Peace continues to elude the global community. This sentence lurks beneath almost every headline we read in the news media, drawing attention to the turmoil seething in all corners of the world. The friction cannot be blamed on lack of effort – yet, the prescriptions that have resulted from the well-studied theories of democratic peace, oil and scarce resources, clash of civilizations, and demographics have not produced the kind of peace the world needs. So instead of spending more time, capital, and resources continuing to walk the same path, the authors of Sex & World Peace, published earlier this year by Columbia University Press, ask the reader see beyond to the “heart of the matter.”(SWP, 95)

Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett redefine the greatest security dilemma as the systemic insecurity of women. For the benefit of those who refuse to see past traditional thought, they prove empirically that “more lives are lost through violence against women from sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, suicide, egregious maternal mortality, and other sex-linked causes than were lost during all the wars and civil strife of the twentieth century.” (SWP, 97) The treatment of women, therefore, is an unexplored dimension of national and international security that has been largely missing from peace solutions. Gender equality, as the authors found, was in fact so overlooked in the security discourse that the means to empirically test the theory was stymied by the lack of a relevant, comprehensive database. From this empirical void, they created the WomanStats database, “which compiles data on more than 340 variables concerning the security and situation of women for 175 states” (SWP, 106) and is the “largest extant database on the status of women in the world today.” [1] Their research serves as a data-driven awakening for the security community, finding that the “very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated.”[2]

The mistreatment of women is described by three “key wounds,” which are (1) lack of bodily integrity and physical security, (2) lack of equity in family law, and (3) lack of parity in councils of human decision-making. (SWP, 19) These wounds are manifest in every community, at every level. Without addressing the three wounds, humanity will not achieve peace. The authors make this bold connection by highlighting the reciprocal nature of violence and male dominance in the home and in the state. “In countries where males rule the home through violence, male-dominant hierarchies rule the state through violence.”[3]  In other words, what happens in the home becomes reflected in society. Mistreatment of women in the home is the template for gender gaps in every other venue of life. And, according to the data, the “larger the gender gap between the treatment of men and women in a society, the more likely a country is to be involved in intra- and interstate conflict, to be the first to resort to force in such conflicts, and to resort to higher levels of violence.” [4]

Gospel-Minded Reflection

In a discourse where realism rules, to suggest that world peace begins between men and women in the home seems revolutionary and, perhaps, irrational. How do we reconcile how a husband treats his wife or how a culture views its women with the violence seen within and between nations? For this reason, the empirical evidence created by qualitative and quantitative data is essential as the backbone of Hudson’s et al. research. But beyond the empirical is the gospel truth that gives light to the theory. For me, as a Mormon woman, it is no coincidence that three of the four authors are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is apparent in the enlightened approach to a national security theory, in the themes, and in the proposed solutions. I would like to reflect on the book from an LDS perspective and show how applying known gospel truths to all aspects of our lives – even national security - can reveal answers and solutions that other frameworks would never find.

Women As Equals

There is not a zero-sum game being played between men and women in which if women are elevated, then men are debased. We were meant to win together
(Sex and World Peace, 200).

At the foundation of the theory (the relationship between the status of women and the level of national security), is the premise that women should be treated as equals. Quentin L. Cook, one of the twelve apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stated in a worldwide conference, “Our doctrine is clear: Women are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves them. Wives are equal to their husbands. Marriage requires a full partnership where wives and husbands work side by side to meet the needs of the family.” [5] In our religious context, it is not revolutionary to argue that women should be valued and respected with equal rights, promises, and treatment as men. The family, the most important unit, depends upon the united efforts of husband and wife. In The Family: A Proclamation To The World, the prophet and apostles testify “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” [6] They continue to warn, “the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” [7]

A converted disciple knows the importance of promoting and exemplifying equality in all relationships, particularly between men and women. Equality does not mean sameness or universal duties –the gospel teaches us “gender is an essential characteristic of…identity and purpose” [8] alongside the teachings of gender equality. While we may allow culture or misinterpretations of spiritual gifts (i.e. priesthood, motherhood) to creep into our families and ecclesiastical dialogue, we should be mindful that the doctrine is clear. Within the church, when we understand the gospel, we accept that unified equality between men and women creates peaceful homes. What might life be like if we applied this knowledge for peace in other settings? This is the enlightened approach to national security the authors of Sex and World Peace have taken as the foundation of their research.

The Home Affects the World

The synergy that would emerge from such a partnership would generate an unprecedented human wisdom…not only to solve the problems of the world but to prepare the world for true peace, a peace that extends from the home to the community to the nation to the international community
(Sex and World Peace, 200).

A major theme of the book is what happens in the home is reflected in society. Studies have shown that “if domestic violence is normal in family conflict resolution in a society, then that society is more likely to rely on violent conflict resolution.” (SWP, 92) The tenor of relationships that prevail at home ripple out to become the cadence of states and nations. This is reversed logic for students of national and international relations, mainly because we measure importance by power, and influence by the amount of money spent. The most important actors are the most powerful in terms of wealth and might, like the United States in the international community. The United States then spends the most amount of money on defense, perhaps because the leading theories for peace would suggest this is what has the greatest ability to affect other actors. And thus the security framework is built, as far as where we should focus and concentrate our resources.

But an individual who examines the world’s violence from a gospel perspective will know that this series of cause and effect is convoluted. M. Russell Ballard, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently confirmed that strong values and families lead to greater prosperity and not the other way around. He taught, “Commitments to family and values are the basic cause. Nearly everything else is effect.” [9] Thus from a gospel standpoint, everything begins in the home. Elder Ballard continued by saying, “the family breakdown is causing a host of societal and economic ills. But the good news is that, like any cause and effect, those ills can be reversed if what is causing them is changed. Inequities are resolved by living correct gospel principles and values.” [10] We learn and practice correct gospel principles and values first in the home; then we are able to go forth and affect the rest of the world.

In the schema of the existing theories, the home has no power and no ability to affect the fates of nations. Without a theory entrenched in a gospel perspective, the home would not be considered as the starting place for world peace.  And when the home is not considered, the women who nurture those homes are often seen as powerless. But, what it means to me as a Mormon woman to see the gospel applied to national security is an unveiling of a divinely powerful role the world has tried to outsource. Women have been deemed the “guardians of the hearth,”[11] given the responsibility to bear and nurture children as the foundation of the home. If, as this theory suggests, the home is the starting place for world peace, what a powerful role women have. What an important, critical role. What if the belittled efforts of mothers were seen as the covert peace-making operations that they truly are? What if women viewed their role in this light? What if husbands and wives eradicated the “functional value” of gender violence and raised a peaceful generation? It is not hard to imagine that the home, nation, and international community would be a much different place.

Patriarchy is Not Inevitable

As Wrangham and Peterson note, “Patriarchy is not inevitable…Patriarchy emerged not as a direct mapping of genes onto behavior, but out of the particular strategies that men [and women] invent for achieving their emotional goals”
(Sex and World Peace, 78).

Another theme the authors address is the evolutionary biology and psychology behind male-dominated social structures, which allows them to offer the hopeful analysis found by evolutionary theorists that “patriarchy is not inevitable.” (SWP, 78) They outline the global situation of women in terms of son preference and sex ratio, trafficking in females, polygyny, inequity in family law/practice, maternal mortality, discrepancy in education, female government participation, intermingling in public, and required dress codes for women, and then ask how did male-dominated social structures develop that have allowed and perpetuated these issues? The evolutionary biological answer comes from the fact that “male reproductive success centers on control of female sexuality; without the intensive labor provided by females in gestation, lactation, and nurture of the young, males cannot reproduce.” (SWP, 70) Aggression then becomes a useful tool to dominate and control women, which enhances reproductive opportunities. “The first conflict among humans, then, was the clash of reproductive interests between males and females.” (SWP, 71) As men aggressively obtained resources and formed in-groups, women sought out such men for protection and resources, thus perpetuating the system. Power and violence fuel natural selection, as gender violence takes on functional value. Thus, “war evolved in humans because it is an effective way to gain and defend resources,” [12] as first seen in the relationship between males and females in reproduction.

From the light of the gospel, we know that violence and coercion to suppress others is a tactic of the natural man, who is “an enemy to God.” (Mosiah 3:19) Instead of being ruled by selfish reproductive interests, the gospel shows us that the potential for parenthood is the first commandment God gave Adam and Eve and we will be accountable before God in how we carry out our familial duties. The mortal patterns of violence and power must be discarded for the celestial goal of equal partnerships between men and women. Patriarchy is not the social organization of heaven; the Lord has taught “when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves.” (D&C 121:37) The book in review describes how “dominant males…are able to adopt a parasitical lifestyle based on physical force; with very little effort, but with a willingness to harm, kill, and enslave others, they can be provided with every resource that natural selection predisposes them to desire – food, women, territory, resources, status, political power, pride.” (SWP, 76) The scriptures provide examples of how these predispositions can become our focus when heavenly light is withdrawn. In the Book of Mormon, Enos describes the Lamanites (who would not accept the gospel) as a people whose “hatred was fixed and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; …their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax….and they were continually seeking to destroy us.” (Enos 1:20) Yet, when we accept the gospel, we learn to put off the natural man and, in the process, turn from violence.

Additionally, we have not only been instructed to put off the natural man, but by doing so we are asked to become like a saint and like a child. (Mosiah 3:19) I would like to emphasize the call to become like a child through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Predispositions to violence do not alone determine behavior, which is why the book in review simultaneously looks at social psychology. From this discipline we learn that “very young boys are not demonstrably prone to aggression against girls; it takes active modeling, reinforcement, and rewarding of gendered violence to make it appear functional to boys.” (SWP, 91) Children are taught to be aggressive, modeling what they often learn in the home. What is acceptable in our environment shapes our behaviors and interactions with the opposite sex; in this way society and culture influence relationships. But, as the research shows, small children do not show the need to use gendered violence until that method of interaction is learned. I suggest that when we put off the natural man, we are also putting off the unrighteous modes of gender interaction we have gleaned from our environment and in that way become once more like a little child.

Without a gospel perspective, we may assume that since our biology and culture are steeped in a history of gendered violence, there are few solutions to effectively combat it. However, we know that the natural man can be put off, that patriarchy is not the inevitable social organization, and equitable gender relationships are not only possible but also a commandment we need to fulfill. This knowledge creates the space for a workable theory that offers solutions to truly end violence between the sexes, which will then bring peace to the world.

Unique Solutions From the Gospel

As the two halves of humanity forge a truly equal partnership at all levels of society, female contributions will not only be valued equally with men’s but will be honored as the necessary counterpart to men’s thinking without distorting that which is unique to each. Neither will think to operate without the other – not the man without the woman nor the woman without the man – in all human societies throughout the world
(Sex and World Peace, 200).

Approaching national security in light of the gospel, the theory, themes, and solutions are fundamentally different than their worldly counterparts. The authors offer a thorough discussion of both top-down and bottom-up approaches to effect change for women. Among these is the seemingly provocative idea of co-presidents at every level, from the household to the international community. (SWP, 156) They ask, “Could we also envision a form of government where every position is staffed by both a man and a woman? Where we could not think of electing only a man or only a woman to be president, but could conceive only of electing a male-female team to be president?” (SWP, 156) Can we imagine that, or at least aspire to it as the ideal?

To be honest, even as a women’s studies researcher and supporter, the idea initially struck me as unrealistic. But, why? Personal introspection showed me that every reason I could think of as to why a co-president system would not work is because of the fallen, natural man framework within which we operate. It would take discussion and compromise instead of snappy decisions, valuing the opposite sex’s point of view without exceptions, viewing the opposite sex as an equal and not as a commodity, and being humble enough to share the role/position.  And if that seems unrealistic, then we need to study the gospel more closely because that is precisely what we have been asked to do within our homes.

In a General Conference talk in April 2004, L. Tom Perry, an apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, declared:

Since the beginning, God has instructed mankind that marriage should unite husband and wife together in unity. Therefore, there is not a president and a vice president in a family. The couple works together eternally for the good of the family. They are united together in word, in deed, and in action as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit. They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward. [13]

As Latter-day Saints, we should be at the forefront of creating such a future, starting in our homes. This kind of equal thinking and compassion for males and females - beyond what our culture, religious and secular, dictates - is what will ripple out to affect the whole world. If we are only considering the Savior’s teachings, such as  “blessed are the peacemakers,” (Matthew 5:9; 3 Ne 12:9) in a religious context, perhaps it is time for us to reframe our perceptions and start applying them to all of life’s discourses.


The fact that the majority of the authors are Mormon is significant because they are able to use the foundation of revealed truth to find answers in our secular world. We have been blessed with the scriptures, modern day prophets, and the ability to seek personal revelation – these precious tools are not meant to merely shape a spiritual side of ourselves that we pull out at the appropriate times and then return before continuing our daily tasks. When the gospel is truly part of who we are, it will shape our worldviews, our questions, our methods of research, our solutions, our families, our professions. To ignore what we know for what is generally understood is to turn from the help of our Almighty Creator. Women and men are children of Heavenly Parents. If both sexes are not treated how They have exemplified, then peace cannot replace violence. We must take thought of the relationships within our own homes. Our national and global security most certainly depend on it.


[1] Valerie M. Hudson, “What Sex Means for World Peace,” in Foreign Policy, <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/24/what_sex_means_for_world_peace>, 6 June 2012, 1. [Back to manuscript].

[2] Ibid. [Back to manuscript].

[3] Ibid. [Back to manuscript].

[4] Ibid. [Back to manuscript].

[5] Quentin L. Cook, “LDS Women Are Incredible!,” 2011 April General Conference. [Back to manuscript].

[6] The Family: A Proclamation to the World, <http://www.lds.org/family/proclamation?lang=eng>, 9 July 2012. [Back to manuscript].

[7] The Family: A Proclamation to the World, <http://www.lds.org/family/proclamation?lang=eng>, 9 July 2012. [Back to manuscript].

[8] The Family: A Proclamation to the World, <http://www.lds.org/family/proclamation?lang=eng>, 9 July 2012. [Back to manuscript].

[9] M. Russell Ballard, “That the Lost May Be Found.” 2012 April General Conference. [Back to manuscript].

[10] M. Russell Ballard, “That the Lost May Be Found.” 2012 April General Conference. [Back to manuscript].

[11] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Guardians of the Hearth,” Liahona, 2012. [Back to manuscript].

[12] Bradley Thayer, Darwin and International Relations, Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2004, 13. [Back to manuscript].

[13] L. Tom Perry, “Fatherhood, An Eternal Calling,” April 2004 General Conference. [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Zirkle, Rachel F. (2012) "Book Review: Sex and World Peace; Reflections from a Gospel Perspective," SquareTwo, Vol. 5 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleZirkleSWP.html, [give access date].

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