This patriarchal power is supported by terrorism and violence, both personal and global. It is exercised everywhere--in the home, on the street, in the community, in the nation and by the nation.
"A patriarchal state is one which is either rehabilitating from war, is presently at war, or is preparing for war," says Berit Ås, Norwegian feminist theorist.
Patriarchy requires the monopolizing of power. It requires the "mono-defining" of power as a static and singular object. The more powerful one becomes, the more rigid and abstract the laws are forged and followed.
Why should women, the bearers of life, for whom life is relational, want such male-defined power? In fact, until recently, women shunned the word "power" because of its connotations of violence and terrorism.
Since the 1960s, with the advent of women's consciousness-raising about their status, one of the main tasks has been to redefine many elements of their lives--one of which has been power.
Many women have said that, contrary to being a static and singular object, power is fluid, diverse, complex and active.
As Robin Morgan tells us in her book The Demon Lover, "The specific inevitably leads to an awareness of the unique, to a respect for differences." She argues that a respect for differences means one does not wish to make multiplicity uniform, to control persons, resources, nations for the sake of some old tradition or some new efficiency. A respect for differences implies a respect for change, growth and process. A respect for differences approaches the universal through celebrating the specific. And respect for the specific is an act.
Morgan reminds us that women are the human majority. Increasingly insisting on empowerment, women can change the terms by which power is held or seized, by which the world is sustained or destroyed.
This means that women must give up selflessness, no longer be satisfied with tokenism, and no longer be defined as non-men. Women must break from the acculturated feeling of being responsible not only for children but for others, including men. For men to become responsible for themselves, women must cease being so.
Once women cease being responsible for men, Morgan insists, they'll have time to study their own history and begin to see that the power claimed by men was worse than repellent, was in fact pathetic, puerile and literally beneath women.
A shift in consciousness will then take place. Revolution is insufficient. "Transformation, therefore, is necessary to save humanity, to save sentient life on the planet, to save the biosphere itself," asserts Morgan.
She tells us that transformation requires that women recognize their own anger as being so vast that mere violence could not possibly address it. And transformation requires action, stepping "outside the prescribed boundaries altogether. Transformation requires women entering history on their own terms and audaciously placing themselves at the center of it."
Once women are at the center of their own perceptions, says Morgan, they will begin to experience intellectual rigor and emotional strength, to acknowledge an urge to act, not out of desperation, but out of affirmation.
This means "...being skeptical toward every known system of thought: being critical of all assumptions, ordering values and definitions, developing intellectual courage, the challenge to move from the desire for safety and approval to the most `unfeminine' quality of all--that of intellectual arrogance, the supreme hubris which asserts to itself the right to reorder the world." (Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, p. 228.)
Women discover that these truths constitute a fragile newfound freedom--a part of their powers. They realize what they deserve from others and what others deserve.
Finnish feminist theorist Hilkka Pietilä and Berit Ås wrote that women and men currently exist in two cultures. Women approach communication with more body language and linguistic agility and clarity. Women regard tools and technology more with an eye toward what they can do rather than what they symbolize. Women organize differently, utilizing more voluntarism and more consensus. Women use time differently, with less linearity than men, and are more accustomed to performing multiple tasks simultaneously.
Swedish feminist Rita Liljeström concludes that women's time is organic and keyed to the duration it takes to get something, or many things, done, as opposed to men's time, which is one-dimensional. She maintains that women's time is "unsold" time, "uncoordinated" time, and "indistinct" time, i.e., it adapts to the needs and context around it.
None of these feminist theorists can yet prove that these differences are biological, genetic or sociocultural. But all recognize that the difference exists--and they do so from a consciousness that is female and is doing the defining, for the first time, of that difference. This is empowering.
To male pacifists' appeals for aid, Virginia Woolf responded: "We can best help you to prevent war not by repeating your words and following your methods but by finding new words and creating new methods... not by joining your society but by remaining outside your society."
Woolf takes women one step further when she says: "....as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world."
This shift in consciousness has developed dynamically. Women comprehend that it implies changing paradigms: it is not merely the absence of war but the presence of peace, not merely the absence of hate but the presence of love, not merely the absence of ignorance but the presence of intelligence, not merely the absence of death but the presence of life. And it is not about the absence of men, but about the presence of women.
Women have seen that some men are being drawn to this new consciousness--by caring for a child; by studying peace; by moving to the place her job requires; by voting for her, listening to her, trying to make connections.
This is a new humanity, in which women feel fully human for the first time.
Women have come to understand their power(s). They know how to be in solidarity with each other, how to separate but remain connected, how to combine yet retain integrity.
This was evidenced at the 1985 U.N. meeting in Kenya, "End of the Decade For Women," which produced the document entitled "Forward Looking Strategies." This began the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Women forged solidarity again at the 1995 U.N. Women's Conference in Beijing, where 35,000 women came together and produced the Platform for Action--a framework to better the lives of all women.
Women's power is:
* the homemaker who "never thought about politics" and suddenly organizes her whole town to fight against a toxic waste dump in their backyards;
* the Kenyan farmer planting trees to create a Green Belt;
* the Indian Himalayas village women (the Chipko tree huggers) organizing to preserve the environment and to make themselves self-sufficient;
* the woman teaching her daughter to defend herself;
* the Israeli Women Against the Occupation, who demonstrate by carrying signs that read, "We Won't Be Alibis for Murder";
* the woman gently prying her son's hand from a rifle butt;
* the Women's Peace Movement in Northern Ireland comprised of both Protestant and Catholic women;
* the woman saying "No" to what is and "Yes" to what she knows can be.
These women already know and are acting on what Virginia Woolf said: "As a woman my country is the whole world." They are world citizens leading the way.
Marcia L. Mason is a Quaker, peace activist, world citizen, and World Syntegrity Project alumna who lives in Burlington, Vermont.