MY COUNTRY IS THE WHOLE WORLD : AN
ANTHOLOGY OF WOMEN'S WORK ON PEACE AND WAR
Reviewed by Ruth Pierson
The purpose of this anthology, the compilers state in their Introduction, is "to reveal the long history of women's protests against war and of their efforts to suggest other ways of resolving conflict" (p.l). To serve this purpose, the members of the Cambridge Women's Peace Collective have gathered together a richly varied collection of excerpts from women's writings and a selection of graphics by women artists - all expressive of women's thoughts and feelings on peace and war.
Why, you might well ask, is there a need for a book on women and peace? The answer lies in the compounding of the censorship to which each component of the double subject has been liable in patriarchal, militarized cultures. First, there has been the general tendency to silence woman's voice and to obscure women's past experience in the historical accounts written in conformity with male-dominated power structures and the principle of male supremacy.
Second there has been the pre-eminence given wars and military heroes in the recorded histories of nations and states; while the efforts to prevent war, or to end wars once they have begun or to lay the basis for a truly lasting peace have all been almost totally ignored. War and the preparation for war have been regarded as intrinsically more important and interesting than peace and the preparation for peace.
When joined, these two subjects, women and peace, have suffered a double jeopardy. By implementation of the two priorities, the precedence of male over female and of war over peace, the subject of women and peace has been silenced twice over. The compilers of My Country is the Whole World are right to call their anthology a source book. As such, it helps to break that silence and to provide us with information we might not otherwise be aware of.
Although there is a scattering of pieces from other than western cultures, and one entry from antiquity (a Sappho poem fragment), most of the material comes from the European and North American worlds of the modern and contemporary periods and most was originally in English. One of the selections explains in part why a collection of this sort would tend to be weighted towards the recent past and the present. Women may have been opposed to war for centuries, as they may have been the chief sufferers from wars.
But, as May Wright Sewall of the U.S. Women's Peace Party suggested in 1915, it was only with the emergence of the women's movement in the 19th century, and the movement on a large scale out of the home into the public sphere, that the palatalization of women became possible and with it women's involvement in peace movements (pp. 92-3). The anglophone bias is probably owing to the nature of the sources most readily accessible to the compilers, the time at their disposal to search out other, more remote sources, and their limited language skills. The limitations of culture and time period notwithstanding, the compilers have succeeded in presenting a wide range of women's perspectives and opinions.
At the same time, a principle of selection appears to have been in operation in the compiling of the book, and I should like to argue that it represents a position on the question of the relation of women to war and peace close to that of Virginia Wolf, as articulated in Three Guineas. In her now famous pacifist, feminist tract of 1938, Wolf addressed herself to the question of how women could prevent war.
She made a point of answering that question from the vantage point of her own place in society, that of the daughter of an educated man. Many readers have found it possible nonetheless to generalize from her observations to women more widely. Certainly the members of the Cambridge Women's Peace Collective seem able to identify with Wolf's angle of vision. The very title of their book, My Country is the Whole World is taken from a passage in Three Guineas. And I have found a number of Woolf's principal ideas on women, peace and war embodied in many of the excerpts selected for inclusion in the Cambridge women's anthology.