The Peacebuilding Podcast : From Conflict To Common Ground

Ep 47: Rabia Roberts - Herstory, Part A

September 23, 2020

Dear Podcast Friends, 

I took a hiatus this summer from high-speed internet and went to the “boonies” which was great for making progress on my book, Women, Negotiation & Power (stay tuned), but made podcasting virtually impossible. Indeed, I discovered quickly how much high-speed internet is running our lives – those of us with access to it – in both good and bad ways. It was good to take a break, to slow down, disconnect. I found myself very happy, but also glad to come back and be a part of our digital revolution once again.

Being off the grid allowed me some good reflection time. Perhaps because as I age there is less time ahead of me than behind, I find myself looking backwards at the big things that have shaped me and my culture. For instance, it was determined at the moment of my birth that I would be more dependent and less powerful than the men in my family simply because I was a girl. Shaking off that type of conditioning takes some doing – for all of us. And, however inspired the words of our Founding Fathers (U.S.)  “all men are created equal”, it’s clear from historians that the founders were really just referring to propertied, white men like themselves, a crack in the foundation that is revealing itself and reverberating in movements like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter. The irony for those founders, products of their time, was that many of them were slave owners who also could not entertain the suggestions from both their wives and the Native Americans who inspired the fledgling U.S. democracy to include women in the process of forming it.

So, in keeping with looking backwards and the big things that still reverberate, I'm super excited to bring you my current podcast episode, HerStory. HerStory Part A (and Parts B and C coming soon) will go back to the very beginning of humanity and tell the story of human evolution through the eyes of a woman. Perhaps that past seems ancient or irrelevant to you but, as my guest Rabia Roberts puts it “once you start studying things like neuroscience and how long it takes the brain to develop, you being to understand that pathways get laid down long ago that still have a great influence on us.”

These recordings are actually classes that Rabia gave to a group of women in Boulder, Colorado in 2017. They're just super excellent and not to be missed which is why I am including them here. I will release them one each month for the next three months, HerStory, Parts A, B and C. I think you'll find so much useful information, and Rabia is an amazingly intelligent, sophisticated, and light spirit.

Rabia was on our show in 2017. As you will see, her description of herself as an activist, who loves to be a scholar is pretty darn accurate. For the past 50 years, she's been deeply engaged in what she describes as the three great movements of our time: social justice, peace, and environmental action. Rabia has lived and worked in places as diverse as Iraq, Syria, Burma, Thailand, Jordan, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Brazil and Afghanistan. Her unique experience yields a rich harvest of insights relevant to the challenges facing us. 

HerStory was intended to be a series of seven classes or so, but unfortunately after number three, Rabia has had constant medical challenges which has slowed her down. I’m hoping this podcast release might inspire her to continue, even if just in this type of audio format v. a real class. 

Rabia got into this project because of  “the need for global feminine leadership, and the fact that patriarchy won't die”. This was to be her legacy for women and girls. In her words

“HerStory is a great empowering story of who we women are, how it has been misunderstood and how women have the unique qualities and skills to bring our country together and our democracy forward. In fact, I believe only a woman will be able to heal and lead us into the future. Only women have the needed capacities and skills to bring men and women, people together. And history gives the evolutionary reasons why this is so.”

This first episode, Part A, covers the human story from 13.6 billion years ago, basically the beginning, to about 40,000 years ago. In it, Rabia gifts us with so many incredible insights.

The following is just a few of my “favorite frames”.

The first is what she calls the enormous femininity of making something out of nothing, what cosmologist and scientist Brian Swimme calls “the great effulgence” commonly known as the Big Bang.  One of our first principles of our beginnings was differentiation, “that everything differentiated, nothing was the same. It wasn't a pile of gas that evolved, it was differentiated beings, differentiated things.” Rabia points out that differentiation is one of the main principles in us and “when we try to establish monocultures or mono races, we are working against the fundamental principles of Earth, and ourselves. Monocultures ruined our food and trying to have one race is ruining our civilization.”

The second is that mammals began for a long time with cloning -- XX  -- females of species from insects to the apes reproducing themselves. For those of us who grew up with Adam and Eve, of course, this shows a tale turned upside down: Adam and Eve was completely backwards. The male evolved from female, not vice versa. It’s crazy how so many of our traditions attribute our beginnings to a God the Father, a male with no reproductive capacity at all.

Another frame is especially relevant to the search for peace and the need for women to not abdicate our power. The evolution of the Xy chromosome, the male, brought much needed biological diversity, but also more violence from the testosterone needed to get DNA into the female. Rabia goes on to say that while women can be violent and competitive, the male half of our species creates most of the violence in both intimate and larger systems. She shares insights from other large mammals that she has studied – whales and elephants -- who also deal with the same challenges of male violence, and how the female of those species handle it -- Women take note!

I like her tales of the bonobos, our equally-distant cousins to the chimpanzees. The bonobos are led by females, and if a male gets aggressive, they go have sex. They are, according to the particular biologist that Rabia was studying, the sexiest creatures known – males having sex with females, males with males, females with females, young and old, a lot of sex going on, and no aggression. As the saying of an earlier generation had it – make love, not war.

Another frame is just how resilient we have been as a species, how our ancestors have survived two major ice ages and so much more. One of the key reasons for our resilience was the hunter gatherer females who were, Rabia says from her research, “probably the most skilled human beings that ever existed on the planet, with the ability to kill animals to hear a snake in the brush to see a saber toothed lion to smell climate change days in advance, all while keeping her eye on her children. I mean, the working mom goes a long way back, like from always.”

Finally “the oldest grave that is known about with decorations and shells all over the parks and around it was a little girl. It wasn't a big Chief. It doesn't seem like male chiefs were any more decorated than the females that were found.” 

In this episode, Rabia is pointing her audience to a timeline. I've put that timeline on this page, as well as the original YouTube video if you would like to refer to that. I’ve also included here Rabia’s introduction to her Waking Up Together series which I like very much.

So my dear subscribers, I hope in the midst of all this craziness, you get a chance to listen to this episode. It has changed the way I see the world and I’m sure it will do the same for you.

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