The Responsibility of Men in Achieving Equality Between the Sexes
by Roger Coe1989
1. Audio version
2. Text versionThe premises of this paper are really very straightforward - they are:
In this paper we will go through the assertions given above in order to verify their consonance with statements from the Bahá’í writings. After this we will look at some of the current findings pertaining to men's issues from psychological counseling practice, and particularly that of Co-Counseling.
INEQUALITY OF RELATIONSHIP
The writings of the Bahá’í Faith clearly support the premise that there is an inequality in the relationship between the sexes and that women are dominated and oppressed by men; 'Abdu'l-Bahá says:
OPPRESSION OF WOMEN
That this oppression is a form of injustice and tyranny, and that it is perpetrated by men, is also clear. Following is a paragraph from The Promise of World Peace, written by the Universal House of Justice in October 1987:
If women are to be emancipated, (that is, freed) who is to let them go? Who is it that denies equality and perpetrates injustice? Who has the harmful attitudes and habits that are promoted by this denial? Who has the possibility to welcome women into full partnership? Of course this is a societal matter, but very particularly, on another level, is not the answer for each of these questions "Men"? Clearly the implication from this statement of the House of Justice is that men have a great responsibility in the achievement of full equality between the sexes.
SOCIALIZATION INTO THESE ROLES
The assertion that both men and women have been socialized through
education into accepting a dominant / submissive relationship, viewing
women as inherently inferior, is found directly in the writings of the
Faith. 'Abdu'l-Bahá speaks very directly to the relationship between our
attitudes about sexual equality and education: "In the world of
humanity...the female sex is treated as though inferior, and is not
allowed equal rights and privileges. This condition is due not to nature,
but to education."
Though each culture has a differing orientation on this matter, for those of us who were raised in the West, this "education" was imparted to us during the pre-rational phase of our development - that is, the time of infancy, early childhood and pre-adolescence. Information imbibed during these phases of development is set in at a very deep level, and is not readily amenable to willful manipulation and change during the rational phase of development or later. 'Abdu'l-Bahá says:
INHERENT REALITY OF HUMANS
A potential confusion arises as we consider the next assertion. First we need to establish the basis in Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings that every human is endowed with a soul which is created in the image of God, that it is a perfect creation of the Almighty, and that it is through our discovery of our own true selves that we reflect the light and attributes of God. Bahá’u’lláh’s words state it best:
How has it happened then that men, born in perfection, turn out to be the oppressors of women? The answer from the Bahá’í writings seems fairly clear, and it relates directly both to the purpose of human life on earth, and to the place where humanity currently finds itself in the unfolding drama of this Universal Cycle. 'Abdu'l-Bahá says:
LIBERATION FROM OPPRESSION
It is the duty of society to provide education for each individual so that every human being is fully supported in his or her quest for the spiritual qualities and attributes of character that lie potential within, that are in full accord with her/his own spiritual nature. Society has quite obviously failed to provide this kind of environment, and it is because the time has come for these conditions to be changed that the Manifestation of God has come to the earth. The Manifestation comes to provide true education, education in the realities, education that liberates oppressed souls.
If we examine the oppressions of sex, of race, of class, etc., that characterize our milieu in terms of the way Bahá’u’lláh defines "oppression" in The Kitáb-i-íqán we may find some interesting clues to our present predicament. Bahá’u’lláh speaks of Christ's prophesy in Matthew, Chapter 24, which refers to the "end times":
We see here that in the natural order of things, at the point of transition from one Revelation to another, education is completely subverted from its essential purpose - that the liberation which comes from knowledge of one's own self is impossible to find. It is the "greatest oppression" when one finds imitation, mis-education, lies and untruths as his guide instead of true education which serves to guide one to the knowledge of one's own self and thus to the knowledge of God. And as Bahá’u’lláh says, no one escapes - the darkness "shall envelop mankind."
For a long time the liberation of women - the achievement of equality between the sexes - has been viewed as being exclusively a women's issue. However, it's clear in this statement from Bahá’u’lláh that men have been oppressed too - that it is an oppression to have been trained in "unreality", to have been "educated" to see inferiority in women.
The duty of those who recognize God's purpose is to receive from the Manifestation of God for this Day the teachings that will provide true education, and effect in their beings the spiritual transformation that proves the Revelation. Bahá’u’lláh says:
In this next passage Bahá’u’lláh directly relates to us one aspect of the new conditions that must now gain ascendency and become the new center of our reality and truth, i.e., that there is equality between men and women: He says:
The step then that men need to take in order to do their part in achieving equality between the sexes is for them to liberate their own selves - to find their true and inherent reality so that it would be inconceivable for them to accept to hurt another human being. By working for the realization of equality men will not only assist women, they will come to know their own selves also. 'Abdu'l-Bahá says it very clearly:
Men must come to own the struggle of equality between the sexes if for no other reason than out of their own self-interests. Men will never be truly free of imperfections if they remain bound to a relationship that requires that they oppress and hurt others.
It's important to note that everything done by men which seems to
place women at a disadvantage does not necessarily advantage men.
According to the latest work from Co-Counseling the training
men receive from society has served to isolate them from each other as
well as from almost all women; to deny them feelings - saying not only
that "big boys don't cry," but also that men don't even have the capacity
to feel; to put men in sometimes deadly competition with each other; to
exalt "manliness" by making everything that is not "fully manly" inferior,
including other men who refuse to play the manly part; to promote pretense
and being out of touch with one's true feelings; and to fear intimate
relationships with other human beings.
There are many difficulties that will be faced and obstacles that must be overcome on the path toward realization of true equality. Coming to the intellectual realization that women are oppressed by men and their harmful habits, attitudes and behaviors, and that these behaviors keep men from knowing their own true selves will not halt the oppression of women.
There are thousands of adult male Bahá’ís in the United States alone who have accepted this principle intellectually but who are still walking around with the habits and attitudes concerning the relationship between men and women that they inherited from the larger society.
Not until men work on these issues at the appropriate psychological level will they find effective and lasting change taking place. The Universal House of Justice has identified the level at which men need to work in the paragraph from The Promise of World Peace which was quoted above. It is the level of habits and attitudes - levels that are not directly accessible to intellectual idealism and the decisions of the "normal everyday consciousness."
I submit that there need to be programs that treat sexism and all other learned oppressions as human problems and not as "women's problems" or "black's problems," or another oppressed group's problems. Then each group must work at addressing their own particular difficulties.
The oppressed are hurt by the oppressor and these hurts must be healed. The oppressor is also hurt in the process of being socialized into the oppressor role, though in a different way. Is not a subconscious attitude of superiority a spiritual sickness? How can one see God in his fellow humans when he has been trained only to see inferiority in them?
The structure of the addictive process is very similar to the structure of the imprinting of cultural and social patterns when one is very young. Psychological counseling practice has made great headway of late in assisting people with addictions to overcome their habits. Many of these same processes are being used in the liberation of groups who are struggling out from under their particular oppression. Women are healing themselves of the inherited attitudes of inferiority, of worthlessness, of low intelligence, and so on. Men are healing themselves of the spiritual sickness of a subconscious attitude of superiority and the oppression of inherited attitudes which keep men from knowing and honoring their own true reality.
As we work within our communities on this personal spiritual transformation we will find our communities changed. We may then find ourselves as a more appropriate model and thus be in a better position to offer solutions to our fellow countrymen and to the world.
TRAINING OF PARENTS
One last thing. It is very difficult to change behaviors of adults that are on the level of habits and attitudes. Adults must work and work to make these changes, and must not give up. But there is one place where we can break into the cycle of learned oppressions in a very effective manner, and this is in young children, and the best way to reach them is through their parents. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has spoken of the importance of training mothers as they are the first educators of humanity.
Bahá’u’lláh has said that all these oppressions come about from the imitation of our ancestors. We must teach consciousness to our children and train them to think and to feel. We must realize the effect of our own example as adults and learn to draw out from children the mine of gems that lies hidden within each of them. The development of a curriculum for the training of parents is extremely important if we are to eradicate these oppressions once and for all.