A Muslim Lysistrata?

Aristophanes penned Lysistrata during the Peloponnesian War, about Greek women who manage to stop the war by withholding sex from their soldier-husbands. In a way, this is what Western women have been doing in the second half of the 20th Century. By leaving the home to work, they have made their sexual favors more dear. By earning their own wages, they have unchained themselves from supplicating reliance on the menfolk. We in the West have had a long time to get used to this transformation, and for the most part we are better off for it. I don’t have the data, but I suspect that societies where women make up more than one third of wage earners have seldom if ever gone to war against each other.

In a separate piece, I once argued that “[t]he gender imbalance in China’s population, unemployment, and idleness of the People’s Liberation Army all point in dangerous directions.”

Now, Strategy Page discusses the effect on a society of having too many young, unemployed single men.

Many of those unemployed young men are angry, and making war is a typical activity of angry young men. But the women are not too happy either, and this is becoming one a major threat to Islamic terrorists. In Islamic societies, women’s activities are greatly restricted. One thing they are encouraged to do is have lots of children. Many women in Islamic countries are rebelling against this. You don’t hear much about this, because women don’t rebel in the same loud, headline grabbing way that men do. What unhappy women often do is stop having children. Not so easy to do, you think? Well, think again.

Losing control of the women is something that makes Islamic conservatives very angry. Murderously angry. This is a vicious, lethal battle taking place largely out of the media spotlight. But, long term, it is destroying the source of Islamic terrorism.

The observation that “it’s in Europe that you get the best look at the womens revolt in the Islamic world,” and that these women are paying a price for it, is most probably a reference to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee whose life and work for the liberation of Muslim women resulted in the gruesome murder of Theo van Gogh, great-grandnephew of famed painter Vincent van Gogh, whose worked with Hirsi Ali on Submission, a short documentary about the mistreatment of women in some Muslim societies.

While Hirsi Ali’s life is certainly unique, not only for her recent atheism and her outspokenness, the women of Lysistrata were no less shocking in their ideals. Perhaps Hirsi Ali, and others like her, will yet help guide Islam into the modern world.

[Cross-posted from Between Worlds]

19 thoughts on “A Muslim Lysistrata?”

  1. “I don’t have the data, but I suspect that societies where women make up more than one third of wage earners have seldom if ever gone to war against each other.”

    There is perhaps one big exception to this–Nazi Germany. Richard Evans, in The Third Reich In Power, states that 1/3 of married women and 9/10 of unmarried women in Germany had wage-earning jobs in 1939. On the other hand, only 25% of workers in industry were women. The Nazi’s seem to have been caught between the desire for a large industrial workforce to support the envisioned war of conquest, and their ideological commitment to the woman as wife and mother, confined to the domestic sphere.

  2. Stephen, thanks for that data. It doesn’t seem inconsistent with my guess, since 25% of wage earners in Nazi Germany were women, well below the 33.33% I posited.

  3. Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, who lived in Nazi Germany, wrote (in his book “Diary of a Man in Despair”) that women in general tended to be more ardent supporters of the Nazis than did men. He also schoolteachers and low-level government workers as generally avid supporters of the Nazi Party.

  4. This is opinion, with no facts.

    First, I’m always a little uneasy with this “women aren’t warlike” meme. Sure we aren’t as violent, sure our lack of testoserone often leads us to put a lot of waffle words around our opinions. We’re different. But the people that keep saying that are often saying it for a power advantage – anyone that doesn’t think we are competitive is living in another world than mine. After 9/11 women switched parties, switched sympathies, etc. much faster and harder than men. I suspect women are more moved by threats and men just find war games fun. There are differences.

    Second, I’m also always a little uneasy with this women in the workforce meme. Traditionally, there was no “work force” – women and men worked. This is buying into that insane feminist myth that somehow women were kept at home before Betty Friedan. Home was where everyone worked for God’s sake for thousands of years. Only in the incredibly wealthy and industrialized era in which we live would a woman be able to finish domestic work as quickly as we now do and would our thriftiness hinge more on finding bargains than ensuring the cows and chickens were productive. And men’s lives – outside and inside the home – are marked by quite different economies.

    This may seem off-target, but I do think we need to look at those assumptions a bit more. Not that excess men isn’t likely to have extraordinary effects nor that the government performing the function of husband (& parent & child) in the modern west hasn’t made for differences from child bearing to attention to defense for dangers lurking in the future. I just think we need to be wary of some flawed definitions of human nature.

  5. Ginny’s right. For thousands of years, women worked – hell my grandmother worked just as hard as my grandfather on the family farm. She wasn’t sitting in the house reading all day, she was milking the cows and hosing down the barn.

    I’ll go a step farther. Women of the middle and upper classes working is a sign of wealth, as Ginny pointed out:

    Only in the incredibly wealthy and industrialized era in which we live would a woman be able to finish domestic work as quickly as we now do

    What wealth does is diminish the desire for combat, because there is no need to fight for resouces. It also causes the holder of the wealth to get a little lazy. And finally, shepherding wealth causes people to be risk-averse. Women working in the upper classes is a side effect of wealth, and is a symptom, not a root cause. (Paradoxically, women working in the lower classes is a sign of poverty – the question is, what are the women working at? Manual labor or intellectual endeavors?)

    Only in very wealthy societies can the wives of the upper and middle classes work, because they have the capital infrastructure to devote to labor-saving devices in the home. Lower classes always live in a bit more squalor because when the wife works, something has to give (or grandparents have to pitch in, which happened a lot in pre-industrial societies).

    Two societies where women comprised over 1/3 of the workforce that went to war with each other were Nazi Germany and the USSR. But in neither case did the wives of the elites work – even with servants someone had to run the household.

    But I 100% agree that the sex imbalance is a huge problem in China and the ME. In ancient polygamous societies, bands of unmarried young men were the greatest threat to civil order. King David’s roving band was probably one such group. The Taiping rebellion also sprang from the same source.

  6. “What wealth does is diminish the desire for combat, because there is no need to fight for resources”…but there are reasons for fighting other than resources. Many aristocracies have been warlike, even though the individual members had all the resources they needed. The American southern planter aristocracy was notoriously combative, with many of its members engaging in duels for trivial reasons and looking forward to war with the North as a great adventure.

    Perhaps it is specifically *bourgeois* wealth, gained through individual assertion–as opposed to wealth gained through inheritance & social status–that diminishes the desire for combat.

  7. David – I’ve thought about that, and my answer has to do with what I was trying to get at in my trajectories post – the desire for combat also has to do with how many generations back your family was in a mortal struggle for existence. Southern planters were only one or two genrations from battling the French and Indians, and nobody came to America because life was beer and skittles in the Old Country – they came becuase they had ambition or they were on the bottom in EU. So there is more than one factor in this equation, and I don’t think we’ve identified all the terms. But this should surely not be a one term mental model.

    You need a few generations to bleed the combative tendencies out, and family life has a lot to do with it it – I’m talking on average here. Losing combatitiveness is a good thing in most social situations, but deadly when confronted by real violence – witness the left’s reactions to 9/11.

  8. David – I like that idea about wealth gained through individual exertion – one, it makes the wealth dearer and the individual less likely to risk it in silly confrontations, and two, the aggressive tendencies of humans beings are channeled into economic combat rather than the real thing. Japan’s a good example.

    Hmmm, that reminds me, Japan is strange case. Almost all women work until marriage, but after that many quit. And very few of them work in jobs with authority. That’s changing, true, but there are still very few women top managers compared to China. That may prove my point – it’s wealth (and to your point – wealth directly earned since the 50s), not the working status of women that kept Japan pacified since WWII.

  9. When it works, civilization recognizes human nature and tries to channel it in ways that work best for society as well as the individual. My favorite anecdote about my husband’s colleagues is the one who declared (after listening to my husband’s paper on Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, analyzed from a biopoetic angle) that of course, men became violent after capitalism took over. That he would think the noble savage was the predominant culture up to the industrial revolution is almost as stupid as thinking man becomes violent because society makes him so. But, then, he encourages his students to analyze lit from a Marxist perspective. So goes the reality of academia.

  10. The deciding factor is not whether or not women have jobs outside the home but if the country is actually a democracy.
    Democracies tend to avoid war, or at least not start them.

    All the communist countries had very high percentage of women working, all were irredentist, all overthrew neighboring non-communist governments, all would have started wars if the countries they invaded had decided to resist.

    Germany had massive unemployment in 1931 and hyper inflation. Hitler was elected Chancellor and his NSDAP
    (National Socialist German Workers Party) created enough government jobs to get every one back to work either as soldiers or making guns, ammunition and uniforms (mostly size 35 or smaller). 1930s Germany were smaller than modern Germans.

    At that time, only 10 years after women got the vote, it was said that Hitler was elected because women voted for him. There were no reliable polls to show voting behavior by sex. This claim was made to show women should not be allowed to vote – not that Hitler was a Bill Clinton precursor.

    Hitler was the first politician to campaign by air. But rather than wait to land he would jump out and parachute into his rallies.

    I would really like to see this year’s candidates parachute into their rallies.

  11. But rather than wait to land he would jump out and parachute into his rallies.

    Huh? While it’s true he seems to have been the first to have hired a plane to fly him from rally to rally I’ve never seen any mention of him parachuting.

  12. Back to the original post, I’m fascinated by all the “explanations” of why contemporary Muslim societies are more warlike, angry, and irrational than our own. A different one seems to pop up here each week. Impervious, for instance, to the implications of the recent survey that found that more than one in ten GIs had deliberately mistreated Iraqi civilians, half would not report a fellow GI for doing so, and most support torture–impervious to all the horror we have been perpetrating on others and our own men for the past four years–we persist in believing that there is something different between us (compassionate, humane, controlled, rational, enlightened) and them….

  13. Outraged, I am fascinated at how people can still fail to notice that muslim violence precedes any such allegations…and that back before muslims learned how to play on Western guilt they were quite in saying that they were making war and committing terrorist acts in order to advance an ideology of islamic supremacism and to “keep the dirty infidels in their place”.

  14. Mr Bingley,
    Your comment has made me try to find the source of Hitler parachuting to his rallies. I read it Adolf Hitler, 3 vols,
    Pierre et Renee Gosset, published by Rene Julliard, Paris, 1961 vol 1 p285 back in 1964
    “Le candidat nazi…a affrete un trimoteur Dornier et il tombe de ciel a Dresde, a Nuremberg, a Frankfort, a Chewmnitz, a Leipzig, a Berlin, a Konigsberg, a Ratisbonne, a Essen, a Munster, a Stuttgart.”

    In 1964 I interpretted “tombe de ciel” as parachuting but I suppose it could mean “dropped in”. Perhaps some one with a newspaper from 1932 for one of these cities can say which is true.

    I really would like to see today’s candidates parachute into their rallies. It would demonstrate Vigor and probably it would be better if Hitler had not done it first.

  15. Presumably this would make men more desperate to earn money to buy “their sexual favors”.

    How exactly would that make make society less belicose?

  16. I don’t have the data, but I suspect that societies where women make up more than one third of wage earners have seldom if ever gone to war against each other.

    In the UK, according to http://www.victorianweb.org/history/work/burnett2.html:

    “The Census of 1851, the first to attempt to count occupations in any detail, gave a total of 2.8 million women and girls over the age of ten in employment out of a female population of 10.1 millions, forming a proportion of 30.2 per cent of the whole labour force. (In 1901 they composed 29.1 per cent and in 1931 29-8 per cent of the labour force, though compulsory schooling to fourteen by the latter year has to be taken into account.)”

    Apparently those figures may be underestimates.

    This would be a couple of years after Britain completed its conquest of modern Pakistan, and 3 years before the Crimean war. I believe the British were also engaged in conquring New Zealand.

    Warlike enough?

  17. “I don’t have the data, but I suspect that societies where women make up more than one third of wage earners have seldom if ever gone to war against each other.”

    Point being?

    Reading the whole of your piece seems to suggest that either male dominated societies or societies where men are afraid of losing their dominance are the ones that go to war. Is your conclusion that it’s a blessing to be pussy-whipped as long as you’re resigned to it? Why not postulate that we should all don rainbow T-shirts and turn homo? I noted that your angle seemed to be premised upon a perception of ‘the West’ being peaceful… I’m thinking that’s because you live in the West far from the unfortunate places where the West wage their wars.

    Finally, what is your guess that societies where women make up more than 1/3 of earners would not have gone to war AGAINST EACH OTHER supposed to prove? The fact that they may not fight against each other does not disqualify them from being warlike… and the fact that you don’t even attempt supply any figures for your postulations consigns them to the realm of prejudice.

    You could have said in fewer words, “I hate Muslims. I find them scary. The country I live in bombs them and takes their oil but still I find them threatening. I have never lived in a Muslim country so I have no first hand experience of Muslim lifestyles but I trust the media and my ignorance is willful. Knowing that the ways of my own culture are best is a position I choose and I do not need proof.”

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