Once again, at the beginning of a new year, we are treated to variations of the familiar newspaper cartoon: Father Time is rumpled and wrinkled, emaciated and exhausted from his year on planet earth. We know he’s been done in not by a natural process of aging, but by the human processes of our age. We know he has suffered greatly: through wars, genocide, human-produced environmental disasters, starvation, horrible working conditions or no work at all, violence in our homes and communities, homelessness, the denial of a range of fundamental human rights, and vicious, hateful fundamentalism of every religious stripe.
But, just on time, in comes the new, represented as a cheerful, wide-eyed, plump baby. We know, of course, that in twelve months, this delightful child will be the grizzled Father Time, prematurely weary and wasted from his one year amidst the humans of the world.
I don’t think this baby is ever explicitly portrayed as a male; that is, there’s no obvious sign of the one thing that every male has to offer the planet. But since at the end of the year he’ll be represented as Father Time, the facts are clear even if the cartoonists are not entirely frank with us.
And here lies the problem. And here is my question.
Might it be that the reason for this poor baby’s fate is that only males are seen as embodying the human journey? From baby to old-beyond-belief, it still seems to be males who we use to represent the human spirit. Might this happen to reflect the disproportionate control by males over the institutions of humanity: our governments, corporations, militaries, media, religions, educational institutions, and, in many parts of the world, our families?
It seems to me that generations of newspaper cartoonists (who, I assume, are primarily male), have captured in their usual clever way, a fundamental truth that some women have enunciated even more clearly over the past 150 years: That if we have a world where one half of the species has disproportionate power — over the other half, over social resources, over ideas, over nature, and, in elaborate structures of hierarchy, over each other – then we’re in for big problems.
Perhaps it’s time that we whisper a hint into the plump baby’s ear: “This year, listen to the women.”
This year, embrace equality. Embrace an ethos that prizes the arrival of each new child on the planet, that sees none of them as expendable in war, none of them who doesn’t deserve safe water, healthy food, education, and health care. Embrace an ethos that tells us we must work together, as women and men, to end all forms of violence: violence by men against women, violence by men and women against children, violence among men and, yes, to the extent that it occurs, violence among women. Embrace an ethos that tells us that if we’re normally able to risk so much for wars that bring such misery, mightn’t we start risking more for peace?
Embrace an ethos that tells us that this is the only planet we’ve got and that the quest, likely less than ten thousand years old, of men to dominate and control Mother Nature (in the same manner those men were busy trying to dominate and control women), is quickly leading us to ruin.
I’m not saying that all women embrace such values nor that the substitution of women for men in positions of power would save Father (or Mother) Time from his (or her) premature fate. We only need to remember to miserable rule of Margaret Thatcher to remind us of that. I don’t believe that women are inherently better than men nor that each woman embodies wisdom and truth. After all, part of Father Time’s 2008 weariness comes from having to listen to the nasty blather coming from Sarah Palin.
But I do believe, as feminist scholars and activists have been teaching us, that the social and economic and political models of the past millennia that are predicated on the power, ability, and necessity of small numbers of men to rule the world and great numbers of men to rule their families, has led not only to some forms of tremendous achievement, but also to tremendous misery. It now threatens the very planet we, and all forms of life, depend on. It has led us to the brink.
Don’t forget to whisper: “Listen to the women.”