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The World Cries Out For Women ~A reflection on International Women’s Day by Barbara Kaufmann


Mammals are viviparous animals, meaning they are capable of live births. Oviparous animals lay and hatch eggs to procreate and have their young. Scientists find that 99% of animals hatch out of eggs; that number includes insects. One percent of animals, then, are part of the viviparous family and humans are among these. Half of that one percent are female humans who are capable of growing a fetus inside their bodies while the other 50%, or their male counterparts, cannot.

Men can help conceive life by contributing sperm that joins with the female ovum and animates the division of cells and growth at the very genesis of pregnancy. But that is the extent of the male's participation in incubating a fetus. Only women feel the stirrings of new life inside their bodies. Only women have labor. Only women can give birth through a specialized canal. Life emerges not from the male but the female. For men, life and birth are abstract. 

For women, birth and life are personal.

Does this live and intimate relationship with life make one more sensitive to life and life force? More sensitive to death? Would life and death feel differently when emerged from one's own body? Would life look different, have more meaning given such an intimacy with live birth? How would a maternal perspective governing life change one's opinion of life threatening circumstances such as illness? Genocide? War?

If women are indeed more sensitive to these issues, would they be as easily inclined to perpetrate harm and even death upon those viewed as "other?" ("Others" come into this world in the same way "we" do.) The "other" can be so many things—a someone seen as subordinate, inferior, culturally different, alien to social norms or other community constructs, disenfranchised, human geographically different or distant, banished, excluded, or characteristically alien to social, cultural or political norms.

Because they are bound by intuitive bonds to life, does it follow that women leaders, having a greater and more personal intimacy with the delicate genesis or destruction of life, naturally find other, more creative ways to solve differences, problems or conflicts? Is war, then, a natural outcome of conflict? A necessary one? Men have been dominant in leadership throughout history and countless times, male differences or conflicts default to war. Now war includes the capability of ending all life on the planet lending it a new layer of gravitas that adds urgency. Is war inevitable for humans? Or is war a lack of imagination?

Imagination, intimacy with, and reverence to life itself naturally sponsors compassion and perhaps is why His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that it will fall to the "Western woman to save the world." At the Peace Summit in Vancouver 2009, the two primary topics were peace and compassion and how to effectively promote them around the world.

Participants learned that peace and compassion are not sentimental but are far more complex. Compassion amounts to far more than feelings of idle sympathy or pity. Compassion demands courage and direct action—whether individual or institutional. The subject of peace centered on the bigger role women need to be able to play in being catalysts for change. The dialogues explored the difficult question of how aggressive can one be in the cause of peace? Women, when adopting a more aggressive role or approach to their exclusion from normal discourse or society solely because of gender, are often criticized as spiteful and unpleasant and are labeled with a derogatory term reserved for a female canine.

In the animal kingdom, the female will fiercely protect the lives of her young. The human female protecting her young can be ferocious. The female preservation of life through the vehicle of compassion is also fierce. There is nothing sentimental or subtle about a mother bear protecting her cubs or a human mom protecting her babe.

If women, then have this unique combination of an almost reverent respect for life because of their intimacy with the beginnings of life and the strong instinct to protect it, they are uniquely qualified to value life in groups, communities, and nations. Is this what the Dalai Lama meant? If so, then her male counterpart must recognize this attribute of the female and step back from the insistence on dominance. They must make room for a new kind of world with women in leadership. It may also mean that religion must rethink its long held views of male initiatives and dominance.

The cultural dominance of men as a custom has not just collectively usurped female authority, it has effectively silenced the feminine voice. Humans are endowed with attributes of both genders at birth which continue through life. A woman who displays her masculine side is considered "strong" unless she appears too strong and is considered too masculine which earns her another odious distinction; a male displaying his feminine side is considered sissified in some way and weak. Overly ambitious women are considered "bossy" or "bitchy" and while encouraged to "reach for the stars," an accomplished woman is threatening to men. Women are often attacked for behaviors that men are applauded for.

Despite the fact that we are now in the 21st Century, some kinds of careers are still underrepresented by women because women are not comfortably received in those roles. Companies are trying to embrace diversity but old customs die hard. We still, when speaking of certain vocations, default to certain gender-specific pronouns: Doctor, lawyer, carpenter, firefighter, CEO or chair. When people use those nouns the pronouns, automatically become male and she/her are lost in deference to he/him, or the gender bias fosters an expectation. Use the noun "nurse" or "cook" and the default is likely female.

It takes practice to engage one's diversity from auto pilot to thinking in new and disparate ways. It's kind of like learning a foreign language; you haven't completely mastered a language until you can also think in that new language. When something is as ingrained as a gender specific language features, used for a lifetime, change can cause dissonance and stress. Dissonance in the human brain is perceived as, and met with, chemicals equivalent to torture. Yes, learning new ways of being can be torturous.

A woman, however, can tell you that some of her life experience with femininity and womanhood is torture. The macroaggressions never seem to stop. A woman is expected to tolerate unwanted sexualized comments, provocative gestures, honking at, being ogled, cat called, wolf-whistled, stalked and even groped while at the same time demonstrating a civilized grace. If she calls out the unwanted and juvenile behavior, she risks being met with a dismissal of her concerns or worse, being called that canine name again. Harassment can follow her to work and can make a job miserable because of how she's treated daily in a place that is supposed to be neutral. Males often will take credit for ideas that originate from the women they work with and historically calling out that duplicity is too often met with a dismissal. To survive, a woman may remain silent and consequently, so do her ideas.

Being a woman, even after all this time, still feels like a trap and a continual balancing act. We are not at the point in evolution where women are yet seen as equals. The suffragette movement began in 1848 making the women's movement a hundred seventy-five years old.

The world needs the leadership of women. It needs women to step into their own power as equal partners in this adventure we call life. It's too heartbreaking to leave people behind simply because of their gender. We don't choose our gender; we are defined by our birth and the attributes we are born with. And it's also true that sometimes that doesn't work out and people don't identify with the persona they're born with. And that can bring ridicule and a form of banishment. The old strict gender rules don't work any longer. Maybe they've never worked. It's time to look at personhood and the potentials a person brings to the creative process of work and life. We all come with a purpose, a life mission, a soul's longing. There is a contribution only we can make that is part of our destiny. And not fulfilling one's destiny hurts not only the individual, it robs treasure from society.

We (the collective) are threatened by the effects of climate change which will take all of us to solve. The new world must include leadership that factors in the effects of runaway capitalism and commerce and that can lend a clear vision to the future. Tomorrow's leadership will need women because their default is to respect and awe life's miracle and advance the protection of the species. Will we call women to the table to plan saving ourselves? Will we then be silent and let them speak so we can hear what they have to say? Will we step back and give them the space they require to function and the support they require to win?

"The United Nations theme for this year's observance is "Gender equality for today for a sustainable tomorrow" in recognition and celebration of the women and girls leading the charge on climate change adaptation and response and honor their leadership and contribution towards a sustainable future. As we come together to celebrate International Women's Day, we join our sisters and brothers in the four directions throughout the world. We remember today is sustainable for tomorrow and the care we have for one another leads us to engage with the pain and suffering of all people and creation."

One day a year, on International Women's Day, to internationally celebrate women is great but it's a Band-Aid. We are bleeding from an artery and our survival is leaking out. Women respect and cherish life because they carry it and birth it; who do you want stemming the flow and gloving-up for the surgery and the healing that's needed? In order to brainstorm solutions, we need the perspectives of women. Because, just maybe, the clear and workable answer is in the mind of the women standing silent at your side. Invite her in.

Barbara Kaufmann, "One Wordsmith" and CFC Coordinator for The Arts Sector, Senior Writer and contributor to the Charter for Compassion discovered a long time ago, the power in words, images and "story" to change the world. Told with art, music, words, photos, images, film, "story" can grab the human heart, squeeze it, burst it open and send a corona of inspired-creative-human-brilliance shimmering through mass consciousness, the world and the Universe itself. A single image can reverberate round the globe and startle humanity awake. Founder of "Words and Violence" Program about bullying in all its forms on this planet, and writer for Voices Education Project, Charter for Compassion, a Huffington Post contributor, poet, artist, scriptwriter and filmmaker—Barbara "writes to simply change the world." Her ministry and life's work is dedicated to "establishing a more humane narrative on this planet."  

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Monday, 05 June 2023
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