Why Women Matter Now
"History never repeats itself. Man does." — Voltaire
I always thought that it was General Charles De Gaulle, the 18th President of France, who said that history never repeats itself. It turns out the quote is from Voltaire, the 18th century writer and French poet who fought for the separation of State and Church. “History never repeats itself,” wrote Voltaire, “man does."
Perhaps is it because General De Gaulle had come to embody how I remembered the Second World War. We studied his legacy extensively over my schooling years in Paris and I unconsciously attributed to him all the higher thoughts. We also learned about Churchill, though not as much. But their images in black and white photographs meant recent history to me, they represented a time you knew existed but the cruelty of which you couldn’t fathom. And you knew that your own parents suffered through it. These were two men of profound wisdom and two men of war. There weren’t any women of war.
From a European standpoint, the current state of the world feels like a gloomy déjà-vu. In the late 30’s, we had a lasting economic meltdown, a refugee crisis, a growing sense of insecurity and leaders who would rather be feared than respected. It is a particular kind of fear they trigger, a vague and abstract dread, feeding on the broad rejection of anything different. To generate hatred, people are reduced to labels such as Communist or Zionist or Redneck, Black, Gay or Refugee. Unique human beings are turned into abstractions; stripped of the complexity that makes us unique, we just become enemies. Then, warmongers make threatsto presentthemselves as saviours. This feels like history repeating itself.
Except for women. The traditional media and those recording histories have easily overwritten women until now. For all the centuries combined, women have mostly been abstract: they worked on the home front and ammunition factories during WWII; todaythey are raped as a weapon of war or held as sexual slaves or enduring discriminations from another age. They also have three jobs and raise their kids alone. Yet, here is an unprecedented rise of young women with very old souls. In Africa, the Middle East, and all over the continents and across cultures, women stand for justice, refusing to be married off as children, mutilated, deprived of land rights, or held back by hundreds of discriminative laws. They are insisting on being part of the equation for the greater good.
Technology, the game changer, has brought increasing access to public life and to the collective narrative. Today, women walk together in Tahrir Square or at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. They drive together in Saudi Arabia, march for equal rights everywhere, gather to take back the night or gain jurisdiction over their own bodies. They come together as mothers to call for gun control. They also send each other supportive emails and contribute to their respective causes. It took a long time and enumerable unknown heroes, but I don’t believe it is reversible.
I often felt that perhaps that the answer of mankind’s problem lies within itself. Like we, as a species, are our own antidote to the narrative of war. Women are not immune to power either and I don’t think that hating men is even an issue.
These are people who have never known power. If you don’t have power, you are not afraid to lose it. When you have endured how abuse of power translates into your family or community’s lives, you have no desire for it. Instead, you understand how humans operate and take it from there. It isn’t more immediately rewarding than planting seeds one by one, forever. It requires generosity and vision as well as a genuine interest in the greater good and the survival of the planet.
Revolutions are said to be carried out by the bold and the loud, but such upheavals fail to transform the way we think. We don’t need more physical courage; we need the moral kind. In a world in which 140 characters are all it takes to bring chaos, we urgently need the quiet work of women worldwide to protect and nurture life. This is a deeper movement that will keep rising whether others pay attention or not.
So, this is what I see in the upcoming Women’s March on Washington. We will walk together in Washington and all over the world but each woman will matter even more than the whole. Because chances are that in the quiet of her life, she is exerting the qualities that are required to be that single match that can light a place that has been plunged in darkness for centuries.
Charles De Gaulle did said: “Never fail to take the high road for it will always be the less encumbered.”
And I am left to wonder if by “high road” he meant the one that leads to peace.