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Worldview Watch

periodic commentary and analysis on news items from a worldview perspective

 previous issue                              issue #30  posted 2 / 27 / 2013              archive of all  issues

Women's Rights, Hierarchical Rigidity, Egalitarian Progressivism

in the news:  Gloria Steinem, when asked last night by the PBS News Hour's Judy Woodruff, "What is standing in the way of the women's movement realizing what it ultimately is asking for?" replied as follows. "...What is standing in the way is that we have had, not for all of human history, but for the last 5 percent of it, a hierarchical view of human beings that was based on sex and race and class...With women, the key is that the desire of the hierarchical system [is] to control reproduction and therefore to control the bodies of women." She believes that what is needed is a system in which people perceive themselves as being "linked, not ranked, in which the paradigm of culture is the circle, not the pyramid, in which we understand that each individual is unique and...also part of the human community..."  The interview preceded the unveiling on PBS of the three hour long documentary chronicling the women's movement "Makers: Women Who Make America". 

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, project Worldview, The view of human beings that Steinem dislikes can be connected with what the founders of Gaia University call "The Patrix".  They describe this in terms of seven threads--classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, separation from and dominion over nature/other species, able-bodied-ism, men's oppression--and analyze the tactics employed by the (their term) "oppressor" (see additional comment below).

In a Populism (worldview theme #21a) vs. Elitism (theme #20a) context, I have summarized such tactics as follows (in The Worldview Literacy Book): "Those who fear the collective strength of people who have organized and united to form a group, often seek to exploit differences within the group and destroy its populist mission.  Differences exploited often include race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class–but fracturing can occur along many potential fault lines if outsiders are working to encourage it.  After the fracturing, people who previously fully embraced populism may have moved away from it (to some extent) and toward individualism, and blame, dissension, finger-pointing, lack of trust, etc. may exist where previously they didn’t.

After watching the PBS documentary one can readily identify four of those fault lines along which the early women's movement fractured: socioeconomic class, race, sexual orientation, and the abortion issue. The latter can be portrayed as a conflict between pro-life The Sanctity and Dignity of Life (theme #44a) and pro-choice Women's Reproductive Rights/Valuing Human Rights (theme #32).  One can argue that other fault lines while less obvious are even more fundamental, since they involve basic choices--something Project Worldview has recently formalized in terms of "Characterizing a Worldview: Basic Choices".   I'd say that women of recent decades have divided over their receptivity to new ideas (what we might call the "Open-minded" meta theme) and their need for "cognitive consistency," (another Project Worldview meta theme --these are all overviewed here). In the latter, many find comfort in not seeking out and/or ignoring facts, beliefs, and values that would necessitate some revising of their associated worldview framework. Simply put, some women refuse to be jolted out of their comfort zone--one in which their husbands provide for and protect them in exchange for their relinquishing certain rights, etc. 

In another basic choice, given their many years of conditioning by an American society valuing "Individualism" (another meta theme), many women opt for this over the "Collectivism" meta theme that many feminist activists value. And there's that basic choice Steinem describes in distinguishing between circles that link women in their struggle for equal rights, and pyramids that rank people and highlight their inequality in hierarchical fashion.  The "Hierarchical Rigidity" meta theme can be described as "associated with accepting inequality and with a typically centralized organizational / power structure based on adhering  to rules, conforming in a cultural and/or moral sense, and valuing the status quo."  Its antithesis is the "Egalitarian Progressive" meta theme choice. Certainly Gloria Steinem, the Gaia University instructors, and many on the progressive left value equality, believe that all human beings should have the same rights, opportunities and privileges, and are working for gradual social, political, and economic reform.

Those with other values and beliefs may be more comfortable with manifestations of the pyramid, the Patrix, or the hierarchy of some power structure they are part of.  Certainly those valuing national security and Militarism (theme #46b) appreciate that fighting wars necessitates having a structure with commanders at the top and field soldiers at the bottom.  University researchers and those valuing The Scientific Method (theme #6) may justifiably give more serious attention to the published contributions of full professors or associate professors and simply skim papers authored by young post-docs or mere graduate students.  Those at the top of the ancient Catholic Church hierarchy, who will soon be electing a new pope, can be expected to continue to value Traditions and Traditional Gender Roles (theme #34) and not consider any candidates calling for reforms like ending the celibacy requirement for priests, or allowing women to be ordained as priests.   

And consider those who have wildly succeeded in their Seeking Wealth and Power (theme #43)--such as the lavishly compensated hospital executives Steven Brill repeatedly notes in his March 4, 2013 Time cover story "Why Medical Bills are Killing Us".  Those few at the top of the wealth hierarchy seemingly have every reason to embrace the rigidity of the status quo and shun anything like egalitarian progressivism. Yet a few of those people--Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros, etc.--are seemingly Working for Change (theme #35b) built on equal opportunity and social justice.  

This both underscores the black and white simplistic nature of the above analysis--yes, understanding human behavior is messy!--and counters the arguments of those seeped in Cynicism (theme #36a).   Many of these people argue that human nature is competitive, greedy and involves inflicting "Intolerant Pain" (another meta theme) on the weak at the bottom of some hierarchy. They claim this will ultimately keep humanity from realizing many dreams of egalitarian progressives such as equal rights for women. Such viewpoints fail to acknowledge the side of human nature based on co-operation, altruism,  and the "Generosity and Love" meta theme, nor the key place "The Golden Rule/Village Ethic of Mutual Help" (theme #16) holds in all of the world's major religions. My conclusion: I try to remain hopeful and work where I can toward making the world a better place. While I've definitely flirted with it in the past, I refuse to marry my worldview to cynicism!  

Additional Comment: Gaia University's Andrew Langford writes "The seven threads previously described are among many more and this small group was chosen to merely illustrate something of the very broad scope of The Patrix. There are other important threads -  anti-semitism is one such in which Jews are targeted by gentiles and made scapegoats for all manner of sociopathic tendencies - this one crystalized in the 4th century and led to the Shoa (Holocaust) last century. Age based oppression is also significant -  one version has it that young people don't know enough about society to be allowed to participate and another version has it that old people are past being able to keep up and should just stay quiet ...All these oppressions intersect and very little detail of how they combine in effect is yet articulated although, I imagine, it's a little like the cocktails of toxic chemicals modern society has us all swim in - the more 'flavors' there are in the mixture the more potential for damaging synergy there is …" (added March 10 2013)

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