The Old Women's Project

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We decide to join together, as women, to oppose war out of an instinctive sense that our collective voice needs to be heard, that we have a unique stake and special perspective on the issue of war. Yet when we define our opposition to war as women almost entirely on the basis of our roles as mothers or grandmothers, we contribute — not only to the erasure of those of us without children — but to the erasure of ourselves as women. We are hiding our own value behind our concern for children, our communities, our families — everyone but ourselves!

It is time to say clearly: No war. Not for ourselves. Not for other women.

War is very different now than it was when the images of war first entered our human psyches. Yet all of us — men and women — respond to war today as if it were still a male story of brave men daring to confront other men in an ultimate way in order to protect women and children, as if war had not changed radically in the past 80 years. By World War II, only 10% of the casualities were soldiers. The other 90% were women and children. The recent Report of the U.N. Secretary General confirms: in modern warfare, the majority of all victims are women and our children.

Women are now on the frontlines. Yet nowhere in the world do women have equal voice in the decisions to make war — or input into how war and its aftermath will affect women.

The Old Women's Project believes that if we want to end war, it is essential for us to insist that the world see that war has a woman's face. Women can no longer be trivialized as "collateral damage." We are at ground zero of modern warfare.

But also: when we define our opposition as coming from our tender maternal natures, our stance can be quickly invalidated. We are simply dismissed with: Of course women feel that way! Always have, always will. That's why we love 'em — and why we'll die to protect them!

This approach has never worked. Have you heard of a single man — in myth or in reality — who decided not to go to war becuse his wife or mother begged him not to go? (In the story of Lysistrata, the women averted war because they exerted their power to refuse sex — not because they begged the men not to fight.)

In fact, when women oppose war based on our tender, womanly feelings, we may in fact serve the purposes of the military machine. Every military spends much energy in toughening up its soldiers psychologically — building up their machismo. Soldiers going to battle (or even politicians sending them to battle) gain their glory by their willingness to bravely shut their hearts to womanly tenderness. The traditional stance of the woman imploring her son not to sign up affirms the soldier's heroism when he most needs to affirm it. The true soldier is the man who can march off to war while his mother and wife plead for him to turn away. Our pleas glamorize him to himself and in our collective minds.

As destructive as it is to their souls, men find glory, heroism and meaning in war.

But women's suffering and heroism is not honored, even as we carry on in the face of bombs, blood, dying, rape, sexual torture, starvation, inability to feed our children, no medical care for our children's wounds and diseases or our own. This heroism continues long after the cameras go home — women and their children are 80% of all war refugees and people displaced by war.

As an anti-war movement, we have a job to do: reframing war for the 21st century, replacing the images of the heroic warrior with the story of heroic women, trying aginst impossible odds to hold the world togther.

We also need to assert our central place on the home front. We need to make absolutely clear that the obscenely inflated military budget is on the backs of women and our children. We are the ones who depend most heavily on the social and economic programs being slashed to pay for more and more elaborate weaponry.

The Old Women's Project believes that, when women powerfully claim our rightful center stage in the saga of war, we can at last begin to correct images that have too long been defined by men and begin to make war less glamorous to all of us.


The Old Women's Project
San Diego, California
March 10, 2003

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