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Peter Clothier

Peter Clothier

Posted: June 11, 2010 10:47 AM

Elections: The Success of Women

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I wish I felt more inclined to celebrate what all the pundits were noting yesterday: the success of women in Tuesday's political primaries. And I would be celebrating, heartily, if I felt that this success were a harbinger of greater feminine energy in our political life. To judge, at least in California, from the way the women candidates chose to represent themselves, there's little evidence that this is the case.

I understand that I risk annoying an awful lot of people. To talk about masculine energy and feminine energy is to flirt with stereotyping and the dangerous half-truths of generalization. But this is a risk I choose to take, in the hope that I can discover for myself some new light on the discomfort that I feel. First, I know that I am not alone in the belief that male and female energy have only partly to do with the configuration of our bodies -- the shape and function of our upper bodies and what we happen to be born with between our legs. I'm thinking of a kind of psychic and emotional energy, the yin and yang, if you will, in which the two energies are fully co-dependent. I agree with those who argue that men are at their fullest human potential when they are able to acknowledge and activate their feminine side. And vice versa. In the light of this thinking, what disturbs me about Tuesday's election results is that the women who have been selected by their parties to run for office in the fall have chosen to project the kind of take-no-prisoners, competitive, win-at-all-costs energy that I associate -- rightly or wrongly, and without great pride or endorsement -- with my own sex.

Let me be quick to add that this is in no way a reflection on who these women are. It is based solely on the image they have allowed to represent them, and the way they have chosen to conduct their campaigns. They come across as hard-headed, pitiless in their condemnation of others, intolerant of ideas other than their own. That Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina both base their qualifications on success as corporate executives is indicative of the course they intend to chart as politicians. And while I wish in no way to denigrate that success -- more "power" to these women for what they have achieved! -- it's a matter of considerable regret to me that they bring little in the way of feminine energy to the political arena.

It's a curious irony, isn't it, the former Governor Jerry Brown projects more feminine energy than his rival for the Governor's office in the fall? I'm speaking, here, of an energy -- and a world view -- that is compassionate, nurturing, embracing rather than competitive, receptive (listening) rather than aggressive (hectoring). I'm speaking of an energy that respects the needs of the poor and the powerless among us, the matriarchal energy that we associate with "Mother Earth" -- whose protection, at this moment, is so sorely needed. I heard Brown, this morning on the radio, speaking of the need for "an agenda of humility." Imagine! And I sometimes wonder whether much the criticism of President Obama is not rooted in anxieties about his blend of masculine and feminine energies: I see him as a new kind of leader who lacks the bullying qualities we too often associate with successful leadership.

It may be trite to note that our national politics have been dominated by masculine energy. But even a glance at the national news on television confirms the still-dominant presence of men in positions of power. That energy has brought us wars, of course. The potential for we-can-do-no-wrong hubris has also brought us, recently, to the brink of financial meltdown, and to the kind of devastation wrought by overweening corporate greed that we see in the Gulf today. That same hubris is at work, it seems to me, in the religious hierarchies that wield such baleful influence in the contemporary world. Again, I'm not trying to say that masculine energy in itself is bad. On the contrary, I deem it to be a wonderful and necessary aspect of our human differences. But it can readily turn into misguided, paternalistic power-mongering ill-suited to the dire straights in which we find ourselves at the start of the twenty-first century. That those women who run for office feel obliged to present themselves to the voters in this way is a sad reflection on our culture.

What we need to survive, not only as a country but as a human species, is an evolutionary shift that will bring us into better balance, each within ourselves and all of us with our fellow humans. The same is true of relationship with our natural environment, which we seek to "master" mercilessly, rather than to "husband" in true partnership. We need, in a word, more yin with our yang. More humility in our agenda. More woman to our man.