It appears impossible for women to meet for a conference without the brainchild of an idea being born that if only women had the power the world would be better. At Forum '85 -- the Nairobi, Kenya, conference that brought together 10,000 women -- a panel met to find answers to the question "What if women ruled the world?"
The panel, which was presided over by former congresswoman Bella Abzug and included politicians from India, Greece, Israel, Canada, the United States, Nicaragua and Ireland, answered the loaded question with the properly loaded answer: The world would improve.
In Washington last September, a similar conference on peace decreed that a woman's touch was superior to a man's heavy hand. "The guys haven't done it," said actress Jane Alexander about the failure of men to end the arms race. Another film star, Joanne Woodward, said that "Men have had their chance for peace for the last 6,000 years or so. It's up to women now."
Female chauvinism is as useless and as addled as the male kind. Feelings of destiny emerge naturally at conferences. Group solidarity reinforces group think. The put-upon resort to put-downs. Negativity prevails. In this case, the male rulers are said not to have succeeded. They have not brought peace. They have not used their chance well.
Tying men up in these nots is the intellectual lynching that may satisfy the seemingly militant. For many others, the question is still whether women are inherently nonviolent the way men are said to be the opposite, inherently violent. No evidence exists either way. All that's available is that conditions have been created in which males can get away with their violence more easily than women. This is a role division more than a sex difference.
Genuine feminism doesn't need to prove its womanhood through acts of domination over men who think, in their turn, that manhood is asserted by domination. Power politics is still more power than politics. Barbarella is as much an aberration of violence as Rambo.
The goal should be creating allies, not identifying losers. Human beings can't be divided into innocent or guilty groups, because it's individuals who act innocently or guiltily. Eliminating conditions that sanction violence -- the calls for war, the romanticizing of competition, the illusions that physical force is superior to moral force -- is not as easy as passing resolutions at a conference. Least of all is nonviolence advanced by a pitting of men against women.
In Congress, one of the leading feminists is a male: Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. He has gone out of his way to face the problems of child care, working mothers and underpaid women. For his troubles, Miller has been treated like a woman by Congress: His committee has not been given a hearing room. Recently, he was able to wrangle space from the Armed Services Committee, which meant that his hearings on child care were held beneath a panoply of military scenes glorifying death.
The question ought to be, what if people like George Miller ruled the world, or even ruled a hearing room in Congress? If caring for children, feeding families and bringing fairness to employment are the strengths of a nation, which they are more than armies ever can be, then the world would improve.
The drive to power -- to kick tail, to shut out -- is as unpleasant to observe in women as it is in men. Maureen Reagan, the chief promoter of Americanism in Nairobi, displayed her delight in having a moment of power as the head of the U.S. delegation up against Third World critics: "It's kind of fun when you get to fight back." Socking the powerless was also a confrontational thrill for Jeane Kirkpatrick at the United Nations.
Female fighters are as dangerous as the male kind. Fighting fire with fire means only that the flames spread. If it is to widen, the struggle to win rights for women needs to distance itself from all those personality types -- male or female -- who see leadership as a way to control citizens, not serve them.