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Abstract:
Inequality in the relationship between women and men is manifested in the denial of opportunity - or even domination. Both sexes have been conditioned to accept these roles. Men must transform themselves to end this oppression. Audio version included.
Notes:
Presented at the Association for Baha'i Studies for North America "Equality of Women and Men" conference, Irving California, 1989.

Audio originally posted at bahaistudy.org, archived at archive.org.


The Responsibility of Men in Achieving Equality Between the Sexes

by Roger Coe

1989

1. Audio version

Download MP3 file [3 MB, 22 min.]

2. Text version

The premises of this paper are really very straightforward - they are:
  • There is an inequality in the relationship between men and women;
  • This inequality is manifested in the denial of opportunity to women and, not infrequently, takes the form of outright forceful domination of women by men (both of which are oppressive to women);
  • Women are thus in the role of victim, being both overtly and subtly hurt as men perpetrate this oppression;
  • But both men and women have been socialized from birth into accepting these roles of domination / submission within the society;
  • The inherent reality of all human beings is that they are naturally loving, intelligent, understanding and caring. Thus, for men to have been socialized to accept to hurt another human being implies that in the process their true natures had to have been repressed, occluded and shut out from their consciousness;
  • In order for men to play their part in stopping the oppression of women, men must liberate their true and inherent reality from beneath the learned habits, attitudes, and patterns of behavior that perpetuate this oppression - patterns which were forced on them by an "oppressive" social system (which included both men and women) during their formative developmental years.
  • The responsibility of every man, then, in working to achieve equality between the sexes is for him to undergo personal psychological and spiritual transformation, and then to work collectively with all other humans to assist other men in their spiritual transformation. In the process and as a result humanity will experience the replacement of social structures that tend to keep the oppression of both women and men as a part of the status quo.

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:

"What,...constitutes the inequality between men and women? Both are human. In powers and function each is the complement of the other. At most it is this: that woman has been denied the opportunities which man has so long enjoyed, especially the privilege of education...."
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Women: A Compilation, pg. 8

Again:

"The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting - force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy."
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Women: A Compilation, pg. 13

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:

"The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important though less acknowledged prerequisites of peace. The denial of such equality perpetrates an injustice against one half of the world's population and promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to the workplace, to political life, and ultimately to international relations. There are no grounds, moral, practical, or biological, upon which such denial can be justified. Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of human endeavor will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge."
The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, pp. 11-12.

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."
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pg. 161.

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:

"It is extremely difficult to teach the individual and refine his character once puberty is passed. By then, as experience hath shown, even if every effort be exerted to modify some tendency of his, it all availeth nothing. He may, perhaps, improve somewhat today; but let a few days pass and he forgetteth, and turneth backward to his habitual condition and accustomed ways. Therefore it is in early childhood that a firm foundation must be laid. While the branch is green and tender it can easily be made straight."
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá’í Education: A Compilation, pg. 24.

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:

"Through the Teachings of this Day Star of Truth every man will advance and develop until he attaineth the station at which he can manifest all the potential forces with which his inmost true self hath been endowed."
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pg. 68.

Again:

"O My servants! Could ye apprehend with what wonders of My munificence and bounty I have willed to entrust your souls, ye would, of a truth, rid yourselves of attachment to all created things, and would gain a true knowledge of your own selves - a knowledge which is the same as the comprehension of Mine own Being." Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 326-7.

And again:

"Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self." Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pg. 65

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:

"Man is in the highest degree of materiality, and at the beginning of spirituality; that is to say, he is the end of imperfection and the beginning of perfection. He is at the last degree of darkness and at the beginning of light;...he is the sum of all the degrees of imperfection, and ...he possesses the degrees of perfection. He has the animal side as well as the angelic side; and the aim of an educator is to so train human souls, that their angelic aspect may overcome their animal side." 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, pp. 272-3.

And again:

"...the inner reality of man is a demarcation line between the shadow and the light,...it is the lowest point on the arc of descent, and therefore is it capable of gaining all the grades above. With education it can achieve all excellence; devoid of education it will stay on, at the lowest point of imperfection. "Every child is potentially the light of the world - and at the same time its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary importance." 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá’í Education: A Compilation, pg. 31.

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":

"As to the words - 'Immediately after the oppression of those days' - they refer to the time when men shall become oppressed and afflicted,...when the portals of divine unity and understanding - the essential and highest purpose in creation - will have been closed, when certain knowledge will have given way to idle fancy,... Such a condition as this is witnessed in this day when the reins of every community have fallen into the grasp of foolish leaders, who lead after their own whims and desire. On their tongue the mention of God hath become an empty name; in their midst His holy Word a dead letter.... the lamp of conscience and reason hath been quenched in their hearts,...
Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-íqán, pg. 29

And further:

"What 'oppression' is greater than that which hath been recounted? What 'oppression' is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it? For opinions have sorely differed, and the ways unto the attainment of God have multiplied. This 'oppression' is the essential feature of every Revelation. Unless it cometh to pass, the Sun of Truth will not be made manifest. For the break of the morn of divine guidance must needs follow the darkness of the night of error. For this reason, in all chronicles and traditions reference hath been made unto these things, namely that iniquity shall cover the surface of the earth and darkness shall envelop mankind."
Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-íqán, pp. 31-32

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:

"...is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions?" Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-íqán, pg. 240

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:

"Praised be God, the Pen of the Most High hath lifted distinctions from between His servants and hand maidens and, through His consummate favours and all-encompassing mercy, hath conferred upon all a station and rank on the same plane. He hath broken the back of vain imaginings with the sword of utterance and hath obliterated the perils of idle fancies through the pervasive power of His might." Bahá’u’lláh, Women: A Compilation, pg. 2

MEN'S RESPONSIBILITY

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:

"Women have equal rights with men upon earth;... As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs." 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Women: A Compilation, pg. 11

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.
Charlie Kreiner, Towards a Draft Policy for Men's Liberation, ms, dated 10/5/87.

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.

"Among the safeguards of the Holy Faith is the training of children, and this is among the weightiest of principles in all the Divine Teachings. Thus from the very beginning mothers must rear their infants in the cradle of good morals - for it is the mothers who are the first educators - so that, when the child cometh to maturity, he will prove to be endowed with all the virtues and qualities that are worthy of praise." 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá’í Education: A Compilation, pg. 22.

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.

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