One of my volunteer activities is helping to plan an annual Gather The Women program. This event is local, but GTW is international, with members working at the UN and in other countries to enlarge awareness of what are called women’s issues and are essentially human rights issues.
In the words of Marilyn Nyborg, whom I call the mother of GTW,
We gather women together for the opportunity to connect and support one another, to inspire and be inspired. . . We invite women to bond in sisterhood, to end competition and mistrust. We invite women to create a new model of feminine leadership that will bring our gifts to the world in full partnership with men and not hiding behind a man’s way of doing business.Our St. Cloud area event takes place at St. Ben’s. The prioress or another representative from St. Benedict’s Monastery welcomes participants—Somalis, Sudanese, Ethiopians and other Africans, Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and, of course, the European Americans who still comprise the majority. We encourage this mix of ethnic groups to interact with each other.
This year and other years, the program has begun with a Native American sage blessing. Our gathering used to take place in Sacred Heart Chapel, and spiritual uplift has always been one of its main, if not the main, purpose. But when we learned that some Somali women think (incorrectly) that they are forbidden to go into a Christian church, one of the sisters suggested having GTW in the college Gorecki Conference Center, and that’s where we now meet. I mention this as one of the ways the sisters extend warm hospitality to people of differing beliefs.
Women are different, a fact that was not appreciated by the women’s movement in the 1960s. Emotionally and even, I think, physically, women yearn more for connection with others. Many years ago I was struck by reading an observation that may explain women’s yearning for relationship, and I cited it in my essay “Taming Testosterone” for the anthology The Rule of Mars: Readings on the Origins, History and Impact of Patriarchy. Only women experience the biological activity of taking other into self. This happens during childbirth and the sex act.
The feminine impulse of reaching out to others makes them good at giving care and listening to others—to kids, to spouse, to parents, to friends in distress, to children and adults in need. It may help to explain why women in large numbers work for peace groups, for environmental groups, for humanitarian agencies.
I heard Cokie Roberts say to Scott Simon on NPR that women in politics ARE making a difference and not just entering the world of men in a man’s way. She said, for instance, that political women work more with people across the aisle. This brings to mind Maine’s Republican senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, two of only three Republican senators voting for the Democratic president’s agenda.
It also leads to conclusions I derived from Carol Gilligan’s book In a Different Voice and expressed in my essay:
Whereas the male seeks separation, the female seeks connection. While the male is threatened by intimacy, the female is threatened by separation. If he has difficulty with relationship, she has difficulty with individuation.As a result, women often yield to dominant voices.
For thousands of years the male has dominated, playing out what Ken Wilber describes as the unbridled drive of testosterone, “Fuck it or kill it.” But today we see the adversarial, competitive impulse reaping wars, inequality, and violence of all kinds, including the corporate fraud that produced our economic crisis. The female impulse of seeking connections through cooperation and partnership looks increasingly attractive.
Both women and men embody both feminine and masculine energy. Maybe readers have noticed something I have—that older women take on masculine qualities and older men take on feminine qualities. “He’s mellowing with age,” we say. What we need is not feminine values dominating, but a balance of the masculine and feminine energies that reside in each individual.