Grace Paley contributed a short essay to Sisterhood is Forever (2003) entitled “Why Peace Is (More Than Ever) A Feminist Issue.” In it she charges that the legacy of men is war. Many would dispute that by saying that women are just as capable of starting and fighting a war as men are. But history doesn’t bear that out. Whether it’s just the way men are or the fact that they are the ones who call the shots (literally) in this society, the evidence supports Paley’s belief that women (specifically feminists) are the hope of the future, peace-wise.
Feminists are torn between two camps (as are traditionalists): biological determination or socialization (nature vs. nurture). Are women and men essentially equal in every respect except for the molds in which society makes them? Or are there basic biological differences that create male and female behaviors, regardless of socialization?
I know there are plenty of feminists out there who deliberately kept dolls from their daughters and guns from their sons and found that it didn’t seem to make a bit of difference: their girls still gravitated toward nurturing behaviors and their boys still engaged in warfare of various kinds.
And yet there were usually discernible differences. Their children’s behaviors tended to be more androgynous than what society views as gender-appropriate. Their daughters were more assertive and their boys more reflective–but they never completely switched roles. Which tends to make the case for both biological and socialized influences.
Feminist ideology says that even though it might be natural for women to be more passive and men to be more aggressive, the ideal is to mix it up so that each sex’s less-productive tendencies are tempered by positive behaviors and attitudes from the other sex. It is a misperception that feminists want to become like men; what they want is to have the same advantages that men have in this society. But they also recognize that women have advantages of their own. What is rarely said is that they want men to have access to those as well.
Feminists want to make it possible for men to say: “You know what, I don’t want to fight.” Or to stay home with the children. Or to be day care providers. Or fashion designers without being called “gay.” Or to be gay without it being negative. Just as they want women to be able to fight for what they think is right without being labeled masculine (or lesbian). To be allowed to lead, to make decisions, to inspire others.
What feminists are not saying is that women need to start acting like men and vice versa. Feminists want polarization of the sexes to disappear. To see women and men cooperate with one another. To teach our children to become both independent and interdependent. To seek a balance between female and male attributes. To remove the stain of war as a legacy. Is that too much to ask?