10 June 2014

Masculine and feminine—in balance

In a seminar that I recently led on the current political situation in Ukraine, a male and a female student became engaged in heated debate. The male student argued that Ukraine should respond to Russia's aggression in Crimea and elsewhere by seeking to join NATO. The female student argued that Moscow's aggression could easily have been deterred in the first place—if only Ukraine possessed nuclear weapons.

This represents a sort of gender inversion that is not unusual in Ukraine. Indeed, one can argue that a "feminine" style dominates Ukrainian politics and decision making, even if the majority of decision makers are actually men. The Russian political analyst Andrei Okara has argued that Ukraine lacks the "father cult" that characterizes most societies—that, due to strong matriarchal influence received from the Cuman (or Polovtsian) people who once populated eastern Ukraine and from the Scythians who populated the southern part of the country, Ukrainian folklore and traditions have tended to glorify women more than men. As a result, the policies pursued by Ukraine since its independence have tended to be passive and reactive. One has seen little evidence of traditionally "male" qualities such as decisiveness, a clear sense of identity, and the ability to defend one's interests.

Some good has come of this—after the breakup of the Soviet Union, under pressure from great powers, Ukraine quickly rid itself of its inherited nuclear weapons. But at the same time, Ukraine has exhibited conspicuous national weakness, an inability to stake out clear policy positions, and a high level of dependence on external actors. Thus Russia has managed with little trouble to annex Crimea, create an atmosphere of violence in eastern Ukraine, and transform the country into a source of instability in Europe.

Can one reasonably argue that women, in general terms, are more inclined than men toward nuclear disarmament, and that women, if they exerted greater political influence, would promote peace and contribute to security? Yes. Can one argue with confidence that the masculine style of politics makes states more aggressive, as vividly demonstrated by Russia's actions today? The answer, quite likely, is yes. But excessive pursuit of either a "masculine" or a "feminine" style can lead to problems—weakness on the one hand and excessive aggression on the other. Both approaches are dangerous for international security. So a reasonable prescription for any state is to combine the two styles in a balanced way—to practice peace and pursue disarmament while also maintaining a vigorous ability to defend state security and interests.