Women & World Peace

Foreign Policy has an article that claims that the best predictor of a state's stability is how it treats its women.
What's more, democracies with higher levels of violence against women are as insecure and unstable as nondemocracies. 
Our findings, detailed in our new book out this month, Sex and World Peace, echo those of other scholars, who have found that the larger the gender gap between the treatment of men and women in a society, the more likely a country is to be involved in intra- and interstate conflict, to be the first to resort to force in such conflicts, and to resort to higher levels of violence....  
It's ironic that authors such as Steven Pinker who claim that the world is becoming much more peaceful have not recognized that violence against women in many countries is, if anything, becoming more prevalent, not less so, and dwarfs the violence produced through war and armed conflict. To say a country is at peace when its women are subject to femicide -- or to ignore violence against women while claiming, as Pinker does, that the world is now more secure -- is simply oxymoronic.
Well, Pinker's argument is one I don't think much of myself (we discussed it here); nevertheless, I'm not sure what to make of this argument.

Stability as such isn't much of a goal, if what is being stabilized is injustice.  Thus, to some degree, you would think it would be a good thing to see that states that are fundamentally unjust were also unstable:  that's just what we might think we would want to see.

On the other hand, growing instability doesn't seem to improve the situation for women much:  in fact, it seems to worsen it.

It seems probable that they have their causality exactly backwards.  Good treatment for women does not cause political stability; it seems to result from it.  It is in a stable atmosphere that women have often done best in human history, because it is in such an atmosphere that the traditional male advantages are minimized:  size, strength, and a mental structure that evolution has shaped for war.  In a stable environment, it is development of long-term relationships rather than combat that tends to shape society:  and these are traditional female strengths.  It's the periods of long-term prosperity and stability in which women have advanced their political and legal position.

This suggests that if you want to see women's treatment improve, you should work to stabilize society; but you will almost certainly be stabilizing an oppressive environment for the women when you do it.  The goods that come for women will come from their own work and their own natural strength, over time, not because of external efforts.

Nevertheless, there are some counterexamples to the theory that occur to me.  It would have been true during the height of the instability of the industrial age, for example, that women had greatest equality (if not best treatment) in the places rendered most unstable by the revolution; and likewise, in WWII, it was the instability that created the opportunity for large-scale female migration into factory work.

This set of data suggest that creating instability is a great thing to do insofar as it gives women a greater hand in the means of production, which may only be possible in industrialized or post-industrial societies.  It was certainly true that many Marxist revolutions promised women this very good if they would join the revolution and help overthrow the government, which is why many third-world Marxist leaders were women.  However, after the revolution the promised goods rarely materialized.

If this is the truth, though, then there's no general rule about correlation or causation to be made here.  The fact that stable states are correlated with female rights is true only just now; it was not true before, and might not be true later.

The authors would like it to be true that the correlation (and even the causation) ran in their direction, because it could allow us to avoid making a value judgment between stability and freedom for women.  In fact, I suspect we will often have to make such judgments:  and I am as ready to strike a blow for freedom today as I ever was, though experience has made me less hopeful about how much we can actually achieve in our own historical moment.


E Hines said...

...creating instability is a great thing to do insofar as it gives women a greater hand in the means....

Your caveats aside, this may be one (not necessarily the) path for greater equality and better treatment for women--or any other maltreated group. A fluid situation can lead to greater success, as well as to greater failure, than the preceding stable environment.

Some Chinese friends of mine assure me that the two-symbol character for "crisis" consists of the symbols for "danger" and "opportunity."

When we roll the dice, though, it's optimal to already have them loaded in a favorable way.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

It's certainly true that a crisis that disrupts a formerly stable situation allows an opportunity to make changes that might otherwise have been difficult or impossible.

However, speaking as someone who has read a great deal of history, I can't help but notice that there have been times in human societies when women have had relatively good deals, and other times when they have been relatively oppressed. Some of this has to do with culture, but even adjusting for culture it seems to have more to do with stability.

For example, Islamic culture has a strong anti-woman bias embedded in the Koran and in sha'riah law. But during periods of long stability and prosperity, Islamic women have done quite well -- you see medieval Islamic women who are doctors, students of philosophy, and I've mentioned Averroes' remarks as a qadi on women's rights here from time to time.

Following the invasion of those lands by the Spanish Christians, however, all that was lost; and with the collapse of the schools in Baghdad following the Mongol raids, Islam reverted to a period both violent and oppressive toward women.

So I have a general theory that women prosper and advance themselves (needing no help, although I assume friendship is always welcome) so long as there is peace and good order; but that the disruption of a lawful order, and the coming of war, is generally baleful to the position of women in society. Nevertheless, the industrial revolution is surely a serious counterexample to the theory.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I wonder what the authors' evidence is that violence against women is increasing anywhere? What's the baseline? We frankly don't know what the level of violence against women was anywhere a hundred years ago, but the proxies and anecdotes suggest that it has decreased markedly.

I agree with Grim's original premise, and don't find the exceptions persuasive. In countries where women are worst-treated, they don't get the better opportunities when the men go off to war - it just doesn't get done. A certain level of equality must already be in play before the offers are extended. It leapfrogs.

Here's another leapfrogging element: boys who pass their mothers (never mind their sisters) in social status at an early age become narcissistic. They are then more likely to become violent with little provocation, whether battering or war. Cultural values described as pride and honor are often disguises for this narcissism.

E Hines said...

My concern here is that we concede a given level of stability combined with a present condition of OK-ness for women (or any other group) and so we accept that OK-ness without recognizing, or working toward, even at the expense of stability, something better.

Your stability and quality of life for Islam women is an example. On what was founded their prosperity? Nothing but the convenience of their masters. Yet because they were in an OK status, and the situation was stable, nothing was done to make them better off.

The foundation has to be there, and the dice have to be loaded before the destabilizing crisis hits. And the effort has to continue, even--especially--in times of stability.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

"...nothing was done to make them better off."

Nothing was done by whom? The Spanish conquered them and converted them, and presumably many of them were the ancestors of a very free group of women living today.

But Islam, as a culture, lost; and women who remained within Islam lost greatly for what their sisters gained.

E Hines said...

And what constitutes "better off," which I also elided?

Those two are serious questions, the answer to which are part of the loading of those dice.

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

Any unearned status, in my experience, makes many of its recipients jumpy and brittle. Maybe that's the same as AVI's narcissism: once boys are taught that they have surpassed their mothers and sisters, they have to keep up a front, even if that means beating the women in their life to continue convincing themselves of their superiority. I don't know what stability and prosperity have to do with this problem, if anything. For a man with brittle self-esteem, it would be a bitter thing indeed for his female peers to start to prosper without his permission.