Book Reviews


Women, Power, and the Biology or Peace
By Judith L. Hand, Ph. D.

Book review by William A. Spriggs, January 28th, 2008
I like this book because the author shares my enthusiasm that peace on earth amongst our species is possible despite tremendous odds that war is inevitable as the default behavior. She bases her hope and desires on the main concept that the female of our species requires a biological need for social stability, while it is the male, who seeks conquest and domination.

I don't know much about Dr. Hand other than what has been written on the inside of her book cover; I will admit that her book was suggested to me by a friend and that we have exchanged short emails concerning war and peace. She's not cited in any textbooks or journals that I have read, but as I read the book, it's very easy to see that she is obviously enthusiastic about her goal and I can not find any serious flaws in her work except an overly optimistic expectation of a possible warless future based on the lack of any evidence of war within one nation-state in antiquity.

She earned her Ph.D. in biology from UCLA where her studies included animal behavior and primatology. By web searching her name, I found that she is the author of seven books, five of which are fictional. To be quite honest she has more formal education on the subjects then I do. That's the good news. The bad news is that when she received that formal education in evolutionary biology it was a time in our immediate past when male bias in science was king and that even the slightest suggestion of female involvement in the evolutionary formation of our species was ridiculed. She, too, by her own admittance, succumbed to the pressures to conform in academia and wrote in a manner consist with the social norms of that time in order to succeed; "I took it all in." p. 114.

It was during the writing of her first novel, The Voice of the Goddess, which was based on the Minoan Civilization found on the Mediterranean Island of Crete did the full light of the female role in society brighten her logical thinking. It was at that time that she started Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace as a companion piece to the novel:

"I wanted to do this because as I worked on the Minoan fiction, I also explored the possibility that these people were as extraordinary with respect to aggression as Sir Arthur Evans thought they were…If the culture of ancient Crete was as peaceful as the evidence to date indicates, its existence has profound significance for humanity's past, present, and future. These unusual people may have been a state-level civilization in which the fact that women had power made a profound difference when it came to the matter of war…This book's central theme is that lasting world peace cannot be achieved without full partnership between men and women. We need male/female balance in civic affairs" pp. 20 & 21.

If you didn't get the crutch of her argument, it's a strong suggestion that in order to achieve peace on our planet, equality amongst the sexes must happen; then and only then, would the prospect of peace become a distinct possibility.

But just before the quote above, Dr.. Hand introduces us to the dichotomy of this meme:

"…assuming that peaceful goddess societies did once exist and they were supplanted by patriarchal, warlike societies, they likely ceased to exist because they couldn't or wouldn't fight back. Sometimes fighting back is absolutely essential." P. 18.

Which then leads us to an interesting reproductive survival argument: Can you truly have a peaceful society without a warrior male class that tends to dominate politics and military matters when other societies around you don't? Is this the class that cries out it deserves being on top of the alpha hierarchy because they help protect, and thus, perpetuate the society? A sad reality is that if males are the ones who "invade and conquer" then a peaceful society most likely would be overrun by a nation that does not practice equality of the sexes. Why? Because a peaceful society presumably would not have a militarily-minded culture, and in all probability would be defeated by a society of knuckle-crawlers whose culture revels in violence and domination as sport; it also most likely would covet the peaceful society's resources because it lacks the brain power to create new resources with brawn. It has been argued in the evolutionary community, that military ventures by nations, are at their core, reproductive strategies. I'm sure that one could argue that knowing this, one could develop a well-paid substitute army of mercenaries, but the passion for fighting and defending that country would fall flat and put the peaceful society at risk. Or, perhaps a nation could demand that males and female participate in military defense and offense behaviors equally, but since the human female seeks a "priority for stability," the biological incentive is not there for the female population.

Ms. Hand divides her book into three main sections: Section One is Biology; Section two is a look at a peaceful society, regulating social behavior, proof of female warriors, and Section Three, Waging peace.

In the Biology section she again states the central meme: A Female Priority for Stability Vs. A Male Priority to Invade and Conquer. She lucidly explains the two priorities as reproductive imperatives as biological logic; women have way to much to lose, in terms of future child progeny, while males have little to loose. She then dips into female and male differences in brain structure and function; teaches us about infants and cross-cultural studies, and then touches on the outer boundaries of human nature.

It is in the second Section, that Ms. Hand digs in deep into her theory of peaceful nations. She focuses on the ancient civilization of Minos, Called the Keftian culture on the Island of Crete, roughly 1650 - 1450 BCE.
It is in this second section that Dr. Hand bases her theory that if women were in charge, or in equal partnership with men, we would be on our way to a more peaceful world:

"All evidence to date indicates that Minoans represent a rare, if not unique, moment in history showing us one view of how civilized living might have looked if women had been participants in matters of state - if women had been running things, or at least had had a share in running things and in a society without war." P. 49.

She goes on to strengthen her theory by citing examples of the Keftian culture; Included are the absence of a male deity; no images of battles in their artwork - and the evidence of religious-linked prostitution. Below is where I feel Ms. Hand truly puts her finger on the pulse of human behavior.

"The implications of such a custom for modern societies that are products of millennia of various forms of patriarchy are potentially staggering. Imagine the world today if people could go to a church, a temple, or a mosque for expert, experienced, safe sex and know that the act was acceptable, even blessed. What would be the consequences of a religious affirmation that all coupling, not just that of marriage, is a celebration of life? A celebration of the gift of physical pleasure? A celebration of harmonious connectedness between men and women, male and female?" p. 88.

Yes, I've also mused upon the prospect of what kind of a society we would have if it embraced the sex act as God's hardware for eternal life. I mean after all, if children are so scared and are considered the ultimate reason for our survival, then shouldn't the sexual act of creating that child be just as scared? Our culture has been hi-jacked by a small group of dominates who dictate to us their morality while letting us suffer in the dust of their constant quest for justifying their greed.

From this high she then leads us into, what I consider to be her weakest argument by heading a sub-section titled, "Women As Warriors" and citing a one, Ms. Kate Muir, from her book Arms and the Woman.

"Her conclusion: under the conditions of modern warfare, there is no reason to exclude women as a group from any tasks. And I would argue that if women's influence is to be felt in the military, something that would be critical to the ultimate goal of achieving social balance and stability, they must serve or have no credibility in debate and no grounds to speak with authority in matters military." P. 95

On page 101, Dr. Hand presents a table of 110 listed females from the past with "warlike nature" as "reasons women took up arms." She lists the various motivations and numbers as: Defense of castle, country, or throne - 58; Overthrow oppressive regime/rebellion - 19; Fighting against captors, personal revenge, or to be with a lover or husband - 8; Pirates/Raiders - 6; Adventurers - 6; Conquest - 12; Because of religious visions - 1. See concludes:

"Table 1 presents the results. If the "chivalrous" categories of Defense of Castle, Country, or Throne, Overthrow of Oppressive Regime, and Resisting Captors/Avenging a Loved One/Or To Be With a Lover are combined, they total 85 cases or 77.3% of the reasons why women took up arms. This quick sampling is tantalizing evidence that defense of one sort or another is the chief reason women take up arms…Pirates and Raiders seems to be a category of women on their society's fringes who found status and made a living by questionable means in terms of honor, but they did not instigate war. They are roughly 5.5% of the sample…The same is true for the Adventurers, another 5.5%. These were virtually all women who lusted for something other than the humdrum and enlisted in wars started by others. It would be interesting to know why picked a particular side. What the nature of the cause at all relevant to their choices?" pp. 100 & 101.

I'm sorry, but I can't consider a sampling of 110 female names in history, as opposed to, say 100 million males who have taken up arms for various reasons in our historical past as an argument for the innate aggressiveness of women that just has not been allowed to surface because of culture. But, in her concluding section, "Waging Peace" she recovers very well with one of the best two-worded phrases that I have ever read that boils down the problem into a nutshell.

"When it comes to the subject of peace and war, we suffer from the severe blind spot that I call "hidden females." P. 119.

Dr. Hand succinctly teaches us that after the terrorists attack of September 11, 2001, the dominate discussion amongst the talking heads on TV in America focused on the primal meme that we were in a cultural war between the modern world and "people who have not been able to accept modernity." In fact, Dr. Hand correctly points out that it is "between the modern world and men who have not been able to accept modernity. There were, after all, no women at the level of power in the organization of Osama bin Ladin." p. 120.

She continues on the same page and next with the thrust of her convictions surrounding the truth about the un-empowerment of women.

"My goal, then, is to have some part in changing our social climate so all who study and long for peace will readily acknowledge the long-term futility of trusting in male-dominated systems: that powerful leaders will loudly, urgently, and unfailingly insist on the inclusion of women as equal participants in all levels of social decision-making…If we continue to fail to make a distinction between male and female agendas, between male and female inclinations, we will continue to perpetuate the mistaken idea that war lies at the feet of "people" rather than power-seeking or disaffected males. And unless we know and acknowledge the root cause of the affliction of war, we cannot hope to discover, invoke, or create a cure." pp. 120 & 121.

To conclude her book and to help lead us to a path of peace, she brings in Francis Fukuyama and his work entitled, The End of History and the Last Man. She points out that his article stresses that all governments are evolving and one day will merge into one universal liberal democracy. She then points out Fukuyama's logic for this lies in Hegel's "the need for recognition."

Her own interpretation? "As a biologist, I consider it a desire for status and the power and advantages status brings - in short, "power-seeking." P. 123.

And that, my friends, leaves us back to square one of biology, not the cultural norms we see around us. To quote Dr. Hand:

"So by choosing to mate with dominant, aggressive males, females actually play an important part in the evolution of male aggression as expressed in status-seeking…We learned that females make alliances with adult males who might not actually be the dominant male because these male "friends" buffer the female's offspring from other members of the group…Having a male "friend" as protector may well be a precursor for the male/female bond of marriage. Indeed, some have speculated that the purpose of "marriage" in pre-human ancestors may well have been not so much to protect females and their young from dangerous outsiders like lions or even to encourage a male to bring home meat, but to gain protection from troublesome individuals within the female's own group." pp. 116 & 117.

Yes, it all starts in biology and then radiates outward into group formations which develop into clans, then villages, then cities, then nation-states - but always, always, it stays anchored in the biology imperative of what is best for the survival of the children.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, one of the most astounding occurrences was the political transformation in America of the "soccer moms" who used to vote for the Democratic Party and their agendas of economic and social justice, affordable health care, free public education, and the understanding that we have to diplomatically communicate with all nation-states. After the attack, it was observed in the 2004 general election that these soccer moms had flipped into "security moms" who were now frightened by the 'evil doers" that lurked "out there" and put their trust in the Republican Party (the Daddy Party) who promised to attack the evil at its source so that they would not attack them at home. But at the same time, the republicans gave tax breaks to the very wealthy, escalated health care cost for the middle class in the name of profit and greed as a way to lower costs, and in general encouraged a religious mind-set that women should be submissive to the male husbands or else America would lose those "institutions" that made America moral and great. Ms. Hand props up this idea of why soccer moms would flip in becoming security moms by writing:

"…women find greater reinforcement in an environment that is not in turmoil. Because of genetic inclinations that are as deeply rooted as the bonding-for-aggression inclinations of men, most women would prefer to make or keep the peace, the sooner the better." P. 45.

In the concluding pages of her book, Ms. Hand somewhat gives us the answer to this problematic question as to why, in exchange for social stability, would women take a path subservient to males.

"Women are 'the hand that rocks the cradle' and thus they supposedly rule the world. There is truth in this phrase. Who bound the feet of girl children in China? Not men. In cultures that exposed newborn girls to die, who did the exposing? Not men, but rather a mid-wife or perhaps the grandmother. Who performed, and still does perform, operations on little girls so they cannot experience pleasure in sex as an adult? Until the recent introduction of modern medicine and clinics, it wasn't men. Women in every generation have proudly sent sons they nursed off to war after war…Why have women been so willing to collaborate in so many ways in their own degradation and the loss of their sons? Well, women are not saints. And they have been as much constrained by their biology as men, only in different ways. The need to reproduce successfully, by whatever means possible…When they find themselves without power, as they have been in so many cultures, women do the best they can. For too many millennia, the "best they can" was a rule that reads much like, 'Get as close as you can to the most powerful male you can and keep in the good graces of the males that run the system.' The result has been collaboration with males in ways that reinforced male-dominated systems." p. 139.

This "collaboration with males" comes down to resources that are assigned to the child that gives that child an advantage in the struggle for survival. And there lies the great dilemma for women: For far too long, women have tended to put too many hopes and dreams for their children into the hands of their male partners at the expense of their fellow sisters. It is the hardest "hidden truth" for feminists everywhere, and in particular, female evolutionary feminists to examine and face. It's the realization that if the theory is correct - that women were the creators of males that forced the separation from our primate ancestors by choosing males through the sexual selection process those males who were the most aggressive because it would be an advantage for her progeny - then it is the female that is responsible for propping up the system. That's the bad news - the good news is that it will be the females that will save the planet? How do I know? Well, if the theory that all nations are growing and evolving towards mutual integration, what would be the best path to take for the survival of our children? A worldview that all of our children are all of our children; it has to evolve into a world where there are no "us-es" against "thems."

Around 1990, I remember a local television interview here in Denver that one newspaper reporter had with a woman outside a football field full of 50,000 males at a Promise Keepers Rally of Christian evangelicals. Inside were males of this faith dedicated to rallying men to become "Godly influences" in the world; women were not allowed to enter the football stadium. Asked of what she thought about not being allowed inside and in the idea of women being submissive to their husbands. Her reply:

"Oh, I have no problem with it at all, in fact, I think that having a man around to protect you, and bring home the bacon is the greatest thing since sliced bread - and you get to have great sex, too!"

And that is what it comes down too. Too many of Dr. Hand's fellow sisters follow the easiest culture norm as the best path for them and their children as the best manner in which to make sure that they have the most resources for their children; unfortunately, this also props up the institutions of patriarchy. These females blindly separate themselves in excluded communities and shun the rest. They do not see their fellow sisters as part of a feminist struggle; they see it as a hierarchical advantage to ignore the other females' plight. It was not a man that defeated the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) in 1982, it was a woman (Phyllis Schlafly) because she did not want the advantages given to "supportive" women taken away from her and her fellow conservative women.

It is a story as old as dirt. The evolution of the human species is in danger of declining into one big dominance contest between various cultures on the planet, and America is in danger of losing those cultures wars because it is losing its national resource advantages by becoming dependant on foreign oil from the Middle East and cheap products from China. Any nation that loses its national resources must look elsewhere to obtain them and usually it comes at a cost to its citizens who have to give something up in return, such as their personal freedoms. Invading other countries for their resources only works in the short term; innovations from the creative mind must replace the brawn of violence that brought resources to our doors in the past.

But all is not hopeless. Dr. Hand ends her book by correctly labeling four reforms that we must do as a world society if we want to save the planet from destruction. All of those reforms have to do with the empowerment of women:

Education: Meaningful empowerment begins with wide and deep education, p. 138.

Economic: Without economic security, women cannot afford to take the risk of stepping out to insist that things change. p. 139.

Legal: Legal empowerment is particularly important with respect to divorce, p. 140

Religious: Without religious empowerment women will be silenced in the critical realm that molds our world view of what is right and what is possible. P. 140.

Worldwide: Empowerment must be worldwide. Empowering women in some cultures but not others is unlikely to bring a stable world. Unless changed from within, cultures that are now patriarchal and steeped in the tradition of violence and war will continue to use, even celebrate, force. pp. 141 & 142.

But, I wanted to add that as long as the majority of western women, whose culture dominates the world thinking, continues to think that having a man around is the greatest thing since sliced bread those reforms will not happen. What needs to happen is that women need to replace the resources allocations that men provide and replace them with resources for women, by women. Women won't be able to do this until they reach a conscious consensus through understanding the biological origins of male and female reproductive strategies. And, that war is not good for all living things and begins to change the flow of resource allocations - to women - for women - by women. It won't come from males and the females who support their patriarchal ways.

I recommend this book because of its deep commitment to the evolutionary perspective, it's simple, non-academic style of writing, and the prospect that peace most likely will come through the worldwide empowerment of women.

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