It’s patriarchy that says men are stupid and monolithic and unchanging and incapable. It’s patriarchy that says men have animalistic instincts and just can’t stop themselves from harassing and assaulting. It’s patriarchy that says men can only be attracted by certain qualities, can only have particular kinds of responses, can only experience the world in narrow ways. Feminism holds that men are capable of more – are more – than that. ~ Chally Kacelnik
In my previous blog I identified how our culture is shaped by patriarchy and how Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God totally subverts the patriarchal system. But I didn’t offer much practical advice on how to actually do that, so a few male readers asked me for a follow up article. I’ve read a few posts recently, offering advice on how to move forward on this, and gleaned ideas from a few sources. Here are some suggestions. After all, why should women have all the fun smashing the patriarchy!
Take seriously the fact that Jesus instituted a new family of God, one that included Gentiles, foreigners, widows and orphans. This isn’t to say he rejected the Jewish understanding of marriage. Actually he reinforces the sanctity of marriage in his teaching on divorce. But he sees marriage operating within a broader, new context, a context in which non-paternal brothers and sisters were given equal status. In this way, he shattered the basis of patriarchy, which is the obsession with paternity and the control of women.
Stop deifying the nuclear family. If the church takes our calling as a family seriously we would take things like reconciliation more seriously, as well as the radical idea that our family includes more than just those who live under the same roof. Include singles in our communal family life. Practice radical hospitality. Be involved in the raising of each others’ children. Include your non-paternal Christian brothers and sisters in your biological family’s life together.
Don’t take your daughter on a Valentines date. Or better still don’t “date” your daughter at all. The nomenclature around both Valentines Day and dating is irredeemably romantic. Please spend time with your daughter, but let her know that you want to be with her to work on joint projects or play sports or because you value her opinion on things, and not just because she’s “beautiful” or “my little princess” or that you’re filling in until she’s old enough for Mr Right to show up.
Don’t enact the “Billy Graham rule.” This is a practice among some male Christian leaders where they avoid spending time alone with women to whom they are not married. I have no doubt Mr Graham instituted it in his life for all sorts of good reasons, but in most instances it treats all women as potential sexual temptations, it excludes women from joining men as equal partners in creative projects, and it surreptitiously silences them from decision-making. By all means, consider strategies for creating good, healthy boundaries in relationships, but social and professional exclusion isn’t the answer.
Like any good, healthy family, the older members need to remain open to learning from the younger. Call out the everyday sexism of older church men, even if they’re nice guys in every other respect. I once had a colleague refer to my “little girl” and assumed he was speaking about one of my young daughters. It turned out he was referring to my personal assistant, a highly competent woman. Call that stuff out, even when it’s expressed by kindly old folks.
Listen to women’s voices. This is what healthy families do. This is what the #MeToo movement has been all about, forcing us to hear from women about the prevalence of sexual harassment. There are other ways we can listen too:
- Listen to female preachers, and if your church doesn’t allow women to preach, seriously question the leadership about it.
- Read female theologians and bloggers, and if you’re looking for a quote for an article or an essay, go out of your way to look for a female voice to make your point.
- Listen to women on social media. I read a comment from someone this week, saying that even if a woman sounds angry we should set aside whatever discomfort we might feel about that because that feeling is our male privilege prompting us to disengage from an important conversation that women don’t get to disengage from.
- Ask for consent when engaging in romantic and sexual encounters with women. And make sure you know what sexual consent should look like. It’s not about you having your way with someone until she tells you to stop. You should engage sexually with your partner as much with your ears and you do with your eyes and your hands.
Be mindful of how you use your own voice when speaking of women:
- Don’t make misogynistic jokes, and speak out against other men making sexist or demeaning remarks in your presence (currently, it’s women who are more likely to challenge men on sexist comments than men).
- Don’t talk over women, and don’t stand for it when you see another guy doing it.
- Be conscious of how you introduce women. There’s plenty of research to suggest we introduce men with their titles and/or achievements, while we introduce women as “the lovely Julia” or “the beautiful Sarah”. Don’t do it.
- Don’t refer to women as sweetheart, dear, gorgeous, honey, baby, darling, young lady, or “little girl”. The reasons should be obvious.
- Be wary of only telling little girls they’re pretty or lauding them for their hair and fashion choices. Sure, little girls love dressing up and enjoy those comments (we raised three daughters), but if that’s the only affirmation they get it shapes their sense of what’s important and how they’re seen by others.
- Don’t put the onus on women to have to prove we live in a patriarchy and then argue about whether it’s as bad as they say. There’s nothing more repulsive than a powerful male debating a form of discrimination he’s never experienced.
Pay women as much as you pay men. And stop quibbling about whether there’s a gender pay gap and how large or small it might be. Just agree that, in every circumstance, a woman should be paid at the same rate as a man doing the same work.
Don’t use your power to force women to honour you or acknowledge you. In the kingdom of God we’re called to the self-emptying work of giving power away. Be aware of your inherent power (patriarchal, political, social, economic, etc) and use it to protect and empower women, not to use or abuse them.
If we are the new family of God, we need to work on showing grace and practicing reconciliation. In this whole project of trying to subvert patriarchy, which is the superstructure of our society, we’re going to make mistakes and fall back into old patterns. So, when a woman calls you out on a misbehavior, and you feel embarrassed and ashamed, she didn’t do anything wrong! Don’t put it on her to make you feel better. You’re not a child, you’re an adult. Don’t get all defensive. Acknowledge when she’s right and apologize. There’s a long journey ahead and we need to make it together. As equals.