For anyone interested in a real game-changer, I recommend Jack Weatherford’s book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Weatherford, an anthropologist, accessed sources of information not available to authors of 20th century history books. The Secret History of the Mongols written in 13th century Mongolian was translated from its Chinese characters in the late 1970s. The author also visited sites in Mongolia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Lack of information has fueled Western concepts of Genghis Khan as a murderous barbarian destroying civilized countries. It is true that Genghis and his warriors were illiterate animists, yet their acts of warfare were in many ways less barbaric than those of Christian crusaders of the day. While Mongols had no compunction against killing enemies, they abhorred torture and preferred taking captives (who could be sold or used as slaves) to genocide.
It seems odd to think of war as a means to peace, but Genghis united the small, warring tribes of Mongolia into a peaceful kingdom with an economy based on plunder of neighboring countries. Not great for the neighbors, but a real step forward for Mongolia. Countries taken into the Mongolian Empire thrived. Genghis imported scholars, including clerics, from China and Persia to teach his people.
Although they adopted literacy, arts, and sciences from other countries and tolerated Taoism, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity, Mongols kept their own culture—including an active role of women in their social and political life. Mongol society lacked the belief that female sexual purity was a value to be defended at all costs—including defense of and seclusion of women. When one tribe was ambushed by another, the men fled on horses so they could live to fight another day. Captured women were taken as wives by the conquering warriors. If the men escaped, they attacked and recaptured the women. A recaptured wife might be pregnant with her captor’s child, but the child was raised by her husband as his own.
While the warriors were off sacking and looting—sometimes for more than a year at a stretch— Mongol women ran the country. Mongolian girls as well as boys were educated when schools were established. Both Genghis Khan’s wife and mother influenced his governing decisions.
True, Mongolian women did not have total equality, and prosperous Mongols could take more than one wife. Yet, compared to women in 13th century Europe, China, Persia, and the Arab world, Mongolian women had a good deal.
And what about the present? Despite the lifting of legal restrictions on gender discrimination, too many American women are limited by the Cinderella syndrome—the notion that somewhere a prince awaits them—a man who will save them from the drudgery of the working world. The obvious problem with this line of thinking is the dearth of men with large incomes. The competition to snare a good breadwinner is fierce, especially in Mormon circles.
Despite Church emphasis on modesty, many devout Mormon mothers enroll their three-year-olds in dance classes, dress them in skanky costumes, and paint their faces with lip gloss and mascara for performances. Planning weddings is a frequent Primary activity for girls. Make up sessions are regular YW activities. Even before puberty, girls are groomed for the meat market.
One possible solution is to bring back polygamy for multi-millionaires. Only a sentimentalist would object to being Mitt Romney’s 20th wife. The living would still be more lavish than being the sole wife of an average wage-earner.
A less likely solution would be to encourage girls to develop their talents and abilities and opt for a marriage where equal partners negotiate the best way for each to support and nurture their children.
Or, we can follow the Mongol lead—send the men off to war and let women run the country.