War is Menstruation EnvyFirst published in Perspective Magazine, Spring 1993
by Peter Davison
Let's face it, war is a male thing. Since it is inconceivable for women, who give birth to life, to plot the systematic killing of their own children or other mother's children. Why then have there been 207 wars in the most "modern" century of civilization where 78 million sons and daughters died?
The reason is painfully clear. Those of us with external genitalia have set up a society based on a hierarchical power pyramid where the tools of violence have maintained a power-over relationship for too long. It is a world where the dominant motivators and values of strength and control are woven into every institution and level of our social fabric. It is a competitive system where rewards come to those who are the most aggressive in the board rooms, the football fields or in the ultimate quest for control, war.
How far do we have to delve into the macho construction of gender before we unlock the reasons we have such an obscenity as war? It will surprise only a few that some men have used violence to maintain power and control over women, children and other men in the home, office or international stage. The reasons for this go way back even beyond the knight in shining armour getting a pat on the back for rescuing the helpless princess. The more men perform the dragon slayer/ Schwarzenegger role the harder we repress the fear of not being able to live up to those expectations. It is not surprising that so many men we know have problems expressing emotions like anger, vulnerability, or fear of inadequacy because they are the opposite of a centuries old message of how to act like a man.
Us guys have denied our fears and we have learned to think of power as our ability to dominate and control, in some form, the world, the people around us and our unruly emotions. This denial drives men to blindly trust technology, subdue the earth and conquer every frontier "because it's there". Yet for all this pathetic struggling to prove our self worth in the external world at the expense of the internal denial there is one thing that remains that men cannot truly conqueror and control. Women's ability to lactate and menstruate, in short, to create life.
How has this envy of women's vitality played out in history? Within the systematic oppression of women through the ages two examples reveal the patriarchal response to the envy of birth: 1. The science of medicine has taken responsibility from women who once had sole responsibility for life as healers, midwives or mothers and 2. War has replaced the male need to control the final frontier, life itself, by the illusion of the absolute and brutal control of who dies.
Men have tried to control birth by subverting a natural process through an increasing dependency on technology, using so called reproductive technologies to manipulate fertility so we can shop for our child's sex. Male anti-choice legislation has also attempted to control women's bodies and choice about reproduction. Perhaps the most directly misogynist example in herstory is revealed by the riveting NFB film called "The Burning Times", part of a three part trilogy about the hidden herstory of women. It documents the women's holocaust that began in the post middle ages when men "discovered" medicine and proceeded to corner the market by killing an estimated 9 million women all healers, midwives, and witches.
Then we have war. As a man I feel despair and anger when I see another generation, my generation, of young men perform as state employed murderers to slay this years political dragon. It is also discouraging that society has been so seduced by the dominate ethic of violence and control that we make heroes out of soldiers and fund them with billions to shed more blood in death while women who create life, nurture and care for children are systematically under funded and undervalued.
It took generations to construct male gender identity based on fear and
envy and it may take generations more before men grow out of these bonds
to become fuller, richer human beings that have cast off the drive to
kill for control. It is not easy, but speaking out begins to end male
silence on issues of sexism and the increasing violence in society. On
one level it would be easier to lock George Bush and Saddam Hussein in a
wrestling cage match so they can get this thing over with like real men
do. In reality, men are finally becoming accountable and responsible for
their own actions that includes bridging the distance in what ever
relationship they are in as well as risking to be more open and honest
about our real selves. If that sounds like to much to expect from me as a
man, I guess I can always enlist in the alternative.