The most important focus of our times is not the death of monotheisms, the acquisition of utopian states, nor the drive toward wealth. The battle we have on our hands is already coagulated from the vast proportion of those we’ve allowed to die or disappear, from the toils of our past, in the crusade against ourselves. It is the ceaseless oppression of women―that most horrid denigration against one half of our species. (In the space taken to read this paragraph, a women has probably been burnt alive in India, for an inadequate dowry or to make space for a new wife).
The battle could not be more sound: the economist William Easterly has argued that money given to poor countries does little. Tossing greens at a cause will not get it to grow; it is the way it is used and by whom. There has been little correlation between the amount of aid going to the poorer countries and their economic growth-rates. What is needed is the attraction to the right hands and the right causes: those hands and those causes belong to the goals and dreams of the better sex―it rests with women.
A beautiful article, which has become a book, written by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (a husband-and-wife two-pronged sword against misogyny), highlights many of these elements. They have coined a phrase, “gendercide”, to begin the creaks and rattles so that our collective gaze shifts. Like some magnificent telescope, we can eventually set our sights on this horrid and bizarrely under-focused problem of our world. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the future of our collective good, the end product of whether the human species could ever, sub specie aeternitatis, promote more happiness than evil in an indifferent universe, rests with our collective action or in-action toward women. Thus, what is doing more damage might not be the active oppression against women but those many who choose to ignore or remain stagnant about it. It is perhaps one instance in my entire life where I will support either we stand against or for it. I see no middle-ground when it comes to the emancipation of women: we are either freeing them or allowing them to remain prisoners.
“Genderside” is a brilliant and powerful word which Kristof and WuDunn describe as follows: “The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century. The number of victims of this routine “gendercide” far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.”
Their focus and sudden alert to this important endeavour could be a metaphor for our own. Why does the massacre in Tiananmen Square, which claimed a staggering 400-800 lives, shake us but the equivalent number of girls (possibly more), every week also in China, lie beyond our concern? Our priorities are skewed. The refocusing must begin soon or we will lose many more women through our ignorance and our sustained incredulity to this pervasive oppression.
The fight for women is the fight for humanity. This needs clarification: by humanity, I mean not only our species (“race” is a dead word) but also our collective concern for ourselves, our freedoms and the promotion of what we consider good. It is the aspect that results in a life well lived or a life betrayed to fallacious reasoning. Like Bertrand Russell, one could hold a disdain for people yet retain a fervent hope for the flourishing and happiness of humanity, the species. To this end, those who are concerned for the good of our species are forced to realise that one of the first steps is the freedom of women.
We have excellent reasons and mountains of evidence to suppose that, when given autonomy and power and money, women end up promoting the happiness of their families. It also results in a slowing down of births, in the needless cycle of vegetative humanity called poverty, where too many children are raised with too few resources. Women take control of their bodies, their minds and their futures when given the opportunity. Not only themselves, but their ability to guide those closest to them comes to fruition. For a beautiful example, read about Saima Muhammad from Pakistan, who saved her family from the needless downward spiral toward poverty by using her business skills. Or, what happens when women and men grow crops and the effects of their profits (to paraphrase, men use it on alcohol and women on their families).
Simone de Beauvoir in a dated but important book dubbed women the “second sex”. Men, throughout our intellectual history (if such a view can even be linked to the intellectual), have dominated the story of humanity. Our words like “man” and “mankind” used to be an argument from the feminists that humanity is by definition patriarchal. Whilst acting on linguistic barriers is wobbly, the necessary viewpoint is somewhat gained. De Beauvoir’s failure is apparent to anyone who reads The Second Sex but her goal was reached. The writings of de Beavouir, Wollstonecraft, Woolf and, most importantly, John Stuart Mill, might seem to many as antiquated thoughts on the “women question”. But their eloquence needs a stab of the contemporary and this can be done by all. Instead of a few writers focused on these issues, we need everyone.
This is also not an apologist’s approach: I do not think women are powerless and need the hands of men to raise them. Rather, it is that men are powerless and need to realise that the plateau of equality needs the better sex. There are no more hills of denigration, where men can apparently see further into the future, beyond the horizon of current possibilities, whereas women can only hear what men shout down from their vantage point. We are on a plateau and we gaze at the future together. Our combined view will bring the future good to the present, it will render the light anew and give a fresh stance to our current goals.
If the world is to have a future, AC Grayling says, “it rests in the hands of women.” No more succinct statement could display the most important focus and fight of our times.