I oppose war because I oppose all forms of power-over, domination, and violence. As a radical feminist and ecofeminist I believe that power can and should always be power-with, the power that nurtures the growth and development of self and others. The power of Goddess/God is always and everywhere power-with and not ever power-over.
Are violence and domination innate in human nature? We have been told that we are the “naked ape” descended from “apes” who, like the chimpanzees with whom we share 98% of our DNA, were male dominant and violent. Do we, then, have any hope not to be violent and dominant?
Franz de Waal’s studies of the other “ape” species that shares 98% of our DNA, the bonobo, debunks this popular myth. The bonobo live in peaceful matriarchal clans, and their response to conflict is to rub each others’ genitals until the desire to fight goes away. They are living proof that species very much like us can choose to “make love not war.” De Waal says that the most we can conclude from studies of our ape relatives is that ancestors of human beings, chimpanzees, and bonobos had the capacity to evolve toward dominance enforced by violence, or toward more peaceful ways of resolving conflict.
Moreover, there is no evidence that early human beings practiced organized warfare. Our Paleolithic ancestors may have engaged in occasional skirmishes, but they had neither the weapons nor the hierarchical structures necessary to wage all-out large scale warfare. Marija Gimbutas’ studies of Neolithic societies of Old Europe 6500-3500 BCE hypothesized that Old Europeans were peaceful, settled, agricultural, highly artistic, matrifocal and probably matrilineal and matrilocal, egalitarian, and worshipped the Goddess as the principle of birth, death, and regeneration in human, animal, and plant life.
Gimbutas’ work has been widely criticized—perhaps in part because it suggests that warfare and male dominance are not the only choices human societies can make. Recent cross cultural research on “matriarchal societies” suggests that Gimbutas’ hypotheses may be correct. Heidi Goettner-Abendroth says that matriarchal societies practice small scale agriculture and circulate wealth through gift exchange, are matrilineal and matrilocal yet egalitarian because brothers and uncles have important roles, make decisions through consensus, and tend to view the earth as a great mother.
The glorification of warfare and the gods of war are part of the more commonly recognized “origins” of western culture, the Bible, the Iliad, and in a different way, the writings of Plato. Thus to question the inevitability of war is to go against the “canons” of the western tradition.
Yet if we read western history “from below,” we can see that patriarchy, warfare, and slavery arose together.
Patrilineal descent is one of the foundations of patriarchy. A man must know who is children are so that he can be certain that he is passing his inheritance on to his sons. Patrilineal descent requires the control of women, because if women were free to choose their sexual partners, then no man could ever be sure of his progeny.
In matrilineal societies this problem is solved. There are no illegitimate children because all children have mothers. Brothers and uncles assume roles in the lives of their sisters’ and nieces’ children.
In patriarchy the sexuality and freedom of girls must be controlled so that they can be delivered virgin to their husbands who must continue to control their sexuality and freedom so that they can be certain that their sons are theirs. Patriliny thus can be seen as the root of the oppression of women and girls. If women were free to move and to choose, then patriliny and with it patriarchy would fall. (This is apparently what many Republicans and adherents of traditional religions fear.)
The notion of passing property on to legitimate sons assumes the break-up of the matrilineal clan system. Most likely this was the result of warfare. In the wake of war, the men of “the enemy” are killed, women are raped as the part of the “spoils of war,” and women and children are taken into “slavery.” This pattern underlies all so-called great epic literature. The “spoils of war,” including slaves, treasure, and confiscated land are the “inheritance” a king and other powerful men pass on to their legitimate sons.
Wars are waged to gain property and defend property. In the wake of war, men, women, and children are killed, women are raped, slaves are taken, and patterns of domination and violence become normalized within the societies shaped by the victors of war.
There are many reasons to be against war. This is one of them.
The US government is about to reopen debate about the date for withdrawal from Afghanistan. In a conversation with Rachel Maddow, Nancy Pelosi said that she hoped the US would get out of Afghanistan before the end of 2014. In a follow-up, political analyst Josh Rogin stated that Nancy Pelosi has been one of the “liberals in the house” that Obama has NOT sided with on questions of war. He predicted that “residual forces” will remain in the line of fire in Afghanistan for a long time to come.
We cannot count on the powers that be to end war. This is why I cast my lot with a long line of women who oppose war in organizations like Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Code Pink: Women for Peace. Sometimes women in these groups are dismissed as idealists and essentialists because we imagine that love, care, concern, nurturing, and co-operation, in other words power-with, can replace power-over, dominance, and violence.
Women for peace may be dreamers, but we are not essentialists, because most of us propose that values that have been central in women’s experiences can become central in all human experience–in all societies and cultures. This is not a conversation that will begin in the halls of government. That is why it is so important that non-violent women for peace take to the streets and disrupt the ordinary workings of governments.
Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement. She has been active in peace and justice movements all of her adult life. She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.