In the same way that slavery was a moral challenge for the 19th c. & totalitarianism was a challenge for the 20th c., the challenge that women & girls face around the world is the moral challenge of our time.

~ Sheryl WuDunn & Nicholas Kristof

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Do You See These Two Faces of Adam in Our World Today? by Emily Nielsen Jones

Women's Liberty Bell Blog is so grateful for all the male allies that have "chimed in" this past month about how they have seen and been apart of the movement of men "stepping up" to lay aside the privileged position religion has historically given to males. (See and past postings to review the conversation.) I don't know about you, but I have always been so drawn to and touched by stories of people reaching across lines of difference to work for justice for another:  Christians hiding Jews during the Holocaust, white abolitionists fighting along side black abolitionists to end slavery, the 1% standing with the 99%, Protestants building a bridge with Catholics and vice versa, Israelis advocating for a just peace for Palestinians, the countless other examples of people/groups who have worked to transcend and dismantle an unjust ranking system which privileges one group over another.

Indeed, all of our world's great social movements which have continued to "bend the moral arc of the universe" toward justice (Martin Luther King) have been rooted in some movement of common humanity/empathy across lines of difference, a shared commitment to fight for justice not just for one's own particulular group but also for the rights and cause of another.  Without some sense of shared commitment connecting one group's struggle with the larger human struggle for Liberty and Justice for All all we are left with is separate groups vying for power and jockeying for their own rights and privileges at the expense of others.

When it comes to working for gender justice, empathy across the gender divide is what the world needs more than anything is to transcend our base we-them tendencies which see things in terms of a zero-sum gain, a gain for you is a loss of power for me.  We all know what gender battles look like and feel like on a personal level... either covertly or overtly trying to "man up" or "woman up" to get the upper-hand in a relationship.  On a collective level, gender battles are not different.  From the fledgling beginnings of the women's movement, advancements of women's sphere and rights have met resistance from men and from invisible forces in society to preserve the imbalance of power between the genders which have made females the "lesser than" gender with restricted rights, human agency, dignity, power to contribute to society and pursue life opportunities.

What is it that enables a man to transcend these "powering up" we-them dynamics and not feel threatened or diminished by women's advancement on both on a collective and an individual level?  I find it really interesting today to see the broad spectrum of different masculine "faces" responding in various ways to this particular stage of the "women's movement" where we see as a global culture a large scale commitment to gender balance as a human and social ideal to be worked toward but we also see forces of resistance every where in various forms, efforts to hit the rewind button and put some limit on what women can or cannot do, men's movements all over the world to "reclaim their rightful place as the leaders/decision-makers of the family, religious body, and society.  Change is hard, and always involves some level of backlash even as things are moving forward.  When it comes to changing deeply entrenched gender norms which govern how we all exercise are God-given power and agency and gifts in the world, change seems to be extra slow and vulnerable to backlash, regression, and either-or power dynamics.

How can we together transcend these tiring zero-sum power dynamics and find greater solidarity across the gender line to work toward a more gender-balanced world?  

What is the role of faith in transforming the women's movement from a "women's issue" into a broader movement of justice in our world?

Particularly within faith contexts, where religious gender ideology is appealed to as divine sanction for exclusive male authority models in the church and the family, without men coming along side of women in human solidarity with passion and conviction to take another look at the "sacred gender cows" which have been used by our religious traditions to justify exclusion and subordination of women, women's basic human equality will remain tenuous at best... in it's own separate category, separate from the larger stream of justice... a "women's issue" disconnected from the larger themes of scripture... a never-ending battle ground vulnerable to backlash and regression depending on the cultural and religious winds of the day.

Glimpsing Adam
If you look around the world today, we see so many hopeful signs of women rising up within highly patriarchal cultures to claim their basic human rights, heal from abuse, reclaim their voices and their full God-given human agency and potential and also work for a more just world for all.  I wrote another article which I called "Glimpsing Eve" in which I shared how I see two faces of "Eve" in our world, in and through my work with the Imago Dei Fund:  Eve Rising up to Heal Our World and Eve Victimized & Submissive.

Both faces of Eve are alive and well today.  What about Adam?  What faces does He show today in this particular moment of time where gender equality/gender balance is a presumed ideal to be worked toward in most cultural contexts yet there are signs of regression and backlash everywhere.  In my work as a donor activist and in my involvement as a Christian in our local community and broader evangelical world, I see two faces of Adam, not the literal historical figure, more so the collective masculine life force in the world.

What flavor of masculinity do you see around you?  Do you see these two faces too?  Shades of gray in between?

the beautiful face of "Adam":  a redeemed, empowering masculinity
I was recently at a gathering of pastors and their wives in Haiti (there are not many female ministers in Haiti) convened by a group called Beyond Borders which is working to create a change of consciousness around the underlying power dynamics which underlie gender-based violence in Haiti.  It was the most inspiring, very tangible conversation around everyday gender dynamics, male presumption to power in all its forms, and the vision of moving from a hierarchical to a partnership model of gender relations.  One of the people leading the dialogue was this beautiful charismatic Haitian man who was so on-board with gender equality, so passionate and winsome in his demeanor, and so refreshing in his solidarity across the gender line with women who in that society still have such an uphill battle to have an equal voice and dignity in society.

I wish I had a better picture of this man, but I carry him in my heart as a "face of Adam", a beautiful empowering picture of a redeemed masculinity which is "man enough" to share power with women, affirm our differences yet find our common humanity, and embrace each of our forms of strength without any need to dominate or power-over the other.  What stuck with me most about this man was how he was not just "standing with" women, not just supporting a women's cause, rather he was invested himself in working toward a society where men and women in very practical tangible ways can live in mutuality, shared power, and true complementarity without needing to prop up one gender over the other.  I could not help but express to him and the group how beautiful men are when they are unambiguously onboard with gender equality, not just giving lip service to the idea of it, but putting some skin in the game and showing in tangible ways their solidarity across the gender divide to create a more gender-balanced world that is not just good for women but for all humankind.

Do you see this face in the men in your life?  I do!  Thank you to you all. : )

the threatened face of "Adam":  a retrenching, powering-up masculinity
I wish I could say that my world, our world was filled with only this beautiful "face of Adam", but the reality is there are forces of gender regression in our world, mostly wrapped in religion, that seem bent on preserving the unequal gender scales which have created a whole myriad of humanitarian problems which continue to keep girls and women around the world in a subordinate, victimized place and prop up male privilege to a greater sphere of agency, respect and power in society.  Pictures speak a thousand words.  This picture and article below featuring male students in Afghanistan protesting what should be seen as a very basic bill to protect women's human rights to me captures this other face of Adam that we see in various forms throughout our world:  the threatened male who has grown so accustomed to women being submissive and subordinate and diminished that he cannot even see how he is twisting religion to preserve his own presumption to being a "higher ranking" human. AP
 22nd May, 2013

— File Photo by Reuters
KABUL: Hard-line Islamist students protested in the Afghan capital demanding the repeal of a presidential decree for women’s rights that they say is un-Islamic.
More than 200 male students protested in front of Kabul University on Wednesday against the decree, which includes a ban on child marriage and forced marriage, makes domestic violence a crime and says rape victims cannot be prosecuted for adultery.
Protester Fazel Hadi, 25, said the decree was ”imposed by foreigners” and violates Islamic Shariah law.
Conservative lawmakers on Saturday blocked enshrining the decree’s provisions in legislation.
The backlash highlights the tenuousness of women’s rights provisions enacted in the 12 years since the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime.
The international force that toppled the Taliban is now preparing to withdraw.
Yes, this is an extremely scary face of masculinity struggling to preserve its place of power, but if look look beneath the surface of all of the religious "reasons" used across all faith traditions, all cultures, and across time to exclude, marginalize, or diminish women's spheres of agency in society--whether it be denying women the right to vote, to attend school, to avoid early marriage, to own property, to live free of violence, and to advance into positions of leadership however they are gifted--do not all these rationales boil down to men over the course of religious history being a little too willingly to accept at "face value" a religious interpretation which has given them an unfair advantage?  The same scene of an angry mob of men protesting women's expanding sphere of involvement has been repeated throughout the course of history.  (The very first gathering of women abolitionists (who were not even working yet for women's rights) was met with an angry male mob which burned down the building they were in justified in their "rightness" with their Bibles in hand.)

Yes, most people of faith, even those with conservative views of "gender roles" do not advocate violence.  However, in this world where gender equality is a presumed ideal and facet of our collective values, those who are advocating excluding women from leadership roles in any form based on some notion of it being "un-Christian" or "un-Muslim" or un-feminine are making a statement which to many girls and women today can feel aggressive and like a diminishment of who we are collectively as women.  Even little infringements much less egregious as this story below send ripples out into the world which if you "scale up" make women's standing in the world feel very tenuous.

May we all work to show our highest and best face to the world, both as men and as women, and seek to live in solidarity with one another creating a more just, gender-balanced world where all humans can thrive and flourish together.

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