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'Women and Peace' Class Moves Students to Action

May 18, 1986|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

CLAREMONT — All Prof. James Gould wanted was a fresh angle on peace.

Nobody could be more surprised, he said, now that the first semester of his "Women and Peace" class has ended with class members mobilized to educate all of Scripps College with a workshop on peace when school reopens in the fall.

What began as an intellectual inquiry by 15 freshmen developed into a commitment to feminist pacifism, a term many of the students said they considered distasteful when they enrolled in the class. Gould introduced the class in the spring semester at the small, women's liberal arts college in Claremont in an effort to determine if women might be more effective than men in bringing about world peace.

"We started by asking if women really have a different perspective from men on war and peace--and if such a perspective might point the way toward a more peaceful world," Gould said.

While some of the conclusions seemed sexist, Gould and the students said they were not intended that way. The problems are often caused by conditioning, not gender, they said.

As a 62-year-old scholar of international relations and teacher of another course on "Non-Violence in Theory and Practice," Gould also wondered whether men are more biologically inclined to violence than women.

While no firm conclusions were reached about the battle of the sexes, the class members said they now believe that world peace is attainable if women take a stronger role.

Michelle Herman of Los Gatos was one of the students who said she was changed by the course.

"I did not consider myself a feminist, and I was not politically aware at all," Herman said. But after researching feminism and pacifism, she theorized in a term paper entitled "A Piece of Political Power" that women must become peace activists.

"I'm going to organize the workshop--it's up to people like me to do it," she said.

Question to Ponder

One of the questions the class pondered was, "If women were given power, would they behave the way men do?" Gould said, "We don't know, because we haven't many women in power. If it's a matter of socialization, could we socialize men to respond as women do?"

The 15 freshmen in the class mined sources in international relations, political science, literature, philosophy and history in search of answers.

"The class concluded that people are born essentially the same," Gould said. Students thought that women who have achieved power in this century--including British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Israel Prime Minister Golda Meir and the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi--probably resorted to aggressive behavior because they adopted male behavior in order to rise to power.

Some of the students also concluded that because women have traditionally raised families, they more naturally tend to nurture and care for humanity. They perceived men as sharing the same feelings, but concealing them because of their more natural roles as aggressors.

"The world is violent because it's run by a patriarchy, but it's not hopeless," said Jacqueline De Bernardo, who called her family background "very conservative."

Marched in Protests

Since beginning the course, De Bernardo has marched in two protests against government aid to Nicaraguan rebels and she plans to take an active role in the workshop on non-violence.

"I never thought like this before," said the freshman from Oxnard, echoing the sentiments of several classmates. "I thought the only way you could make it was to be like a man. Now I feel better as a woman--more confident."

"That's the surprise," Gould said. "I've never had a class so anxious to carry out the work."

"Fabulous. I can't applaud them more," said film producer Vivienne Verdon-Roe, whose documentary, "Women--For America, For the World," is making its debut this month. In the film, a number of well-known women "speak out with good common sense, and a real sense of compassion and humanity," Verdon-Roe said. This is the fourth anti-nuclear film produced by Verdon-Roe, a native of England who said she is in the process of becoming an American citizen. It was recently shown at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles and will be seen on Atlanta station WTBS on Monday.

Verdon-Roe said that the conditioning that leads some men to block their emotions discourages some women from placing a high value on their more humanitarian feelings. "We feel our voices are not of value," she said.

'Pacifists Can Do More'

Before taking the class, a number of the students said they felt the same way.

"I think women realize more than ever how violent the world is, and that violence is increasing," said Kerry Causey, a student from Irvine. "I know now that pacifists can do more with words and concepts and they're stronger than those who favor war.

"I'm going to pursue peace research--I can make it happen in our time and it's very exciting," Causey said.

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