The Male Bias
All information is produced within the cultural prejudices and power structures of society. Sexism, for instance, has existed all throughout modern philosophy and science. Aristotle was one of the greatest influences on western thought. He argued women were inferior to men and promoted the idea that women should be ruled. A belief system that organized modern law and thought around treating women as ‘subjects’ instead of equal citizens.
Most of modern medicine has reinforced the subordination of women in society. Until very recently, the male body was considered the standard scientific body. Meaning women’s bodies were perceived as ‘defective’ variations of men. In this framework of science, Women’s bodies are literally being approached with inherent bias. For the majority of modern medicine, the female body and condition have been de facto flawed for not being male.
This belief system promoted the idea that women were deviations of men, not a separate gender. This is why there remains a drastic lack of womens inclusion in medical trials, drug research, and disease prevention today.
Brigham Research Institute and Women’s Hospitals issued a report, Sex-Specific Medical Research Why Women’s Health Can Wait. It outlines specific conditions like Heart diseases, Lung Cancer, and Alzheimer all three disproportionately affect women. The report explains “Once clinical trials begin, researchers frequently do not enroll adequate numbers of women or, when they do, fail to analyze or report data separately by sex. This hampers our ability to identify important differences that could benefit the health of all.”
For centuries, social institutions have only viewed women as only childbearing bodies. Vehicles of offspring but not individuals capable of self-fulfillment. There are common medical claims about anemia, weakness, and infertility being consequences to a woman receiving an education. One of the most common medical claims was that women’s brains were ‘small’ because they don’t need that much energy. The belief was, the uterus occupied most of the body’s energy. Therefore educating a woman would be disastrous because the brain would steal precious energy from the uterus resulting in infertility. This dominant belief system promoted two major social biases, that motherhood is the only social value of women and that being educated makes you less desirable.
The history of black women and medical practices is even more horrifying. The father of modern gynecology, J Marion Sims tortured and raped hundreds of black slaves by performing countless surgeries and examinations on them without any anesthesia because of the medical belief that black women have higher pain tolerances and sex drives.
The violence of institutional racism and sexism in medicine still kills black women at higher rates. A report by the National Library of Medicine finds black women are two to three times more likely to die than white women of the same condition, regardless of income. Most of the modern medicine has framed the bodies of black women as unfeminine, stronger, and more sexual than their white counterparts. Which irrefutably has influenced the social value and treatment of black women today.
A Georgetown study, Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls Childhood. Outlines the extreme racial bias towards black girls. Society views them as less innocent, less in need of protection, and more sexualized when compared to their white counterparts.
The history of medicine and women can’t be reduced to just ‘bad science’. What we learn from history is that state and social institutions are not neutral. They produce and promote information useful to those in power. Most social institutions aren’t designed to reform or concede power; but rather exist to reinforce dominant belief systems that serve the status quo.
Recalling that the state framework was built on genocide, slavery, and the exclusion of women in all levels of decision making. It’s responsible to question all epistemologies produced by institutions that monopolize power and information, particularly at the exclusion of women in society.
The production of information
Harvard psychologist, Steven Pinker argues that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. He determines this by various metrics like the decline of deaths in modern warfare, terrorist acts, and crime in society. He credits local and state governments as being institutions that promote peace and concludes that violence is an irrational aspect to the human condition. A lot of what Pinker cites is true. The general condition of humans has improved. Violence over a long period of time has declined and conventional warfare renders fewer fatalities. All true. That’s what makes his work such a powerful piece of rhetoric because he uses a lot of good information!
None the less his claims are largely framed around the male experience. For example, some of his sources are ‘male-centered’ productions of knowledge. Meaning it’s most applicable to and framed around the male condition, not collective society.
Both U.S. law enforcement and military personnel are within an 85-90 percentile of male employment. They are patriarchal institutions with racist legacies that largely operate within anonymity. They offer no real mechanisms of reform when addressing systemic issues of racism, gender-based violence, or harassment. Yet, Pinker credits them as being actors in the promotion of peace. An interesting conclusion mainly because state violence against citizens is increasing.
Perhaps most nefarious, he forces us to subconsciously re-work our definition of peace. He uses the decline of military deaths as a metric of peace. Which is literally framing conversations of peace around the perpetual existence of violence. It’s very manipulative because secretly, he is forcing us to view the military framework as a necessary conduit to peace.
Yes, the physical number of deaths in an inter-state conflict has declined since the 1950s. But that’s not a result of us becoming ‘more peaceful’. Another way to frame the situation is:
“The U.S. Empire and its Nato allies have monopolized international security, holding global society hostage with other 800 military bases and stockpiles of nuclear weapons around the world. The creation of menacing arsenals which allow for remote operation, such as predator drones, electromagnetic pulses, and chemical attacks, all have fundamentally transformed conventional warfare. Remote operated weapons that indiscriminately target masses (mainly killing civilians) are advantageous because they do not require boots on the ground! Thus, We have found new and more efficient ways to murder more people abroad without sacrificing any of our men! … Sends a different sentiment than “Humans are existing in one of the most peaceful times in history” right?
International Relations has produced some limiting concepts to promote the state framework. For example, “terrorism” and ‘terrorist’ are categorically reserved as ‘non-state actors’. Meaning only individuals and groups independent of the state can commit acts of terror. Pinker uses this limited scope of ‘terrorism’ to review acts committed by non-state actors like the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS. And he correctly, notes that violence on behalf of these terrorist groups is on the decline.
However, Pinker doesn’t mention the Wech Baghtu wedding airstrike in 2008. This attack in Afghanistan destroyed a housing complex killing 40 civilians. 23 were children. Another 27 people were injured including the bride of the wedding. He also left out the Wedding procession bombing in 2012. This attack killed 15 civilians on their way to a wedding in Yemen.
The Saana funeral bombing in 2016 happened after Pinker’s book was released, but wouldn’t have made his list either. This attack killed around 200 and injured over 500 civilians. It was the deadliest attack of the entire war. It was particularly grotesque because the groups involved did a ‘double-tap’ meaning they bombed the area and left. Only to return minutes later with the goal of targeting first responders.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, spoke with anger and courage, calling the Saana Funeral attacks “An outrageous violation of international humanitarian law and calling for a full inquiry with consequences for those found culpable.”
All of these attacks were committed by the United States and its allies. Therefore, by definition, do not constitute an act of terror, even though each attack predominantly targeted and killed civilians.
Let’s re-examine our positioning, we are using the death rate of soldiers as a way to conceptualize peace, but we don’t count military violence against civilians as an ‘act of terror’ on a technicality?
A U.N. report claims the U.S. military murdered more civilians than the Taliban in just the first half of 2019. Yet, U.S. citizens would never come to that conclusion, especially when we are told ‘less of our men are dying’ and ‘terrorism is declining’. This arrangement of information is meant to persuade the audience into believing that military interventionism is altruistic. This is just one example of western epistemologies presenting data in a way to hide more than it reveals.
The Exclusion of Women Threatens Global Peace
The general condition of humans has improved. Unfortunately, the ‘human condition’ isn’t a reflection of the status of women. Violence against women is a global phenomenon that has been increasing for over a decade. A 2019 U.N. report cites femicide continues to rise even as the general homicide rate declines.
Pinker credits the increased ‘value’ of women as one of the reasons we are living in the ‘most peaceful’ time in human history. However, he excludes that women makeup half the population, but are more likely to live in extreme poverty. Women have the least political power and make up the largest demographics of refugees and civilian deaths in the conflict. The global organization of power and resources reflects the exclusion of women in society.
Foreign policy experts (which Pinker isn’t) believe one of the best indicators of ‘state stability’ is the status and treatment of women in society. Not wealth or military power, but egalitarianism. Meaning the greater the gender gap the more likely a country will experience conflict. And intuitively it makes sense if half a population receives less education and is the recipient of high rates of violence this objectively signals instability.
The domestic conditions of women are also a reflection of a state’s foreign policy. For instance, the more gender-inclusive government bodies are such (congress or parliament) a state is less likely to experience internal and external conflict.
Women make more inclusive social policies and are more likely to consider the rights of others. Additionally, when women are incorporated in post-conflict peacekeeping operations, peace is obtained for longer periods of time. Needless to say, the inclusion of women in global decision making could fundamentally shift the military paradigm. And coincidentally none of that was mentioned in Pinker’s book, because if people understood the global impact of gender mainstreaming the ‘necessity’ of the military-industrial complex would be entirely undermined.
Thus, to truly conceptualize peace we must prioritize the participation of women in all levels of a global society. World peace will not be achieved by the same institutions which have mastered generations of regional instability.
About the author:
Sarah Cavarretta was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Growing up in a multicultural environment helped framed her world view and appreciation for diversity. She holds a BA in International Security and Conflict Resolution from San Diego State University. Her undergraduate research focused on international women’s coalitions and the implementation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, a landmark resolution calling for gender mainstreaming. After graduating Sarah became certified in Mediation and Negotiations from the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, CA. Shortly after this, she moved to Costa Rica and attended the U.N. Mandated University For Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica. This one of a kind program gave direct access to regional mechanisms and how they implement human rights law, like the Inter-America Court of Human Rights. Her thesis Moving Beyond Philanthropy urges states to enable regional action plans to address the impending crisis of climate change and global inequality. She has experience in social work as a behavior therapist and has worked for international NGO’s like the International Rescue Committee and Oxfam International. Her most recent work has been on political campaigns and community organizing. Today Sarah lives in Costa Rica where she is pursuing beekeeping and sustainability. Her feminism is intersectional and champions the liberation and free movement of all people.