Power of the Word I > next story

II. Competing Visions of the Future

As the century ends, three visions of the future are before us. The first is that of the New Economic Order, led by transnational corporations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the embodiment of a new international ruling class which is superseding national and local forms of governance. Accountable to no one but their stockholders, the transnationals move industries, crops, and populations around like pieces in a board game. Their New World Order offers us a future in which the profit motive will replace all intellectual and spiritual goals as the prime reason for human existence; in which the only standard of human value will become cash; in which regional and cultural distinctions will slowly vanish, to be replaced by the one great distinction between rich and poor; and in which people will be valued only in terms of their market price. In the New Economic Order, all local, particular and diverse cultures will be superseded by a global monoculture that exalts sex, violence, and purchasing power, and portrays women mainly as commodities.

A growing network of conservative clerics and politicians superficially oppose the "internationalism" of the New World Order in the name of tradition and national sovereignty, making war on women and ethnic or religious minorities, while invoking a dream of benign communities ruled by them. They dislike the New World Order's encouragement of secular modernity and its assumption of universal human rights, and fear the anarchic, creative, and populist aspects of mass culture, with its glorification of individual desires and its tendency to stir up women and children against patriarchal control. Their cultural strength must not be underestimated, for they represent a serious threat to women and minorities wherever they are strong. But they do not have the economic strength to oppose the New World Order effectively and are prepared to collude with it if the price is right, as long as they can maintain local control. They offer us a future in which the world will be divided up between Export Processing Zones ruled by the transnationals and traditional enclaves ruled by them.

Our main hope is the developing alliance between the global women's movement and other progressive social movements. All our movements face the same oppressive forces: a New World Order that props up modern dictatorships, and a reactionary traditionalism that represents the worst form of patriarchal control. We have a common vision of a future in which extremes of wealth and poverty will vanish; in which human rights, sustainable livelihoods, universal literacy, and cultural diversity will become the norm; and in which decisions will be made and social conflicts resolved by negotiation, rather than force or domination.

A problem remains. While progressive social movements should be natural allies of movements for the emancipation of women, this has not always been the case. Again and again, women have fought beside men in movements for social change, only to see them set up new ruling elites that left gender and family hierarchies intact, continued to practice the power politics of dominance and submission, and resolved social and personal conflicts through violence or repression. This must change if any of us are to succeed in our goal of social transformation.

Many male revolutionary theorists have seen the struggle for women's emancipation as a "sectoral" one, like the struggles of national minorities or indigenous peoples, and concluded that it is subordinate. Any theory that creates a hierarchy even among liberation struggles, rather than emphasizing their complex, dialectical interactions, will have difficulty transcending power politics. In the words of the African-American poet Audre Lorde, "you can't dismantle the master's house using the master's tools."

In fact, female emancipation is not a subordinate struggle but a majority struggle. Today, women, particularly women of the South, make up the vast majority of the poor and politically disenfranchised people of the world, the true "prisoners of starvation" and "wretched of the earth." Thus, any movement for real transformation must make the demands of women central. And, because so many of the chains that bind women are located in the realm of tradition rather than pure politics or economics, a thorough transformation must involve struggles over culture.