Thursday, June 10, 2010

Elections: The Success of Women

I wish I felt more inclined to celebrate what all the pundits were noting yesterday: the success of women in Tuesday's political primaries. And I would be celebrating, heartily, if I felt that this success were a harbinger of greater feminine energy in our political life. To judge, at least in California, from the way the women candidates chose to represent themselves, there's little evidence that this is the case.

I understand that I risk annoying an awful lot of people. To talk about masculine energy and feminine energy is to flirt with stereotyping and the dangerous half-truths of generalization. But this is a risk I choose to take, in the hope that I can discover for myself some new light on the discomfort that I feel. First, I know that I am not alone in the belief that male and female energy have only partly to do with the configuration of our bodies--the shape and function of our upper bodies and what we happen to be born with between our legs. I'm thinking of a kind of psychic and emotional energy, the yin and yang, if you will, in which the two energies are fully co-dependent. I agree with those who argue that men are at their fullest human potential when they are able to acknowledge and activate their feminine side. And vice versa. In the light of this thinking, what disturbs me about Tuesday's election results is that the women who have been selected by their parties to run for office in the fall have chosen to project the kind of take-no-prisoners, competitive, win-at-all-costs energy that I associate--rightly or wrongly, and without great pride or endorsement--with my own sex.

Let me be quick to add that this is in no way a reflection on who these women are. It is based solely on the image they have allowed to represent them, and the way they have chosen to conduct their campaigns. They come across as hard-headed, pitiless in their condemnation of others, intolerant of ideas other than their own. That Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina both base their qualifications on success as corporate executives is indicative of the course they intend to chart as politicians. And while I wish in no way to denigrate that success--more "power" to these women for what they have achieved!--it's a matter of considerable regret to me that they bring little in the way of feminine energy to the political arena.

It's a curious irony, isn't it, the former Governor Jerry Brown projects more feminine energy than his rival for the Governor's office in the fall? I'm speaking, here, of an energy--and a world view--that is compassionate, nurturing, embracing rather than competitive, receptive (listening) rather than aggressive (hectoring.) I'm speaking of an energy that respects the needs of the poor and the powerless among us, the matriarchal energy that we associate with "Mother Earth"--whose protection, at this moment, is so sorely needed. I heard Brown, this morning on the radio, speaking of the need for "an agenda of humility." Imagine! And I sometimes wonder whether much the criticism of President Obama is not rooted in anxieties about his blend of masculine and feminine energies: I see him as a new kind of leader who lacks the bullying qualities we too often associate with successful leadership.

It may be trite to note that our national politics have been dominated by masculine energy. But even a glance at the national news on television confirms the still-dominant presence of men in positions of power. That energy has brought us wars, of course. The potential for we-can-do-no-wrong hubris has also brought us, recently, to the brink of financial meltdown, and to the kind of devastation wrought by overweening corporate greed that we see in the Gulf today. That same hubris is at work, it seems to me, in the religious hierarchies that wield such baleful influence in the contemporary world. Again, I'm not trying to say that masculine energy in itself is bad. On the contrary, I deem it to be a wonderful and necessary aspect of our human differences. But it can readily turn into misguided, paternalistic power-mongering ill-suited to the dire straights in which we find ourselves at the start of the twenty-first century. That those women who run for office feel obliged to present themselves to the voters in this way is a sad reflection on our culture.

What we need to survive, not only as a country but as a human species, is an evolutionary shift that will bring us into better balance, each within ourselves and all of us with our fellow humans. The same is true of relationship with our natural environment, which we seek to "master" mercilessly, rather than to "husband" in true partnership. We need, in a word, more yin with our yang. More humility in our agenda. More woman to our man.


Gabriel said...

A bunch of us decided to infuse a public place with the energy of peace, so we walked into a downtown Washington, DC bookstore and this is what happened. Hope you like it!

mandt said...

"And while I wish in no way to denigrate that success--more "power" to these women for what they have achieved!"- But I do Peter. Their achievement level is not the primary crux of nuanced critique. What lies behind these 'women' is the amateurish, piecemeal, Randian philosophy of neo-fascism. (Check out Corey Robin's article in the Nation (June 7))We need feminine energy of diverse and humanistic power, that which includes not excludes, that which is Sarah's Circle not the dog-eat-dog of Jacob's Ladder. Whitman and Fiorina are monsters in waiting.

PeterAtLarge said...

Good for you, Gabriel!

And it's a good point, MandT. I dread the possibility of either one of them "coming to power."

CHI SPHERE said...

I wish for the feminine compassion of Indira Ghandi and Golda Maier's enduring will wrought from her years as a school teacher born in Kiev and educated in Milwaukee who forged with many women a place for the Jews at last gather in support of their culture.

Hilary Clinton sure does exemplify a certain clear and formidable intelligence in matters foreign and domestic.

I've known Jerry Brown since 1981 when his associate was my next door neighbor at The Citizens Warehouse. He does walk in the mean streets of Oakland each day to engage banker, steelworker, teacher, homeless victim, preacher and
civil servant which he has been since the Seminary.
Humility and tenacity serve him well and will serve the people of California equally when he defeats Meg Whitman's monied market saturation. Is she selling out or buying in? I can't tell!

John Torcello said...

Slightly paraphrasing... in a time when you don't feel a need to experience the world by differentiating in order to define.

What if the first thing that came to mind in encountering and interacting with others wasn't......white/black, male/female, American/Foreign, fat/skinny...?

Wouldn't it be something if the 'surprise', the newsworthiness of a story, was that some person had acted out in some manner other than the acceptance of the whole as equally constructed differences, no hidden false implications...

How much smaller does the world need to become before we can conclude we need to accept and live by this fact?

Richard said...

I'm of the opinion that a politician should be judged on policies and results, not gender.

Let me clarify; in the UK, our current female Home Secretary seems to have made a very good start, and I sincerely hope she keeps the momentum going. The previous one (also female) was not half as good, and frankly continues to fail to impress in opposition.

Some of the male politicians in our new government also impress and some fail to impress.

The previous lot had "The Blair Babes", which I felt was unwise as it diminished the contribution of the ladies themselves.

I look forward to a day when gender is irrelevant and you're judged on what you bring to the debate.