The other day I, along with many thousands of others I’m sure, got an email from Jean Shinoda Bolen, the psychologist and activist–author of Goddesses in Everywoman, Urgent Message from the Mother, The Millionth Circle and many other books, most of them arguing that women have a special role to play in healing the world, and urging us to get busy.
This recent email said precisely that, but with a concrete focus: Jean is advocating that the United Nations support a Fifth World Conference on Women, as a follow-up to the Fourth World Conference held back in 1995, in Beijing. Activists have been calling for another conference since 2004–when the hope was to mark the decade in 2005 with another big event by and for the women of the world.
At this point, we’ll be lucky to get the 5WCW, as insiders call it, in 2015. But Jean’s letter brought up some deeper questions for me.
As I dutifully signed the online petition, I wondered whether it was really worth the time, effort and money it would take to create another major world conference on women again, UN-style. Of course, now we have UNWomen, the new and much more powerful agency for women, headed up by the fabulous Michelle Bachelet.
But still–here come the deeper questions.
- Do women really have some special role to play in peace-making and nurturing civil society, which would be strengthened for us by getting together in a symbolic–and also very real, remember the mud in Beijing?–conference on this scale?
- If the men aren’t there in the meeting halls with us, will they be fully invested in whatever resolutions are brought forth?
- Can women accomplish profound, lasting social change on our own, without bringing the men along with us?
Back to Eckhart Tolle for a moment. I was struck while reading A New Earth that he, like so many other philosophers, seems to see women as fundamentally different from men. He’s pretty unequivocal about it:
“Although women have egos, of course, the ego can take root and grow more easily in the male form than in the female. This is because women are less mind-identified than men. They are more in touch with the inner body and the intelligence of the organism where the intuitive faculties originate. The female form is less rigidly encapsulated than the male, has greater openness and sensitivity toward other life-forms, and is more attuned to the natural world.
“If the balance between male and female energies had not been destroyed on our planet, the ego’s growth would have been greatly curtailed. We would not have declared war on nature, and we would not be so completely alienated from our Being” (155).
He goes on to talk about the Inquisition and witch-burnings, and the ways in which, in all the major world religions, “women’s status was reduced to being child bearers and men’s property. Males who denied the feminine even within themselves were now running the world, a world that was totally out of balance. The rest is history or rather a case history of insanity….In time, the ego also took over most women, although it could never become as deeply entrenched in them as in men” (156-57).
The post-structuralist feminist in me says “whoa, Eckhart! You’re claiming essentialism here, that women are essentially, that is, really and fundamentally different than men. Feminist philosophers have resisted this because so much oppression happened because women were said to be fundamentally different than (and lesser than) men. Do we really want to go there again?”
But then there are many older feminist camps, including the “goddess within” folks like Jean Bolen–and Audre Lorde, and Alice Walker, and Gloria Anzaldua, my heroines–who would be greatly cheered to hear this kind of admission coming out of a man like Eckhart. He only talks about it for a couple of pages, and he makes a curious move of deflecting guilt onto “the ego,” which is oddly personified–see for yourself:
“Who was responsible for this fear of the feminine that could only be described as acute collective paranoia? We could say: of course, men were responsible. But then why in many ancient pre-Christian civilizations such as the Sumerian, Egyptian and Celtic were women respected and the feminine principle not feared but revered? What is it that suddenly made men feel threatened by the female? The evolving ego in them. It knew it could gain full control of our planet only through the male form, and to do so, it had to render the female powerless” (156).
This almost sounds like an angels and demons scenario, with demons, acting through “the ego” in each one of us, working to gain ascendancy, and being more successful in “the male form” than in women–because we women are more intuitive? Or at least, we used to be, before the ego got to us too?
Eckhart finishes up his brief discussion of the differences between men and women on an upbeat note, saying that “because the ego was never as deeply rooted in woman, it is losing its hold on women more quickly than on men” (157).
And presumably, that means that he’d agree that women should step up and take a leadership role in helping humanity out of its current crises (environmental, economic, social) into “a new Earth.”
I think I’d have to agree. But is convening thousands of women from all over the world in a physical place on Earth the way to go? Or would it be a better strategy to focus on empowering women where we are, and maybe trying to do more with technology to link us so we can share strategies and become collectively empowered?
Just thinking about the amount of paper that would have to be shuffled at the United Nations to make a big women’s conference happen; and the amount of jet fuel and other resources that would have to be spent to get everyone into that one physical arena, makes me wince.
I’d rather see a series of smaller conferences, all happening simultaneously all over the world, linked by teleconferencing, with extensive, easily accessible video archives produced for later consultation.
And although these conferences would be led by women, I’d like to see men there in the audience too–and even at the podium, if they come to the microphone with their feminine half fully engaged.
Women do have something special to offer the world, but just as we need to activate our masculine side to become warrior leaders for change, we need men at our sides with their nurturing, peacemaking sides ascendant.
If we could manifest this vision, we could change the world. For the better.