than a 100 farmers committed suicide. The unseasonal rains due to climate instability added to the burden of debt the farmers are already carrying due to rising costs of production and falling prices. Both the crisis of debt leading to climate change and the climate crisis have a common solution – a shift to biodiverse ecological agriculture which is free of high cost chemical inputs and dependence on corporate seeds, hence of debt, and also has climate resilience built into it through biodiversity and organic soils.

    4000 years ago our ancient Vedas had guided us, "Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Care for it, and it will grow our food, our fuel, our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it, and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it."

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis; Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.

    9. Dismantling the Patriarchal Gender Binary in Society

    God Beyond Gender: On Peter Wilkes’ A Woman Called God

    Jessica Lake Mason, Gender Focus, 18 May 2015
    REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION

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    I wrestle intellectually from time to time with the issue of god and gender. Maybe you do, too.

    Over time, I’ve grown skeptical about the importance of gender to divinity, as gender seems like a human issue, whereas God, to me, is unfathomably beyond that.

    Even if gender is “just” a construction, it’s an incredibly pervasive one with very real consequences that are felt across cultures. We have to talk gender when we talk God, because religion forms and influences cultures, and cultural norms and gender norms are interwoven.

    Peter Wilkes’ effort to contribute to this conversation is his book, A Woman Called God, which employs stick-figure drawings and a children’s book structural model, and is directed at adult-children. In it, Wilkes centralizes the issue of the woman/man binary as a way of encouraging readers to seek the higher calling of unconditional love, which he is convinced can only come from the divine feminine. His insistence on a womanly gender for God reinforced my personal disbelief in the essentiality of gender to understanding the divine but it did not eliminate the more-general question of the importance of gender to religious discourse. In fact, it brought it to the forefront.

    Wilkes’ little book – pointedly unapologetic and impishly Socratic – contends with the question of whether or not a shift in image and authority at the divine level, away from masculine and toward feminine, can achieve better results for humanity.

    I like this question and I think it is evocative, but I don’t think the answer to the problems of power and of inhumane treatment can be found solely in gender. The answer, I believe, is to be found in deconstructing the gender binary and in destabilizing radically the constructed and mythical cult of manhood. The myth of the “Manly/Patriarchal God” perpetuates harmful forms of oppression and misogyny, but it doesn’t account for all manifestations of violence and oppression globally.

    Calling God a woman is one way of challenging the power of the “Manly/Patriarchal God,” but more importantly we need to turn our attention to the core ethics behind the favorable behaviors we associate with “women”— behaviors that Wilkes points to in the book, and ones that I, in agreement with him, believe will benefit humanity more than those we’ve seen under the reign of a myth about a masculinist higher power.

    Wilkes, himself, demonstrates that men can reject oppressive practices and embrace nurturing ones. He and others not considered women can, indeed, be nurturers. I don’t think it’s dependent on gender. But maybe gender is where it starts.

    Wilkes holds a light up to the issue of god and gender in an accessible way, revealing it in terms that most everyone will be able to understand.

    He insists on gender— on making God a woman, yet what his wish alludes to is simply the act of making God unconditionally loving. Many monotheists will find this offensive: the idea of making God something.

    As someone who believes in a god that exists outside of the power of my imagination, I’m still interested in responding to the challenge that Wilkes’ book poses: for us to think outside of the patriarchal box when it comes to God. I believe there is much, in religious texts, that lends credence to the idea that God is not strictly patriarchal and is beyond gender.

    Wilkes believes that the way to change humanity is through unconditional love and effusive nurturing, but I ask: aren’t we limiting God and ourselves by assuming that these qualities have to come from women? I agree with him that historically and on the whole, they do, but my hope, as I come away from the book, is that we can find a way for all people to become sources of unconditional love— my wish is not for a woman god but for a loving humanity that reflects a loving divinity.

    Peter Wilkes himself is proof enough that unconditional love can come in the form of a man: the question, the book, and the entire project of “little books for big people” are demonstrations of unconditional love for an imperfect humanity.

    Unconditional love has little to do with sex or gender; the problem is that we have been misled into believing otherwise. Expressions of love and affection have been mythically made a function of gender because of rigid gender roles that have ingrained in many of us the idea that men cannot possess loving, tender, vulnerable and forgiving qualities.

    This is the myth that I wish Wilkes’ book had tried to undo: that men and that a god with masculine qualities cannot be nurturing and loving. Wilkes seems defeatist in his treatment of gender— convinced that men and a male god cannot be loving and that the only way to find unconditional love in God for humanity is through the model of womanhood: specifically, in attaching womanhood to the divine. I am not against this, but I don’t think it’s the final answer.

    The question of the relationship between gender and divine power is not a new one, and many, especially in recent decades, have attempted to pose it in varying ways— and even to answer it. I conferred with my friend and fellow feminist scholar, Dr. Amy Carr, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, over the issue of God and gender, asking her about her view on the relationship of gender to God. She said:

    Because God lacks a created body, God lacks or transcends gender. God is not a creature, not part of creation; God is that which transcends, creates, sustains, and redeems the created world(s). While Christians believe the second person of the Trinity became incarnate in the human being Jesus, God in all three Trinitarian persons transcends gender, and each person can thus be envisioned in male and/or female form.

    Dr. Carr’s Christian orthodox belief is similar to, though more scripturally based and justified than, my own. Although this view is not one shared by all Christians, nor does it take into direct consideration other world religions, it is compatible with Wilkes’ proposition that it is acceptable and favorable to re-envision God in womanly form. I stop short of affirming Wilkes’ belief that we should invest in any kind of absolute gender identity for God, but I think his ideas point us in a healthier direction, away from the dominance of a male, strictly patriarchal, gender-based religious culture.

    Wilkes takes on a childlike persona to accomplish his goal, urging us to lay down the pretences of our adult roles in order to talk as children, in simplistic terms, about the ways in which world religions address the issue of gender. For me, this was handled too simplistically and evoked some binaristic gross overgeneralizations that, while childlike, do not seem in the best interest of eliciting change. They are, however, in the best interest of eliciting conversation and debate.

    What I found most provocative and interesting of all in my encounter with A Woman Called God were the insights that Wilkes shared in an accompanying interview in which he explained his choices and shed some light on what was behind the book. I was moved and delighted by his exuberant love for and support of women.

    At one point during the interview, he paid homage to women, saying, “Imagine you are the first guy on earth. And you find out that this first woman you’re with can bleed without dying! Every month it happens, in concert with the moon and tides! Whoa, that’s impressive!” It is one of my favorite moments with Wilkes, because he was free from his defensiveness against religion— free to simply marvel at divine creation, making women central instead of arguing that they should be central.

    The book begins with a couple of forewarnings, and while I fully understand where they come from, having myself been burned badly on numerous occasions by those speaking “on behalf of religion,” I feel they might be alienating to some who might otherwise have been persuaded by the book. Saying that “spiritual paths of discovery…are always scorned by any Religion because spiritual people…are not listening to any cleric” is problematic to me. The use of “always,” for instance, is childlike, but an adult audience—even those, like me, who identify with his position—might be uncomfortable finding themselves pinned down by it in some way.

    I don’t want division for Wilkes. I don’t want it for any of us. I sense the pain. A lot of it. And I sense the hurt child. Wilkes is, as an adult man, admirably taking a risk by exposing the raw and childlike parts of himself, the parts that have been wounded and traumatized by religion and by the unloving and sometimes hateful actions of men, actions that were justified or driven by religion and/or an oppressive godhead. Wilkes wants what I want for him and for humanity: healing.

    Ultimately, he seeks it in the transformation of a male god to a female god. I think Wilkes is onto something in assuming that humanity is affected and can be transformed by its conception of the divine. He knows how important religion is to the advancement of society, and he wants radical change. I do, too.

    This is clearly a labor of love for the author. Proceeds from the book are going to fight violence against women, and the book’s minimalist style affirms its mission. Wilkes is willing to be an adult child, to wear his inner child on his sleeve, in order to try to make the world a more loving place. For Wilkes, that loving place is found in mother, in woman, in the divine feminine. I hope that someday that loving place will be found all around, across the gender spectrum.



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