The idea of women as the fairer, nurturing, compassionate dates back to notions of Victorian sexual polarity, which viewed women by nature as passive and emotional and men as are naturally assertive and dominant (Rosenberg. ) The “circle of domestic life” was used to justifies women from the political, economic, higher education an access to birth control and abortion. Women occupied a different “world” than men, one that utilized their natural predisposition towards nurturant activities (Kerber 1988).
While the idea that women should be banned from the polity dates back to ancient greece, the idea of women as the more moral, domestic sex took hold during industrialization (Kuersten 2003. ) Prior to the industrial revolutions, family members worked mostly around home, side by side. As labor shifted to production, women stayed home performing unpaid work as men occupied factory jobs (Kuersten 2003). Historian Barbara Welter calls this ideal of femininity in upper and middle classes in the 19th century as the “Cult of True Womanhood.
This ideal of womanhood among middle and upper class women entailed life devoted to domesticity in which women emulated submission, purity and morality (Welter). This was how “true women lived” and held a deep class bias, as many women had to hold factory jobs to support their family. Such notions of separate spheres were perpetuated in the substantial literature era by Herbert Spencer, Auguste Comte, Arthur Schopenhauer, Jon Ruskin, among others (Kerber 1988).
Thus, men were scientifically seen as the sex should occupy competitive realm of economics and politics, while women were the spiritual guardians of men’s morality (Kerber 1988). Indeed, the justification for the separate spheres was based around biological essentialism: women and men were thought to have a fundamentally different biological makeup (O’Briend 2009). Women, were predisposed to nurturing roles because of their genetic makeup (O’Briend 2009). Upper and middle class women’s function was to nurture the morality of their husbands, children and other dependents.
However, there was push back to these essentialist assumptions by many woman. In Beyond Separate Spheres, The Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism, Rosalind Rosenberg details the active role that a wave of women intellectuals had in replacing notions of “true women” with “new women” at the end of the industrial revolution and at the term of the progressive era. Thus, while notions of “true women,” which were intrinsically linked to biological essentialism and used to limits women’s autonomy to the domestic sphere, several women, like (), worked actively to overturn this paradigm and, to a degree, succeeded.
Still mainstream peace activism and the international women’s movement in the early 20th century, still adhered to the ideal femininity of “true womanhood. ” During the progressive era, middle and upper class women became increasingly involved in public life despite being barred from electoral politics. However, this political involvement was still to benevolent activities. In this way the, the “separate sphere” expanded past the domestic realm, but still limited women’s involvement to activism to issues solely linked to morality, nurturing and peace, and markedly separate from political and economic realms.
However, Ginsberg points out that while woman maintained that there activism was linked to notions of “Benevolent Womanhood. ”This is not to downplay the tremendous role women had during this period towards building international peace as the Women’s Peace Party (WPP) and AUAM helped prevent a war between Mexico and the United States in 1916. Still, this transnational women’s movement was based around essentialist ideals of benevolent femininity and exclusive only to white, middle and upper class women. The essentialist generalization that women were more moral sex was once used to bar woman from leadership positions.
Today, it is used to argue that women should occupy more leadership roles within government. An overwhelming wave of research in the early 2000s argued that women were more moral in leadership positions than men. (Dollar, Fishman, and Gatti, 2001; Swamy et al. , 2001). The most cited study, by Dollar, Fishman and Gatti (2001) found that “a one standard deviation increase in [female participation in government] will result in a decline in corruption… of 20 percent of a standard deviation. ” This study, along with a survey of corruption in Georgia (Swaney et al. 2001), culminated into a 2001 World Bank report suggesting that women were more likely than men to express altruistic values and condemn bribery.
The report suggested integrating “… women in politics and in the labor force—since they could be an effective force for good government and business trust” (World Bank, 2001). This sparked a wave of feminization initiatives to combat corruption. However, more recent research, however, exposes that the relationship between gender and corruption is far more complex than simply integrating women into government as an anti-corruption force.
Specifically, recent research on the gender corruption gap shows that the relationship between gender and corruption depends on regime type, opportunities for corruption, and culture. Others, however, find no difference between men and women in displaying corrupt behavior corruption gap (Frank, Lambsdorff & Boehm, 2011). Indeed the overwhelming consensus seems to prove that an increase in women in parliaments has no causal relationship on corruption. Involving women in security and parliamentary processes is no doubt an exciting conceit, as it is a much needed argument for recruiting more women into the public spheres.
However, it is absurd to think that integrating women into public office, especially when they often come from the same elite political circles as men, will sanitize corruption from government and perpetuates the pervasive essentialist myth that women are inherently more moral than men. This is also a harsh irony: the myth of the fairer sex that was first used to bar women from the public sphere, is now used to justify why women are needed in government. Positing that women are more intrinsically inclined towards peace than men, and using that as justification to get more involved involved in peacemaking, may seem harmless.
Compassion, empathy are crucial values needed to building sustainable peace, as is ensuring that peacemaking is an inclusive process. However, associating values with a group of people is at best broad generalization at best and a blatant stereotype at worst. Even positive stereotypes have negative impacts (Glick & Fisk, 2001; ). Such arguments do not argue that women deserve a seat at the table out of fairness, expertise, representation, efficiency, or better peacemaking & policy outcomes, but rather that women are a sanitizing force with the potential to expel the masculine evils of government.
This is a heteronormative narrative that imposes a hierarchy based off of sexual difference. Gender varies across time and place (Schilt, 2009). Broad generalizations that asserting that women better peacemakers than men , presumes that women, everywhere, at every time, are the “fairer sex. ” Such norms reproduce gendered assumptions and feed into the construction of cisgender, heterosexist systems (Fenstermaker, West, & Zimmerman, 2002; Schilt, 2009; Dicker & Piepmeier, 2003).
Thus, broad assertions that women are inherently more moral than men, and universally the “fairer sex,” feeds into essentialist gendered assumptions. The association of “feminine” with peace and “masculine” mirrors normative expectations of gender which push men to “do dominance” and push women to “do submission (Zimmerman. )” Normative expectations that align feminine with passivity and peace and men with war, translate into “doing inequality” which reproduces a gender hierarchy (Fenstermaker, West, & Zimmerman, 2002; Schilt, 2009; Dicker & Piepmeier, 2003).
This performance is perceived as a biological reality, which then reproduces heterosexist systems and gender inequality ((Fenstermaker, West, & Zimmerman, 2002; Schilt, 2009; Dicker & Piepmeier, 2003). It is crucial to underscore that no gender is more “predisposed” to compassion or empathy (), and any framing, in a poll or in experimental study, perpetuates a gender binary. Gender is a spectrum and varies across time and place (Schmitt). Even biologically, classify gender based of “male” and “female” is problematic.
For instance, sex chromosomes can exist in a variety of combinations, including Klinefelter syndrome which involves one or more X chromosome in males. Additionally, several people are born with sexual organs that don’t fit within the categories of “male” and “female. ” In order to conform to binary constructs of gender, a medical emergency is declared doctors assign infants genital doctors surgically assigned infants “normal genitalia” (Fausto Sterling 1993, Karkazis, K. 2008), in the process closing the “window of spectrum of genders. ” This has not historically been the case, nor is it the case everywhere.
Nepal and India, for instance, recognize a third gender (CNN 2011, BBS 2014). Even beyond perpetuating the gender binary, as the question of which of the gender is more corrupt undoubtedly does, associating femininity with peace idealizes masculinity as it constructs women as helpless victims who need protection (Tickner). Because what is privileged is what masculinized, and war is associated with men, peace is feminized and thus devalued (Peterson). Because peace is associated with femininity, peace is seen as inherently passive and not an active, strategic process to overcome oppressive realities. Peace is not passive.