This week, a bookstore in Brisbane received a deluge of online hate from what has been described as men’s rights activists, over the bookstore’s stocking of Clementine Ford’s debut “Fight Like A Girl.” There were many more in support of her, and she is used to the attack – and she’s not interested in what men’s activists have to say, but it made me aware of the narrow path we, as a community of men, are on.
From the reviews, Ford is forthright and passionate in her book (I confess I have not read it). She does not mince words and her language is not always polite. She observes that polite achieves nothing in terms of action, of actual change, just politically correct speak that accommodates instead of confronting and challenging the status quo. She writes that “equality is currently interpreted by most of society as a commitment rather than an action.” She also says that it is not enough for men to nod approvingly in the direction of feminism; they need to speak up, show up, and not expect a medal for doing so.
Every time men say “she’s a 9, not quite a 10” do we laugh or do we confront? Whenever we say “he’s being a girl” or “it’s that time of the month” or ….. well, this would be a miserable read, but there are a thousand sexist thoughts, comments and actions that still plague our society. So I want to say here before I say anything else, Ford is right and we need to speak out and act.
But surely the end goal of feminism is to make it irrelevant. Surely, we are looking for a society where there is a seamless respect and support of everyone as human beings, where gender does not create stereotypes and attitudes that limit anyone. Here I applaud the wonderful work done by people like Esther and William Diplock in the area of gender reconciliation (http://www.genderreconciliationinternational.org). At first, it strikes me as a odd that we need such a work. But then I realise that everyone – not only women – are victims of gender stereotypes, of the white male system, of misogyny. D.H. Lawrence said that the future of humanity will be decided not by the relationship between nations but between men and women. Rev Dr Peter Catt recently commented on the damage done by a mother saying “wait till your father gets home.” We have no idea what we are propagating in the next generation. There are truly minuscule differences between men and women. Most of the ones we trip over are social constructs and have nothing to do with biology or “God’s purposes.” whatever that might mean. When I see you as you, not as gender, then there is one less roadblock to community, to safe belonging, to connection.
But in all this, as a community of and for men, we face a challenge that has no easy answer. Feminists could understandably treat with suspicion anyone identifying with a men’s organisation. Surely we are trying to regroup and fight the fight against those scary women. God forbid! At the same time, men’s rights movements might think we are their allies, taking up the cause of men who want to reclaim hierarchical dominance in the home and workplace. Again I say, God forbid! I shudder at the thought. Then there are others who might view us as politically correct, a bunch of namby pamby men who are too frightened to stand up to feminists but too gutless to fall in line with male activists. Yet again, all I can say is “God forbid.”
And yet, here I stand, I can do no other. I find myself, as Richard Rohr says, on the edge of the inside. I am a man, and I am not ashamed of being a man. I seek to empower women. I grieve at my own role in perpetuating violence towards women, through silence and objectification. But I do not see how violence in thought, word or action will bring about anything healthy in our society. If millennia of patriarchy has told us anything, it has told us that dominance is damning for everyone.
I doubt Clementine Ford is interested in what I have to say (why would she, I am a man and therefore not relevant to her cause) but I do know that reconciliation is the only aim worth pursuing – and in this, she is vitally interested, whether she is aware of it or not. Scripture calls this reconciliation union; to bring back together that which is divided. It’s the very meaning of the word “religion” – to “bind up.”
There’s a story in Joshua chapter 5 as the Israelites are approaching the walled city of Jericho. There’s a man (unhelpfully, most sacred texts come from patriarchal societies, so it’s almost always a man) standing there with his sword drawn. Joshua asked “are you on our side or our enemy’s side” and the man answered “neither. Take off your shoes. This is holy ground.”
It’s not this or that, not our side or your side. The excluded middle (where neither this nor that is entirely true or untrue) is usually where the action is. It is also the place where wisdom hides, and whoever chooses the place of wisdom is likely to suffer at times. It is a place of powerlessness, and change is often so painfully slow, but wisdom, once embraced, becomes the only tenable way. Wisdom will choose suffering for the sake of love, and for the ultimate goal of binding up, of making one. It is only there that we discover this, here, now, is sacred.
So we are left with the impossible task of communicating this excluded middle, to a world that has always taken sides. This is the narrow way that leads to life (though so many have colonised that phrase and made it to mean the exact opposite of what was intended). It is wonderful to have a card up our sleeves that as yet so few know about. The capacity of council, of safe dialogue, to hold the energy of opposing sides and hear the stories of actual people instead of causes, systems, structures and ideologies, is the mysterious force of life.
As long as we don’t stop at gender. Race, age, education, religion, sexual orientation, class, nationality, let’s knock down every wall, brick by brick. If I get a glimpse of you through the wall, that’s all the motivation I need to keep working.