Was it possible to have a feminist society?

Another photo from the Langkawi holiday
I had a radio interview with Grant Stone on Faster Than Light today. (That’s in Western Australia). I don’t think I was very coherent on one question he asked, which arose out of my portrayal of the main protagonist in Heart of Mirage as a strong, powerful woman.

The point I was trying to make is this, that if a writer wants to portray a society where women have equal opportunity (not a particular accurate definition of a “feminist” society, I realise), and the work is a fantasy set in a pre-industrial world, they said author is going to run into problems of believability.

I’m not saying it can’t be done – but the writer has to understand the dynamics of such a world and adjust their plot accordingly.

Think about a pre-industrial world and this:

  • Muscular power is exceedingly important in any non-industrial world (as anyone who has tried to mend something without proper tools knows)
  • Physical protection probably involves physical strength to a large degree.
  • You have to have some kind of birth control. Women can’t be equal if they are forever pregnant or lactating or child caring. They find it hard to be the explorers and adventurers, too, if they have a toddler clinging to their skirts – yeah, I just got reintroduced to the curtailing effect of a two-year-old.
  • If she doesn’t have access to really good health care, a woman is at a disadvantage because she is childbearing and often dying as a consequence.
  • If there is any basic inequality in a society, who is usually the loser – the group that is the inherently physically stronger? Not in my book…

Probably the only way you could achieve a truly equal opportunity land, would be to develop the magic to even things up.

Of course, women did achieve power in non-technological societies, but they were the exceptions, not the rules.

And women often did achieve a certain level of cultural and social and even financial clout in some societies, for a variety of reasons – sometimes religious, sometimes because of the way men worked or warred (when men marched away to fight, they could be gone for years). It’s an interesting exercise to consider just why women achieved high status. (Often it was at the expense of other women – i.e. the servants or slaves.)

And interestingly enough, my husband was born into a matriarchal society. That’s right, even in today’s Muslim world such things exist. Property is passed down the female line. A man moved
into his wife’s house, not the other way around. Just to make it even more curious, the head of the clan, of which my husband’s family is a part, is always a man. In fact, it would have passed to my husband, except he didn’t want it.


Was it possible to have a feminist society? — 26 Comments

  1. I wish I’d heard your interview with Grant, Glenda, and I’m sure you spoke clearly and authoritatively on the topic of powerful women in an historical or alternative world context. It’s a hard balance for a writer to strike, between being true to historical (or quasi-historical) fact and not presenting women solely as ornaments or child-bearing machines. All the points you make are valid, yet we have to accept that women today don’t want to read about subservient members of their gender. How do we strike that balance?

    What makes it especially tricky is that powerful women in history were nearly always powerful because of their rank and/or their ability to manipulate others. Some, like Joan of Arc, had the power to inspire others but sadly, such women were often on the receiving end of manipulation by men. They chewed poor Joan up and spat her out once she’d served their purpose.

    I think you have managed to juggle the balls (no pun there!) very nicely in all your books. In your first trilogy, I especially liked the contrast between Blaze and Flame. The concept of woman-as-warrior is an intriguing one. We must remember that there have, in fact, been women who went to war, but, J of A excepted, they nearly all had to disguise themselves as men, unless we count Eleanor of Aquitaine’s rather embarrassing involvement in the crusades:-)Apparently her gently born pseudo-Amazons were such a damned nuisance, what with wanting hot baths and clean clothes and things, that the pope put his foot down and said “No women on crusade!”. Which just points out that even if women of those days wanted equality it was usually beyond their grasp, as much because of their own conditioning as anything else. And does dressing up as a man in order to join the army or go to sea make one a “powerful woman”? I fear not, because being an imitation man isn’t the same as being a powerful woman. It’s just another form of manipulation, which sadly, we woman have, historically, had to become skilled at just to survive, let alone gain any power.

    It worries me a little that many young Western women today do not realise the struggle their mothers and grandmothers undertook in the slow hard journey to equality, a struggle that has never even got off the ground in some countries even today. These young women read historical stories, fantasy or otherwise, and if women are presented as being subservient to men and uanable to make their own decisions they decry them as “weak”, not realising that until very, very recently, such women were the norm because they had no choice.

    OK Satima, get off your damned feminist soap box now:-)

  2. Hi Glenda, hi Satima. I’m following this on LJ.

    Your question:

    Crossing to F/SF, I think it is possible to have a feminist society in a word without contraception and a low level of technology if the act of childbearing carries high value in that society, i.e. if motherhood/childrearing has a high status. In western society, even these days, motherhood is relegated to second-rank status, behind career-related activities. Inherently, work that men can do more of because they don’t have to take time off for pregnancy. But what if there was a society which valued having children above all else? That would be a very feminist society.

    Of course, this has implications. Because it would only work if the society was at peace, probably fairly isolated and not surrounded by hostile nations.

  3. Absolutely, Satima. We can play with strong women in fantasies because we can give them magic to even things up, but if you write a, let’s say, regency romance and have the well-to-do heroine dressing as a man and sneaking out to visit a travelling fair….

    Hm. In real time she would have been ostracized by society and been forever unmarriageable, rather than sought out by the handsome lord down the street.

    I remember seeing a Bette Davis film called Jezebel and being absolutely staggered to realise that she “ruined” herself by, wait for it, wearing a bright red dress to a ball. That was apparently all it took in 19th century US society.

    And you are right. Modern women really aren’t interested in reading about powerless women, which is what most women were in the wider society (for all that they might have had power within their family by manipulating their menfolk, or because their menfolk loved them.)

    My great grandmother owned a house in San Remo, Victoria, and her husband gambled it away. It was in her name, bought with her hard earned money, and there was nothing she could do. Amazing, huh?

    I have a friend whose husband made her stop working at the job she loved simply because he wanted her at home (even though their children were all grown up and she’d had to work in the first place for a time because he’d had a business setback.) The same woman gave up swimming in her twenties because her husband didn’t want her in a swimsuit in public.

    She believes she must obey her husband because that it what her religion tells her to do. Is she weak? Foolish? Gullible? A victim of her society? Brainwashed?

    I dunno, but I think she is alot like those western women of previous times – powerless because her acculturation made her that way. Shoe-horned her into a framework she cannot escape, because her cultural thinking doesn’t allow it.

    Any more than it would allow me to walk down the middle of the street without any clothes on on a hot day even if it was legal …*grin*

  4. Patty, there have been societies in which childbearing was highly valued – and the women were still downtrodden! It was the function that was valued, not the person. Soviet Russia was a good example: women got medals and public recognition for having five, eight, ten kids or whatever, but they were not valued as human beings, just as child-bearers. And in any hierarchical society that depended on property passing from father to son, women have been valued for their childbearing
    potential, but if a wife died in childbirth (as so many did), why, you just got another! I have instances in my family tree of men remarrying two, three, four times – almost always to a young woman of childbearing age even if he himself was in his forties or even fifties. The fact is, women didn’t have any option. A woman could be a wife, a nun or a harlot and that was about it. There are instances of women owning property, even businesses, in earlier times, but such women were always, AFAIK, widows whose husbands had left them with a business to run as well as children to provide for. And usually such a woman would wind up marrying one of the workmen who knew more about the trade than she did, and as happened to your ancestress, Glenda, they would lose everything as it all went into the new husband’s name for him to sell, give away or gamble away as he chose.

    It’s a sad fact, but since men are so much stronger than women they have always found it relatively easy to commit kidnap and rape or to beat a woman into doing as she was told. I’m not saying that all men have been brutalised or that men have always had it easy – of course they haven’t – but their problems are different from women’s. The need for protection and a safe place to bear and rear her children has always, until recently, been one of a woman’s main concerns. Even today, when childbearing is an option (and sadly, Patty, as you point out, not a particularly highly valued one) most crimes of violence are committed by men against women.

    If you’re going to make your world one in which women are genuinely valued for their childbearing potential, I think you’ll have to make it that they are either as strong as men or very highly gifted in magic to level up the playing field, for otherwise the stronger sex will just make the weaker kow-tow to their will. Like “You will stay in that room until the child is born, on pain of your life. And by the way, spin that straw into gold while you’re at it…”

  5. Satima, I’m not going to argue with you about history, because you know far more about it than I do. My point was, though, that a society which values all attributes usually considered female would work as matriarchal society.

    Think about the work we value poorly today: housework, childrearing, babysitting, teaching, especially of young children, nursing, cooking, anything that involves the basic care of others and maintaining of community links. A lot of work we value highly creates no benefit to the sense of community. Accountants? Company directors? They’re too busy even to get to know the neighbours, let alone help out in the school canteen. When there’s a class BBQ going on,they’re the sausage that fell out of the sandwich. Out of their business-related community, they’ve made no ties (gross generalisation of course).

    So my hypothetical community would swap those value-bases around, and automatically you would have the women on top. The men would serve the community, in war, in going out to the fields to harvest.

    I don’t think an average man is that much stronger than an average woman, nor do I perhaps share your pessimistic view of the male of the species 😉 I know plenty of men who stay at home while their wives go to work.

    It’s all hypothetical, of course, in response to Glenda’s question.

  6. I’d like to discuss this further, Patty, but obviously Glenda’s blog isn’t the place to do it. If you’d like to take it to my blog or yours, leave a note on mine
    http://satimaflavell.blogspot.com/ I think we actually agree on most points and I hope I haven’t given you the impression that I’m a man-hater!

  7. Ok, if the boss has given us permission I’ll rant a bit more:-) Patty and I are old sparring partners, Glenda!

    The average man is *much* stronger than the average woman, especially in upper body strength. That’s where it counts when you want to restrain someone, throw them to the ground and force their legs open.

    Oh, how I would love there to be a society where female values were the preferred ones! I would move there tomorrow. Well, finances permitting… But given the status quo – men being a lot stronger than women and, generally speaking, valuing things above people, it would not be a human society. Despite what certain feminist revisionist historians of the eighties would have had us believe, there is absolutely no verifiable evidence that there has ever been a matriachal society, in the sense of female values holding sway. Matriarchal inheritance is certainly known: as Glenda has pointed out, certain tribes in Malaysia organise their ownership system that way. Yet the boss, you will note, is still a man.

    But not on this mailing list, of course:-)

  8. ok… fasinating topic, thank you for bringing it up Glenda, it’s made me think a lot.

    firstly… I know that the Nazis gave women medals for having lots of children, maybe the Russians did as well, but the Nazis definately did.

    secondly… on the strength of men vrs women I’m unfortunately going to have to agree with Satima. I’m 5’4, my bf is 6′, he may complain about my punches hurting him, but if he punched with the same proportion of power he’d damage me. Fortunately, I can’t even imagine him raising a hand against me, lol. His brother on the other hand is 5’5/5’6, very strong upper body (he works out), has a quick temper and I’m sure, 100years ago, would have had no problems with physically repriminding his wife. Maybe there are some instances where husbands/wives are around the same heights and strength, or even the wife is bigger and stronger, but you also have to remember that most men are going to be going out, having to do very physical jobs which will increase their strength. Woman on the other hand, while having physical tasks like baking bread, washing children, etc, will also be doing a lot of household tasks (such as darning) which will involve precision rather than strength. You could get around this by having men uninterested in ruling the community, etc, Patty, it could be considered woman’s work as it doesn’t require phyiscal strength to be tested 😉

    bdw, I really like your idea of having children being treasured above all other abilities. I can see how it would work… perhaps men would treasure the wife they had and try not to have too many children, putting her at risk. Especially if there was a shortage of women… lol, and think what a difference that would have on physical attraction as well. Thin delicates would be the wallflowers to stronger, less feminate/fatter women. I’m sorry, I’m probly thinking aloud about stuff you’ve gone over long ago 🙂

    Am trying to think what kind of event could overthrow a woman’s being conditioned to think she’s an inferior creature. Maybe if her house/husband/children/servants/etc were all destroyed… would she just cry until someone found her? Perhaps if no one found her, and she started to feel hungry? What would she do? Would she have any practical knowledge? Not about hunting etc, but maybe if it was the correct season for mushrooms or something… wonder what would become of her.

  9. Hm, treading cautiously into a discussion between women about women … ;oP

    This may seem irrelevant, but bear with me. Some years ago I went to a Merlin conference in London (a mix of academic and mystical stuff). One of the theories raised was that the Ladies of the Lake were the real mystical power behind the throne but that their ‘political’ representative to deal with everyday society, Merlin (or ‘the Merlin’, if that was actually the title of the rôle rather than a personal name) had to be a male. When I had the temerity to ask why couldn’t ‘the Merlin’ be a woman, I was stonewalled by one of those because-that’s-the-way-it-is answers – which, from ‘enlightened’ members of alternative mystic traditions, I found as surprising at it was unsatisfactory. But it was interesting to compare that to the female inheritance and male clan head tradition that Glenda mentioned.

    Any.w.a.y. The ‘feminist’ society in pre-tech fantasy. I’m not being facetious, but it depends on what kind of society you want to portray. In the military aspects of society, yes, I guess women are usually at a disadvantage in a contest of physical strengh. Otherwise I’m not convinced that physical strength is such a dominating factor. Most men of power and influence who run a successful business operation (be it a trade, a craft, predominantly manual work, criminal activities, whatever) have other people to do the donkey work for them; they thrive because they understand the nature of the work and have the wherewithal to organise other people to do it (not necessarily by physical intimidation). Women are easily as capable of doing that as men, and often more so.

    Historically, I guess some of the main obstacles to hold women back were the cultural and legal attitudes against them, fuelled and reinforced by oppressive religious teachings. When women are bought and sold in marriage, when they and their property are legally considered to be their menfolk’s goods and chattel (here on the rock a wife’s income still goes by default on to her husband’s tax return, I think, unless she applies to be taxed separately – or it did up until very recently), when they are proscribed from learning the ‘mysteries’ of crafts and trades and considered to be prone to evil unless married to a man who can keep them on the straight and narrow – well, ‘oppressed’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’m not an economist, nor an iconoclast (really!), but if you take out the religious and legislative vendetta against women, and have a culture where women are accepted as having equal rights to function as individuals economically (and that’s not just simply equal opportunity in the workplace) then a ‘feminist’ type society, to my mind, is not so implausible.

    I admit that the childbearing rôle still raises issues, both in terms of healthcare and time out from work, and the temporary psychological shifts of focus that can happen during pregnancy. But in a society where expectant mothers aren’t chained up as brood-mares by the husbands that ‘own’ them (or cursed as whores if they don’t have a husband) I’d expect the women to be fully capable of organising midwifery, nursing and childcare facilities, and even contraceptive methods, if they had free rein to do so.

    But then I’m just a man, so what would I know? ;oP

  10. Judith Tarr in her novel White Mare’s Daughter has explored a society run by women with the tasks history has traditionally regarded as women’s work carried out by the men. These people are settled farmers and come into conflict with the nomadic male dominated tribes of the adjoining plains. It’s a good read and the storyline felt plausible to me.

  11. Oh goody, a male perspective! Welcome, Hrugaar! I agree with you on all points. If only, if only… But a truly egalitarian society has never existed and probably never will. And when we consider it from the standpoint of inequality between the genders, the fact is, as InkPawPrints has re-iterated, men are stronger than women. Yes, women can run businesses. Yes, some women are big enough to undertake heavy work. But quite apart from the fact that historically most trades have been closed to women, finding a woman with the brawn to be e.g. a blacksmith as well as the ability to run a business would be very difficult. The average man has the brawn by right of birth; the average woman has not. A blacksmith who had no interest or ability in running a business had the option of remaining a journeyman and working for someone else all his life, but most women didn’t have a hope in hell of becoming blacksmiths even if they wanted to; even if society had allowed them to. They simply weren’t – and aren’t – strong enough. It’s easy to forget in this mechanised age of ours that until recently one of the reasons many jobs were closed to women was their lack of physical strength in comparison to men. That has put us at a huge disadvantage almost since we crawled out of the swamp.

    Men’s superior strength has allowed them to be physically violent with women if they choose, with little fear of retaliation. Of course there are husband-beaters as well as wife-beaters, but the latter are far more numerous. Almost any man can beat up almost any woman. Again, women’s physical strength, or lack thereof, puts them at a huge disdvantage, especially in a pre-industrial society, where sheer brawn was the main survival tool.

    Today, a woman can be a Merlin if she’s clever enough and her religion allows it. But looking at the attitude of the churches to women who want to not only to be priests but to be allowed to rise in the hierarchy, we ain’t gonna see a woman as Archbishop of Canterbury for a long, long, time. So if we add to the strength differential the prejudices and conditioning we – and I mean all people, not just women – are subject to, we can see the Utopia of equality is probably always going to remain in the realms of fantasy.

  12. AArgh. I posted last night and somehow failed to do it properly, cos it didn’t turn up. Now to see if I remember what I wrote…

    Firstly my husband rang from Kota Kinabalu to say that although the clan head was a man, there is a tradition that when asked for rulings on clan matters, he always said he had to consult with the Household first. In other words, his wife!

    Unfortunately, it is impossible to say just how truly female-dominated this particular society was originally, because Islam came along and imposed its more masculine dominated stance over the top. It is remarkable that the matriarchal framework has continued to survive and thrive to this day.

    I think my take on this whole subject could be summarised thus:

    1. In some past societies, women did have considerable power, but nowhere that I know of was there ever a society where women had dominance in all or even most, fields (economic, religious, household and social matters, education, legal system).

    2. Men often did have dominance in all or most of those fields, and in many societies still do.

    3. As this male dominance is so universal, it seems to me that we have to look at something very fundamental to account for it. It appears to take precedence no matter what the physical landscape. My assumption is the necessity of brawn in early societies – for hunting, food gathering, protection – placed them in a position of importance. Women were disadvantaged in any competition for power because of their preoccupation with nurturing children, (and also being disadvantaged by the physical processes of pregnancy and childbearing). These activities were not so valued because they were secondary to obtaining food and shelter and safety. (One could always get more children).

    3. This situation could not really be fundamentally changed until
    a) technical advances removed the need to be physically strong
    b) birth control and advances in health freed women up to compete for power.

    4. A writer designing a novel portraying a female dominated society, or even an gender equal one, has to consider very carefully why the usual “man=strong=important=dominance” equation didn’t work. Throwing magic into the female side of the equation could do it.

    (Gillian where are you for the historians perspective????)

  13. Just on the topic of a society where women are the dominant gender because of their ability to bear children… Don’t forget that women wouldn’t bear children without the all important male input. I feel in a society where the propagation of the species is the highest factor, men would still have the upper hand. The woman could only fulfil their role in the society with the agreement of the man in question. Even if you had a society where the men were so subserviant that they willing slept with whomever wanted them, what would happen when a strong enough male said no…?

    I’m currently reading Anne Bishops Black Jewels trilogy and it has a matriachal society, but it’s very clear that the Queens only survive on the loyalty of their devoted Warlord Princes, the protectors and warriors. Treat that boy wrong and you come to regret it pretty quickly…

    Great discussion!

    Cheers, Lisa.

  14. You’ve brought up another area of life where men have the final say, Lisa – the bedroom. If a man can’t or won’t get it up for you it’s not a goer.

    Yup, great discussion. And no flaming, either! All the posts have been interesting and relevant.

    I’d love to hear from Gillian on this, too, Glenda!

  15. Ooh, ooh, just remembered to mention David Brin’s Glory Season on this. Yeah, I know it’s SF and not exactly a pre-industrial society. But he has women who bear genetic clones of themselves if they conceive during certain times of the year, or else have ‘vars’ (i.e. children where the father’s genes get into the mix) if they conceive at other times. So the female clones have become specialist clans that dominate society (rather like elite craftsmen’s guilds).

    Brin doesn’t portray it as wholly desirable (it’s a scary kind of caste system, really) but it’s an interesting read.

  16. So a clone of a teacher becomes a teacher? I wonder if that would happen in real life…Are we genetically disposed towards a certain kind of work? (Hey my dad was a farmer and my mum a farmer’s wife).

    Sort of off-topic, but I do recall a rather weird study on adopted children where the adopted children were shown to be more inclined to follow the religious disposition of their real parents rather than that of the adopted, i.e. if the natural parents were atheist, there was a statistically significant majority of the adopted kids who were atheist too, even if their adoptive parents were religious.

    Boy, do our genes have a lot to answer for.

  17. Yes, in Glory Season members of a clone clan will all pursue one particular vocation or skill. From memory I think that ‘var’ females (the genetic hyrbids) could work hard to achieve the right to establish their own clone clan, if they could bring a significant contribution to society.

    There was an article in Time magazine a while back about whether the urge to spiritual belief might be carried on certain genes. Though I confess I didn’t pay much attention at the time – genetic encoding seems to be the trendy solution for everything nowadays.

  18. You know, Hrugaar, I don’t think it is just a “trendy solution”. It’s starting to look more and more as if Nature has much more influence over us than Nurture. I lived next door to a geneticist a few years back and he was convinced that every single facet of our lives has its basis in the genes. Already, so many things, from religious or political leanings to many forms of illness can be predicted just by looking at our ancestry that we really do have to sit up and take notice. It opens all sorts of worm cans, such as making it harder to get a job or health insurance if your genetic inheritance shows certain tendencies.

    This could turn into a new thread, Glenda!:-)

  19. There’s no doubt we continue to live in a masculinist society. As I began to write this post an ad came on the telly recruiting for the dairy industry. Couples involved in the industry fronted the cameras: in every case the man spoke and the woman (presumably the wife) looked on adoringly. The ad is presumably designed to appeal to decision makers, usually men.

    But human relationships are incredibly complex. While in purely physical terms most men could ‘beat up’ most women, there are many other factors involved in whether a particular man would use physical violence on a particular woman aside from physical strength. As a bullied child, I have been beaten but would never beat.

    So, within a patriarchal society, it is possible to have non-stereotypical relationships, and to justify them in terms of your story.

    Seems to me that magic is not the only way to ‘even out’ the gender disparity. We are fantasists, after all. So we could choose from a number of options:

    • change the female gender so that women gestate and give birth more easily (Julian May attempts this in the Saga of the Exiles)
    • conception and childcare can be politicised differently (look no further than Aldous Huxley)
    • gender itself can be blurred (Ursula le Guin’s ‘Left Hand of Darkness’)
    • selective breeding can ‘de-claw’ men (like the Bene Gesserit in ‘Dune’).

    I can think of many other examples. I don’t think being true to history is a primary consideration of the fantasist. We can do what we like, really, as long as we explain ourselves and are careful to be internally consistent.

  20. Absolutely, Russell. Magic is only one way and I was using the word in a very broad sense – my point was that we have to explain it somehow. And I was looking more at fantasy than sci fi solutions.

    Nice examples.

  21. Glenda, Satima referred me to this blog entry because I’ve been having a similar conversation over on my own blog. I feel that we’ve been saying similar things, only you said them nicer. 🙂

    I’m especially interested in stories where women are strong and overcome the historical circumstances holding them back. This requires an acurate portrayal of those circumstances. I agree with Satima that nobility and the wealthy can have a better crack at this than the poor, but history is also full of outcast women who have done great things.

    My stake in this is that as an employer and teacher, I’m concerned that young women lack decent female leadership role models and a realistic appreciation of what leadership actually costs. I’m keen to see more accurate role-models in literature, and more exposition of just how much you have to retool a society economically, medically and socially to create anything like equity of opportunity.

    As a seed for further though, I think it worthwhile to point out that many great leaders were not particularly strong or healthy – I’m not persuaded that these things are as important as respect, confidence, courage, aggression and conviction for instance. Certainly when I’m working with young women it’s those things I generally find myself working to develop.

    Best of success with your writing, and I look forward to checking in from time to time.


  22. Ruv, thanks for dropping by. Sorry it took me such a while to realise your comment was here.

    What you say about leaders not necessarily being strong and healthy got me thinking…you are right. When I think about examples, there are stacks. Possibly because the nature of their illness forced them to use other means – like power grabbing or using intelligence – to compensate?

    I wonder about women, though. My mother once told me how irritated she was because her mother admired the aviatrix Amelia Earhart and kept saying what a wonderful woman she was. And yet Earhart left a sick mother at home while she went gallivanting… This at a time when my own mother was obliged to stay home and look after her mother, who suffered debilitating kidney disease!

    In other words, I think for a woman to be a “hero”, she often had to sacrifice those around her, or throw away her own chance at “normality”. It wasn’t possible for a woman to be both a hero and a mother in the way a man could be both father and hero.

    It was interesting, though, that my very conservative grandmother, who would have been the first to revile my mother had she left and gone her own way, could still praise a woman who had done exactly that.

  23. Glenda, it’s months later and I’ve just found your response to my response to your article.

    Despite the time that has passed, you sketched a key tension between woman-as-preserver and woman-as-leader that I want to pick up. I feel that it’s not a gender-specific tension – it’s just that the balance falls inequitably.

    Both men and women have social and moral mandates to preserve and nurture. But men aren’t held to account as swiftly or strongly as women when they fail that mandate.

    The shameful truth is, most of us men are so very poor and untrained at it that perhaps when we move from half-hearted incompetent nurture to utter abdication of the role, it’s not so far to fall.

    Just as I work with young women on leadership, I find myself working with young men on protection and nurturing – and for the same reasons. They mostly don’t know where to start.

    I personally feel that our most celebrated leaders do not protect and nurture well. Rather, they destroy, shift and topple. It’s their many unsung followers who clean up after them – and that’s when the benefits begin to flow.

    There are exceptional heroes who are also protectors and nurturers. Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa, Edward “Weary” Dunlop. But they’re not celebrated as aspirational or influential in the same way that Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great are.

    Even more important than the glamour of charge-the-guns heroism, I think, is the quiet, selfless dignity of protection and nurture. Without that, we are nothing. And it falls to us to honour and dignify that every day, and not just on days when carnations are twice the price in stores.

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