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When Sexism is the Difference Between War and Peace

Most women have attended a talk or panel where every single speaker was male. Most of us have been talked over. Most of us have witnessed first-hand how women are shut out of critical discussions. It happens on issues that almost exclusively impact women, like their healthcare, and it happens on matters of grave national importance.

The latest case in point: Before Thanksgiving, a committee with a 21:1 male-to-female ratio heard testimony from three men on whether one man should be able to blow up the planet.

Specifically, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, held a hearing for the first time in 41 years on whether the U.S. president should be able to start a nuclear war with no legally meaningful system of checks and balances.

“One of the challenges is we are dealing with a president who has not seemed to be willing to accept advice on many issues affecting power,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the only female member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “and while I agree with Sen. Risch’s comment that if the United States is threatened we want the president to act, I want the president to act in a way that acknowledges input from a lot of experts and not act based on a twitter post.”

Most other nuclear-armed states have adopted chains of command that are distinctly less risky than “sole authority.” Under our current launch protocol, the president is not required to consult with any advisors before issuing a launch order. No one in the Defense Department, Congress, or the judicial branch can lawfully prevent the use of nuclear weapons once the order is given.

But no one should have the unilateral power to initiate nuclear war and end civilization as we know it—and particularly not President Trump, who has shown a petty impulse to lash out when his ego is attacked and has already threatened military action on social media in order to flex his power. (Such male swagger is horrifying, and women in this country and around the world are familiar with its dangers.)

When Donald Trump’s “pussy-grabbing” comment and the myriad accusations of harassment and assault levied against him didn’t turn out to be disqualifying factors for his being elected President, millions of American women took to the streets at Women’s Marches to demonstrate their displeasure. Social scientists who polled participants found the “threat of war” among the top 10 concerns of marchers. Months later, the biggest insult is perhaps the irony of the situation we now face: the same sexists who claimed a woman was too emotional to be president have left intemperate hands hovering over the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Despite being 51 percent of the population, women make up only 19 percent of Congress. And despite the research that shows women are critical to achieving sustainable peace as well as the many contributions of women to foreign policy—such as those of National Security Diplomat of the Year Wendy Sherman and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Beatrice Fihn—we are still not seen as experts.

That has to change. Making it so might just save the world.