Monday, 24 November 2014

Gender inequality is a man's problem

Joan Chittister      Nov. 4, 2014         From Where I Stand      National Catholic Reporter

The headlines are confusing. The questions they raise are even more so. For instance, we "empowered" women, right? After more than 2,000 years, the Western world finally woke up, in our time, to the astounding recognition that women, too, were human. Almost.

 By 1922, most English-speaking countries, including the United States, finally allowed women to vote for political leaders. The struggle was a fierce one, and churchmen and politicians alike considered that breakdown in society to be simply the beginning of the decline. As Cardinal James Gibbons is said to have reflected, "Imagine what will happen to society when women start hanging around polling places."

And sure enough, the floodgates of immorality swung open: It wasn't long before women were allowed to own property, to work outside the home, to drive cars, to keep their own money, to get an education, to enter into legal contracts, to become "professionals" -- at first, teachers and nurses, but eventually doctors and lawyers and now bankers and engineers, astronauts and college presidents. You would think, with a record like that, that women had really arrived at a point of full adulthood, independence, moral agency and personal freedom. Yet there is another set of headlines, more powerful, more telling than the first, that expose the lie of it all.

 This set of headlines -- women groped here, kidnapped there, murdered everywhere, disappeared forever, remind a woman always not to assume that she can walk down a city street in the United States and expect to get home safely, in one piece, alive. These stories remind her that however much she achieves, does, saves, earns, manages, or assumes to be her human right, her life is really not her own. It is at the eternal mercy of fraternity boys, football teams, stalkers, prowlers, sex addicts, women-hunters, and rampant testosterone.

 This set of headlines talks about the domestic abuse of wives and mothers and so-called "honor killings" or pornographic humiliation women are subject to even now, even here in the United States, if she violates a man's unwritten code for a woman. Regardless of all that talk about "equality." It is only when men stand up as a class and confront other men on the subject that women can begin to hope for violence-free lives.

 Men must face other men. Men must tell the male judges and male parliaments and male police departments and male servicemen and male coaches and male sports teams and male rap music and male CEOs of everything that they will no longer be silent. That they will no longer look the other direction when wife-beaters and rapists and stalkers and trash-talkers find some excuse for it in male hormones or female "provocations."

Then the dirty jokes will cease to be funny; the locker-room talk will stop being acceptable; the language you must "never use in front of your mother" will not be acceptable anywhere, including in front of other men. It all has something to do with the way fathers train their sons and conduct their own lives for them to model. It has something to do with the way coaches train their teams. It touches, too, on the way courts and colleges deal with the only crime on the books that is not really treated as a crime until it's too late -- for both the woman and the man involved.

No, this is not a woman's problem. This is not about the equality of a woman. This is about our definition of a man. This has something to do with what we really believe about the rationality, self-control and spiritual quality of men. From where I stand, for men to take it for granted that men simply "do these things" is the greatest male insult of them all. Maybe that's why football commissioners and Army generals and college presidents are failing so badly where women are concerned.

 But here's the news flash of the day: Just as I was finishing this column, the local paper on Oct. 3 announced that dozens of men in a small adjoining town will "
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" -- in high heels -- to show support for women dealing with domestic abuse.

 Finally. Now if men here -- men in clubs, men in parishes, men in administrative positions, men in religious ministry, men in locker rooms and bars and schools and on army bases -- will only do the same, maybe someday, women will be able to walk our streets alone, too. [Abridged]


  1. Right on. Lets have some more articles about women and the limited and limiting perceptions which constrain their lives, very much so even here in good old NZ.

    1. I agree. I don't know any writer who does this better than Sister Joan Chittister, who has battled male pretensions for many years. Try Google to find other examples of her critical writing. Arthur.