Sex & World Peace is a rare book that could and should change everything from our behavior toward each other to our foreign policy. Ever since it was published in 2012, I’ve been carrying it with me to quote wherever I speak, and urging it on anyone working against or worried about violence, whether in our own homes and streets, in our militarism toward other countries, or in the terrorism that’s directed at us.
This well-written, well-documented, and very readable book by Valerie M. Hudson—plus three other scholars, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett—proves that violence in macrocosm happens wherever and whenever violence has been normalized in microcosm.
To cut to the bottom line: The biggest determinant of violence within a nation, or the willingness of one nation to be violent against another nation, is not poverty, not natural resources, not religion, and not even degree of democracy. It’s violence against females.
The authors are not saying that violence against female human beings is intrinsically more important than that against male human beings. But they do say that because anti-female violence tends to be experienced first, to be by far the most universal, and to be seen by our own families and religions as natural, inevitable, even a part of moral necessity or human nature, it is the root and justifier of violence in general.
Of course, this goes deep. Gender roles were invented to achieve patriarchal control of reproduction and women’s bodies. If this book has any flaw, it is not exploring the original and surviving matrilineal cultures in which there were and are no gendered pronouns like “he” and “she,” and the organizing principle is a circle, not a hierarchy. This also is not a brand new understanding of the cause of most violence. Anthropologists have long known that cultures with the most polarized gender roles were the most violent, and those with the most flexible roles were the most peaceful. Also, social justice movements point out now that nations and religions obsessed with small birth-based differences of sex or race, caste or class, are ignoring the big and deep realities of shared humanity.
But no other book I know of does such an understandable, well-informed, compelling job of explaining the current crisis and the possible way out. For instance, due to everything from honor killings to the female infanticide that has created a son surplus and a daughter deficit; from child marriage to sexualized violence in war zones; from female genital cutting to sexual assault and domestic violence; from forced childbirth to global sex trafficking; there are now fewer females than males on Spaceship Earth. This is a first in recorded history.
No other book also shows us that this violence is neither universal nor inevitable, whether in human societies or in animal behavior. You will find plenty of fuel for argument against those who keep saying this is just the way it is.
Read it and see what you think. If we act on the facts and insights in Sex & World Peace, we could discover a long, deep, difficult but practical way out of the violence that we can no longer afford in this time of doomsday weapons. We could get out by reversing the way we got in, even if we have to challenge families, communities, corporations, governments, armies, religions, and other gendered and justifying forces to do it.
In this time, when old glorifications of life after death are meeting new ways of creating death, what could be more important than that?
Gloria Steinem is an American feminist, activist, writer, and editor who has shaped debates on gender, politics, and art since the 1960s. Cofounder of Ms. Magazine and a founding contributor of New York Magazine, Steinem has also published numerous bestselling nonfiction titles. Through activism, lectures, constant traveling as an organizer, and appearances in the media over time, Steinem has worked to address institutional inequalities of sex, race, sexuality, class, and access to power in the United States and abroad.