Sometimes we are told that domination and violence and war are innate in human nature; therefore, it is futile to protest war.  But this is not true.

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

Categories: Activism, Feminism, Gender and Power, General, Matriarchy, Violence Against Women, Women for Peace

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14 replies

  1. I subscribe to Archeo News (also called the Stone Pages), which is a newsletter about archeological finds. I’ve just read this week’s posting. It occurs to me that an awful lot of the reported finds are weapons (arrowheads and things). It also occurs to me that maybe archaeologists are looking for old weapons and evidence of wars. After all, a lot of the really big ancient remains are trophy pillars carved with armies and kings and prisoners. Fewer archaeologists are looking for goddesses. We need more archaeologists like Gimbutas, people to search for evidence of our peaceful past. Also, we’re still under the influence of all those old Victorian patriarchs who thought any goddess they dug up was a “Venus” (a cult or fertility figure) or a doll. They had no appreciation for anything less “important’ than gods and weapons. It’s time for a paradigm shift! Which, Carol, is what you’re working toward. Brava!


  2. So true, as you said, Carol, that it is *not* our innate nature to be violent — something that I find comes up in conversation often. And, as you point out Barbara, we “need more archeologists like Gimbutas” but also each of us has to share the knowledge that already exists about past peaceful cultures so that people know they *do* have a choice. I’m not a ‘mover and shaker’ but I make the most of the Divine Light of Wisdom within me to share the inspirational knowledge of our peaceful past in various ways. I even mention this when I give holistic health care classes! Pertinent to being free of violence is a little free-write I did last week and posted today on my blog. We each have to just keep putting peace out there, however we can, don’t we?


  3. Carol —

    I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago about the chimp/bonobo relationship to humans and how it’s usually interpreted by patriarchal scientists (and why — namely patriarchal assumptions). If you’re interested it’s at http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2010/06/24/chimps-make-war-bonobos-make-love-and-humans/.


  4. Thanks for finally writing about >WOMEN FOR PEACE-TAKE TO THE STREETS by Carol P.
    Christ | Feminism and Religion <Loved it!


  5. The way of the bonobo would mean,
    All(most) women will do prostitution as vollunteers-work,
    It would stop most violence and crime(calm guys down), but i am not shure we want this.


    • I think it’s very hard for us, in our patriarchal society, to imagine a world where love was more valued than violence. There would be no such thing as prostitution in a world like that, because there would be no need for it.


      • And from what I’ve read, bonobo sex is consensual.


      • Would you want to make love to all people?.
        I think not, i am simply not attracted to most men.
        If i decide to make love to the men i am not attracted to.
        In order to create a better world.
        That is prostitution-vollunteers work.
        In bonobo society all men get some, not just the handsome ones.

        Maybe we have to do some genetic engineering then,
        To make us attracted to everybody.

        What i am saying, sex gives women power.
        It just has it`s price.


  6. good point Rhonda, sex has to be consensual and not just to “take the war out of men.” If you read my blogs on matriarchy you will see that for the Masuo people there is a lot of good sex (apparently) but the woman always has the option to choose her lovers, and the man can end the relationship if he doesn’t want it any longer too.


    • Thank you for noting this, Carol. I was just going to mention the Mosuo, too. If only we could figure out a way for the rest of the world to become more like them!


  7. I just read up about the Musuo,
    What i notice about both Bonobo and Mosuo society is that men get really really spoiled.
    No or hardly any work, ton`s of good sex.
    It`s more a deal with men, then ruling over them.

    I have to tell a secret, i am a male.
    Disguised as a female because this part of the internet is a matriarchy.(like that female pope)
    I am not anti-feminist but somewhat critical of it.(i found it one-sided)

    But this. i think it`s easy to find men who will agree with this.
    I have to study Mosuo better, to see how it works there.
    Because humanity/mamals have a tendency towards polygamy.
    And polygamy will create extremely chaotic/violent/or religious fundamentalist society`s.


  8. As a 28year old male virgin in an emotional moment.

    I have to speak out.
    I don`t feel entitlemend to sex.

    But i am going crazy,
    Me i am just suicidal(2 attempts), i destroyed all my possesions in a moment of anger multiple times(tried being an artist, been told i am very talented but it`s no use i am to screwed up and destroy my work eventually)
    I just put the agression towards myself
    Others go join cults, ore become monsters like elliot rogers and george sodini
    And again others become drug addicts.

    Psychiatry just gives you(me) pills
    Imagine living in a world were you get raped regulary and you are offered pills to make you somewhat indifferent about it.
    I don`t want to live a lie.

    Why this came up, is because human women don`t want to live like bonobo`s.
    I would be saved, so i would like it ofcourse.

    I have no right to get anything, but there is a tendency(a big one) to want to ignore men like me
    You cannot do this, at least offer euthanasia, do something.

    I just hurt my family and friends by giving up on life.
    And i understand why it is no car, living with my mom, being short, being socialy awkward.
    I understand, no anger, just sadness and despair.
    Other men are not like me, and it makes sense to me,

    Having not enough empathy towards men is creating viollence and rape culture.
    And i see this a lot in feminism.

    I don`t like new age for the most part, but one thing they say i like is.
    You create what you fight.



  1. Matriarchy as a solution to a whole lot of issues - IndusLadies

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