Friday, October 4, 2013

A Reader Responds: "Women Tend to Organize in Circles"--and I Think about the Shutdown of U.S. Government

Two days ago, I commented on Lisa Fullam's recent question, "If women are so darn valuable, why is the 'gang of 8' all male?" In the conversation thread following that question, I noted that Pope Francis's latest interview speaks of the need to reimagine church in less hierarchical and more horizontal ways.

Women tend to organize in circles. I would think a truly feminine church would not be obsessed with a hierarchy, but would function from a more circular structure.

Yesterday, I focused on Lisa Fullam's recent commentary on Pope Francis's observation that the Catholic church needs a "theology of women." Fullam asks what books might be sent to the pope to help him understand the theology that has already developed in that area.

one book all about pleasure is Carol Gilligan's Birth of Pleasure--it does an excellent job, in my opinion, of bringing down the hierarchical house of cards by explicitly analyzing pleasure--I have used it often in my work because her conclusion is stark: that without the development of relational capacities, one cannot be a citizen in a democracy and democracy itself fails.

And Colleen Baker replied by noting that what Rachel is stressing is the need for careful consideration of relationality as one looks at sexual and gender issues.

I've been thinking--and I'd like to think out loud here--about what these valuable observations imply about the current deadlock in the American political process. That deadlock is on full display for all the world to see in the shutdown of the federal government. But it has been there for some time now.

And so I wonder:

• To what extent is the possibility of deadlock built into the American political system from its foundations--and precisely due to the exclusion of women from any formative or foundational role in establishing the polity governing American political life?

• Is something inherently wrong--is something inherently gender-skewed--about the presupposition that the best way to govern a nation is to establish political parties that function as warring factions seeking to fend off tyranny by checkmating each other?

• Does this starkly binary viewpoint (because in practice, that's how it has developed over the course of American history--into a binary opposition) about how government should best function impoverish our political thinking by making truth appear to be something established primarily through agonistic confrontation?

• How would our system differ if it had allowed, from the outset, more contributions to its foundational documents by those other than property-holding men--specifically, by women?

• How would it differ if there were rough gender parity in Congress (women hold 20% of Senate seats and 17.9% of House seats, while they represent slightly over half of the population as a whole)?*

• Did Locke (and Jefferson and Madison, etc.) think as they did, at least in part, because they were men? Because they were men who experienced no checks and balances from the female partners in their own lives, in a culture whose concept of female coverture gave women no effective power in governing their own lives, families, property--in governing anything at all?

• While their husbands theorized about the danger of tyranny if rulers and governors held unchecked power over others . . . . 

• Does the sociology of knowledge imply that we cannot exclude gender from our considerations about how knowledge works, how people acquire knowledge, how they use knowledge, how they establish what is important to know?

• Can we consider gender from the standpoint of the sociology of knowledge and ignore questions about the unequal allocation of power between the genders?

• Does the binary, bellicose, winner-takes-all, have-to-have-losers political system we've ended up with in the U.S. have something to do with gender, from the very foundations of this system? 

• Would we have a richer political imagination, and a more representative system of governance, if the American political system (and economic system) were opened in a fairer, juster, more egalitarian way to women?

• Does Carol Gilligan's insight that girls tend to be enculturated to think about moral dilemmas in relational terms while boys tend to think about moral dilemmas in terms of hierarchical principles have any bearing at all on American political life, and on the shutdown?

As I say, this is me thinking out loud. I realize these questions will strike some folks as impossibly naive. They're not in any way fully formed. I certainly don't believe there's something automatically virtuous about women and automatically flawed about males, such that establishing female rule of institutions and trouncing males would automatically yield utopia. Catherine the Great (not to mention my last sociopathic boss who was unchecked tyranny writ large and whom many of my faculty colleagues dubbed the Daughter of Idi Amin) makes me question such gender utopianism.

Still . . . . What do you think? As you can see from my preceding citations of readers' comments, I do, indeed, take readers' feedback very seriously here. And I mull it over and develop my own thinking about issues in response to it.

*I tried to obtain the latest Census Bureau figure to cite here, but for some strange reason, when I click on the site, I get a message saying it's unavailable due to a lapse in government funding. Wonder what that's about?

I find the graphic at the head of the posting at many websites, with no clear indication of its origin. It's possible that the UCLA Center for the Study of Women developed this graphic for a March 2006 conference it sponsored on the topic "Thinking Gender." If any reader can confirm the source of the graphic, I'll be grateful for the information. (And a note of profound gratitude to Chris Morley for identifying the source of the graphic I used in this posting several weeks ago.)

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