Emma Watson and Author Valerie Hudson Discuss “Sex and World Peace”
April 1, 2020
Grantee News From: The Bush School of Government & Public Service, Texas A&M University.
It probably takes a lot for Emma Watson to be starstruck, but that’s how the iconic Little Women and Harry Potter actor says she felt when she spoke to Texas A&M professor and author Valerie Hudson.
The two recently hopped on a call to discuss Hudson’s book, Sex and World Peace, which Gloria Steinem had given Watson a copy of, and Watson then highlighted on her Instagram for International Women’s Day. Watson and Hudson had a sprawling conversation covering everything from the power of being happily single to Watson’s work with the United Nations Women HeForShe campaign to why men just don’t listen to women enough.
Valerie Hudson: I sort of feel the same way. One of my daughters is currently reading the Harry Potter series, so every time she finishes a book, we get to see the movie, and of course, you know, you are their heroine.
VH: When I went to graduate school in international affairs, you could have taken my entire coursework and never known there were women on Earth. It was that woman-less.… The idea that national security could have something to do with women would have seemed ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous. And I was a product of that. And it really wasn’t until my eyes began to open, I began to ask questions. I began to read things that had hints.
One of the things you discover very quickly is that if you say, “I think national security has something to do with women,” people say, “Oh, you know, come back when you’ve got some data; don’t tell us these stories.” It’s too dismissible without data. That’s why we took the data route.
EW: Well, the data you collected is heart-stopping. Like the fact that “the largest risk for poverty in old age is determined by whether or not one has ever given birth to a child.” When you hear that if women’s caring labor were valued even at minimum wage, it would account for 40% of world production, it’s hard to hear that and remain unmoved. How far do you think we are from achieving a minimum wage or social security benefits for what is now free caring labor?
VH: That’s a brilliant question. One of the things that I’ve begun to think lately is, Is capitalism itself predicated on all of the life-giving/caregiving work being completely unpaid, being on the backs of women? And if it is, what does that say about the sustainability of capitalism? Those who actually keep everybody alive, give you new generations, take care of the elderly and the sick, get no credit for this.
EW: You write about the Goldberg paradigm, and how in evaluating speech the same words are rated higher coming from men. It’s likely why Harry Potter is not known to be written by Joanne Rowling. If promoting their own success is a helpful strategy for men, but women highlighting their accomplishments is a turn off, how do we get to a more level playing field?
VH: I think one of the things that really caused me to sit up straight and pay attention is when I was hearing results from neuroscience that suggested that women’s voices may be processed by men in the same area of the brain that processes background music and noise…. And I thought to myself, Well, that explains about every departmental faculty meeting I’ve ever been in. [Laughs]
We have difficulty even accepting women’s expertise and authority. Studies have shown that when a woman joins a largely male body or committee or whatever, that her expertise is discounted by fully 50%. So she may actually be the one with the most expertise in the room, but she’ll be processed by those around her, including women, as having half that.
VH: I challenge my students. I say, “You may not be the president of the United States at the moment, but you are interacting with members of the other sex. How are you treating them? Are you listening to them?” I challenge my male students. I say, “When a woman is speaking at a table where you are and people are ignoring her, there are things that you can do to bring attention to what she’s saying, and retrain our brains to listen to women.”
I think that’s one of the reasons why the #MeToo movement has given me such hope…. Women were not heard when they said these things before, and now there’s a decent chance they will be.
EW: It’s true, I mean, gosh, it’s so heartening. There’s been a lot of hits recently, and it feels good to be moving in the right direction.
VH: Well, you know, men don’t pay attention until the big guys are taken down, and some very big guys have been taken down. I think there’s a reassessment going on.
EW: I agree. One thing I’ve been hearing a lot and I’m curious for your opinion on is, since #MeToo, a lot of men are telling me that they won’t even take meetings with women on their own, that they have to have somebody else in the room, or that this is going to hurt the women’s movement because men will just be so much less likely to want to work with them.
VH: I think you’re onto the fact that this is a complete rationalization. What it basically boils down to is saying, unless women are content to live by male rules, we won’t treat them like human beings. I mean, isn’t that the translation of what these people are telling you? I think that’s outrageous.
I love that you say “silence is the sturdy ally of gendered microaggression.” In a climate where some are dismissing microaggressions, tell us why this type of aggression is important to pay attention to.
VH: The reason that the #MeToo movement exploded on the world stage was that you had millions of women, tens of millions of women, who had experienced a reality that they literally could not speak about. They couldn’t speak about what they had experienced. So I think that silence is exactly the carpet under which we shove all of these nasty little things, and there can’t be any change when that happens. It’s when you pull back the carpet and you see the cockroaches that you’re like, “Oh, time for an exterminator!”
EW: One-hundred percent. I love the word microaggression. I’ve been doing therapy for years and think it’s the best thing ever, and we talk about “telling the microscopic truth.”
VH: It’s those tiny little moments that each woman knows about and yet there are no words for these things, or at least there haven’t been any words before.
EW: There’s so little vocabulary. In Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd,Bathsheba says, “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language that is made by men to express theirs.” You know, I’m trying to express myself in a language that just doesn’t have vocabulary for me.
VH: I often think that one of the most revolutionary things that women could do is to begin to develop words for these feelings that they’ve always had.
EW: I did an interview with Vogue magazine a couple of months ago, and I talked about how, in the run-up to my 30s, [I felt] this incredible, sudden anxiety and pressure that I had to be married or have a baby or [be] moving into a house. And there was no word for this kind of subliminal messaging and anxiety and pressure that I felt building up but couldn’t really name, so I used the word self-partnered. For me it wasn’t so much about coining a word; it was more that I needed to create a definition for something that I didn’t feel there was language for. And it was interesting because it really riled some people up! It was less for me about the word but more about what it meant — just this idea that we need to reclaim language and space in order to express ourselves, because sometimes it’s really not there.
I guess there should be no surprise that men created legal systems that generally favored male productive success and interests, as you point out. It’s why we have laws where adultery is a crime for women but not for men. Until recently, and still in many countries, marital rape is not recognized as a crime; in some areas divorce is easy for men and almost impossible for women. Is getting more women in positions of power, or appointing more women judges, the only way to make these laws unjust?
VH: Oh, absolutely! What I’ve discovered, though, is that, originally when I started looking at these things I thought, We need more women in the executive branch; we need more women in the legislature. It’s still true. I still believe that, but I’ve come to decide that it’s actually the judicial branch where the rubber hits the road for women. You know, they’ve been raped and they need access to the judicial system — what kind of police officers are they meeting? What kind of prosecutors? What kind of judges? This really is where the law gets specifically applied to the lives of women.
EW: That’s very interesting, yes, because the law is language at the end of the day and it can always be interpreted in different ways, so you need someone that has the right intention to apply it in the right way.
VH: Men give themselves the benefit of the doubt, and so are prepared to give all other men the benefit of the doubt too. So they don’t enforce laws the way that women hope they would. One of the most exciting things that happened, when Malawi banned child marriages…
EW: I was there! I was in Malawi when that happened! That was one of my personal missions with the UN. That’s so cool you mention that.
VH: That’s terrific! Then, I think you know, people were wondering: Is this actually going to get enforced? And there was one woman chief who sort of stood up and annulled, like, 300 marriages. She said, “I don’t care who you are, these marriages are null and void.” And once she did that, that sort of gave permission for others to do it.
EW: Yes, 100%. I actually met her. She’s formidable. She was called “the marriage terminator.” And it was amazing because there were two laws at the time which were in conflict with each other that essentially allowed a loophole around the newer law and so, as you said, without the willingness to stand behind this law and apply it in this kind of really fierce way, it just wasn’t going to happen.
So, out of 4,000 mammals and 10 million or more other animal species, only chimps and humans live in patrilineal male-bonded communities. I found that fascinating, the fact that evolutionary theorists believe that patriarchy is not inevitable; I found that oddly hopeful. And there was a documentary, I don’t know if you saw it: Amanda Foreman, a British historian, did a television series called The Ascent of Women,which looked at other societies and cultures that were not organized in a patriarchal way, and there is something really hopeful about realizing [that] — because I think that’s so much the answer isn’t it? [To] that, “Well, there must be a reason why we do things this way,” or “This is always the way that things have been done,” or “We’ve clearly discovered the best way to do things, and that is why we continue to do them this way.”
VH: Oh, you can’t believe how much I hear that! So, I just want you to know, if you want another book on your reading list, we just this week came out with the book The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide, and we answer that question. We answer the question of why this came into being, but also how horribly destructive it is. And how certain nations and civilizations have left it behind, and the good things that have accrued to those civilizations from rejecting that old template of subordination of women and elevation of men.
And an astounding thing, just as an aside, the research for this was actually funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. They have no idea what to do with it.
VH: We were able to show that societies that are male-dominated are far more likely to be unstable, insecure, autocratic, in economic decline, and so forth. So it really is the case that if you decide to curse your women, you can expect the same cursing for your entire nation state.
EW: It’s fascinating to me that the origin story of marriage centers around ownership and power — safeguarding bloodlines, establishing property and land rights, creating tactical alliances to increase circles of influence and establish new trading links, et cetera.
VH: In a weird way, marriage was born out of slavery. The idea that you needed to control the reproductive capabilities of these women, just as you would control cattle and you would control land, and you would keep those things in your male-bonded kin group. We still have laws in most countries, many countries, that say upon divorce the children go with the husband’s family. …And I think one of the really important things that modernity did was to suggest that this contractual nature of marriage was not the only kind of marriage to have, and that there was in fact a different template based on equal partnership, equal respect, equal consideration that could be a far more healthy, prosperous, and happy type of relationship than you’ve seen previously.
EW: I feel that relationships that don’t necessarily follow traditional models do require more communication and consent. It requires an actual conversation and agreement about the delegation of tasks and labor and responsibilities that maybe you don’t feel you need to have or should have if you follow those traditional stereotypes.… The idea that relationships are supposed to be easy and it’s all supposed to be implicitly understood, and you’re just meant to get each other, it’s bullsh*t! It’s impossible!
A lot of the healthiest relationships I’ve seen have been between same-sex couples because, I think, they have to sit down and agree [on] things. They agree [on] things between them as opposed to [accepting] certain sets of assumptions and expectations that are made. I’ve also kind of become slightly fascinated by kink culture because they are the best communicators ever. They know all about consent. They [smash that stuff because they really have to get it — but we could all use those models; they’re actually really helpful models.
When the book was written you made a passionate and convincing argument that the security of states was linked to the security of women. Almost eight years later, are you seeing any signs of progress in this area? Since writing the book, what are the signs that some of this is being taken into account?
VH: Since the turn of the century maternal mortality has plummeted 45%; of course, it’s largely due to the efforts of China, so that means that other areas did not see that drastic a drop. Another thing that we’ve seen since the turn of the century is near parity in primary school enrollment for girls and boys — there used to be big gaps between boys and girls, but now there’s nearly parity.
And lastly, at the turn of the century we had about 13% women in the national legislatures; now we’re about 24%, so we’ve almost doubled — not quite. But let’s step back and say, “Gee, we’re in the year 2020 and we still have 24% female legislatures.” It’s a little sad to say, “Wow, we doubled, it’s great, but it’s still less than a quarter representation.”
It’s also true that in some countries things have actually gone backwards, so we’re seeing movements to legalize polygamy in a number of central Asian nations. I was just gobsmacked when Utah, a couple of weeks ago, decriminalized polygamy. We also see worsening sex ratios. When I first started to study sex ratios in the countries of the world, there were maybe five nations that had seriously abnormal birth-sex ratios, and all of them were in Asia. Now we have 19 countries with abnormal birth-sex ratios, including places like Albania and Georgia, Kosovo, so you know, this trend is broadening.
EW: That really blew my mind, that we had actually killed so many women; that we had actually managed to change the demographics of our own planet.
VH: The UN’s latest estimate — this is from 2017, so this is a couple of years old — is that there are now 101.8 men per 100 women on planet Earth. So women are no longer half of humanity, and this was not due to any plague or disaster; this was just entirely man-made. …You’re talking nearly 200 million women have to be missing for that to happen, and that would give you a nation sort of on a par with Bangladesh.
EW: Bloody hell, essentially a whole country of women is missing! …It’s so interesting because, obviously, I read a lot of feminist literature and I listen to a lot of feminist speeches and my tendency is always like, “Bring out the stats!” Why is no one billboarding this? It’s so crazy.
I often wish I could give people your book and be like, “There’s some really good stuff in here.” Because, the urgency of the issue just doesn’t seem to register with people. It’s like, “Oh, that’s a nice issue that’s very far down on the rung of important issues.” I mean, especially with climate change, I don’t know if you hear this a lot, but I’m certainly hearing now — as climate change is becoming a hotter topic (like my pun!?) — “How can you focus on gender equality when there won’t even be a planet to have gender equality on if we don’t fight climate change?” And it’s about, well, how are you going to fight climate change?
VH: How did we learn to treat Mother Nature the way that we have? That’s the way we’ve been treating women, right? How we’ve treated women is actually the template for how we’ve treated Earth, and I think that one of the reasons that many of the central figures in the climate change movement are women is that you can’t care about Mother Earth unless you actually care about women.
EW: Yes. My friend said something devastating the other day — she said, “Do you think if we started describing Earth as male, if we gave Earth a male pronoun, do you think that people would treat Earth better?”
VH: Yes! Yes, they would!
EW: That is so depressing! And such a good point.
VH: Start calling it Father Earth and see what changes.
EW: If we give Earth a male pronoun, maybe we’ll stop pillaging and destroying and killing it.
Anyway, I truly am geeking out. I’m so happy I got to meet you. Your book was one of those books that made me go, “Holy sh*t!” So thank you for writing it, and for all of your research and hard work
VH: Thank you for being an ambassador who publicizes this message, because this is, I think, the critical message of our time. We have got to get it together. Men and women have got to make peace between each other so that our world has a future.