Another Cry for Women and Girls

In many places, it has been reported that COVID-19 related lockdowns saw an increase in cases of violence and abuse in many homes. What could have been a time for blending, spending more time together, revealed that the scourge of violence especially against women is alive. Despite the many initiatives, violence and discrimination like a plague continues to wreak havoc, disproportionally affecting women and girls. Years of activism and research on prevention of gender-based violence (GBV) have made clear the imperative to go beyond the symptoms of GBV to address its root cause which is gender inequality.[i]

That men and women are equal, created in the image of God, is a principle that many Christians seem to identify with (Genesis 1:27 and Galatians 3:28). But shockingly, some have viewed the push for equality as some sinister feminist agenda or some trendy civil society issue rather than a gospel issue that resonates with Christ’s mission of liberating the oppressed (Luke 4:18). This means, of all the people, Christians, and especially Adventists, cannot be silent when an estimated one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.[ii] This means of all the places, the church should be the place where equality is not only preached but experienced in full. On the contrary, whenever discussions on equality are brought up, many often rush to invoke scripture to assert biased and toxic views on female submission and male headship. In a contentious sense, religion has become one of the major obstacles to dismantling gender inequality and improving ways in which women are treated. Without delving into the causes of violence and discrimination against women, this article is a blunt challenge to some of the notions that present obstacles to improving the treatment of women and girls.

The Zero-Sum Game

Whenever discussions around gender equality are raised, there is often a fear in some men that this agitation will result in a zero-sum game. That the empowerment of women on one side will result in emasculation on the other is an old argument meant to preserve the status quo. Those who subscribe to this thinking often misconstrue efforts toward addressing gender injustice in ways that elevate to be a form of disempowerment of men. Understandably, those of us who have enjoyed power and priviledge at the expense of women will do everything to keep it. This also explains some of the resistance and allegations of sinister feminist plots that come from men against any efforts to elevate women in church and society. They would rather argue that the stability of the family, society, and church is assured as long as women retain an inferior position and accept unfair treatment from men.

Divorces and marital breakdowns are blamed on women who appear to have usurped positions and roles which are meant for men. In many instances, men start viewing the fight for equality as a fight against them rather than systems, structures, and attitudes that keep women from occupying their God given position. Instead of celebrating equality, the zero-sum game argument exposes a toxic concept of masculinity that is threatened by the elevation of women whom it sees as competition. Fears of emasculation expose how some insecure men have come to find completeness in their ability to subjugate or subordinate women. Zero sum game arguments need to be challenged, as well as inherent fears that the elevation of women is nothing but emasculation.

Obsession with Submission

If there is a text in scripture that continues to suffer the most abuse and misuse it is Ephesians 5:22. You ask a fellow Christian man if they believe in equality, you will get an unequivocal yes but in the same reply, they rush to throw in the submission footnote. There is an obsession with submission in some of us men that is either a manifestation of insecurity or stubborn patriarchal tendencies. Could it be that the reason why the word “submission” has become anathema to some can be traced to the way it is often used to stifle honest challenge and perpetuate self-interest by men? Without wading into this endless debate over love versus submission, there is a danger in confusing subordination with submission. If love is the foundation of all relationships, then men should not take it upon themselves to coerce women they perceive as assertive, disrespectful, or too forward into submission. When submission is demanded, it breeds compliant and superficial relationships. Submission presented as an end in itself does not guarantee stability in the home. The same women coerced into submission will argue that submission is earned making it an exercise in futility.

This is not a push for a deletion of the text in Ephesian 5:22, but rather a challenge against manipulation of the text for selfish ends. Those of us men who often confuse subordination with submission will be uncomfortable with a woman who excels, is intellectually superior, or who takes on leadership positions. Instead of harnessing her gifts and energy in the church and home, she is forced into silence and passivity so that the man does not feel disrespected or his position threatened in any way. Rather than elevating and celebrating women, focus is on control and a fixation on ensuring that they occupy subordinate roles. Thus, men who believe being a man is defined by the extent to which women submit to them may resort to violence and abuse to assert their position. The fundamental question is how can we as men be delivered from this obsession with submission? An obsession that masks perceptions of a woman as being inferior, a lesser image of God, or an incomplete version of a man.

Confronting Religion and Culture

Sadly, various forms of discrimination and violence against women often find refuge in culture and religion. The argument is that some practices embedded in religious or cultural values unjust on women are necessary for the stability of the home and society. But if men and women are equal before God, everything that smells of misogyny, sexism, and discrimination should not go unchallenged regardless of its source. Let the church be a place where women can flourish rather than endure prejudice and repression. Male privilege that thrives on the marginalization of women ought to be exposed as we proclaim the priesthood of ALL believers.

In the very same churches where equality should be experienced is an infestation of toxic sermons that demean women, portrayal of women as temptresses while citing biblical men as sources of wisdom and faith, an exclusion of women on the pulpit at large church events and convocations unless they are singers or ushers, using administrative policy as doctrine to further marginalize women, confining women to only scribe or administrative roles in local church committees, confining women to children’s classes while excusing men, female tokenism in church leadership structures, and disciplinary processes biased against women. Surely some of us men may not be violent toward women but with these attitudes we are no better!

Questions also need to be asked on aspects of our cultures which we tend to often glorify but are in need of redemption. Practices that demean women or work against their elevation require candid conversations that will see them being eliminated or revisited. While the gospel does not take us out of our culture, it challenges our culture by exposing elements that are not compatible with the kingdom of God. As long as we defend unjust practices as non-negotiable aspects of our culture we close out opportunities as men to elevate our sisters, mothers, and daughters to fulfil their God-given potential. For example, if it is true that bride price, or lobola, common in some parts of the world is being abused, leading to the commodification of women which potentially exposes them to violence, then conversations are needed on this. Nothing stops us from asking if in 2020 the original intentions are still valid or making modifications to safeguard the same noble principle. Rather than rigidly clinging to questionable traditional practices because they are culture, let God’s word be the sieve!

Moving forward, in addressing the systematic subordination of women within patriarchal structures, it is critical to reiterate the role men play in creating inclusive environments. Tackling violence and discrimination against women and girls requires more men joining the frontlines. Previous efforts have yielded little primarily due to their exclusion of men and failure to go to the roots of the problem, which is inequality. Men’s groups and forums in our churches should make it part of their agenda to genuinely talk about the treatment of women, explore ways to make a difference, not hiding behind uninformed fears of feminism. Women, on the other hand, should increasingly rope in men as role models to be champions, embrace them as compatriots rather than competitors in the fight. Let the treatment of women be an everyday issue for everyone rather than a women’s calendar event. Let 2020 be a year of disruption and tough conversations including how women and girls are treated! Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).

 

Notes & References:

[i] Overcoming resistance: The role of men, power, and gender inclusion By Emily Beaudoin with Sarah Bever and Sheila Scott, December 10, 2018 https://www.irex.org/insight/overcoming-resistance-role-men-power-and-gender-inclusion

[ii] USAID Preventing and Responding to Gender Based Violence https://www.usaid.gov/gbv

 

Admiral Ncube is an Adventist Zimbabwean writing from Gaborone, Botswana where he is a humanitarian and development professional.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10836
1 Like

This is a good example of how Critical Theory tends to poison everything, and divide and accomplish the opposite it sets out to do.

I don’t question the positive intentions of the author, but there are certain fundamental assumptions and neglect of context that the author runs with when promulgating his ideas.

First, there’s the other half of inequality that’s not mentioned… I’ll list a few, but there are more:

  1. Women are generally a more protected class in Western Societies. If boat sinks, women and children get on lifeboats, while men struggle in cold water, etc.

  2. As such, female violence against men many times either goes unpunished, neglected, or even laughed at. Men who let themselves abused by women are stigmatized as weak. We had a guy in our church whose first wife stabbed him with a knife because she was angry at him, and because he was protecting he … he didn’t call the police. Hence, much of the domestic abuse against men goes unreported. In many cases, men’s hands are tied because they can’t retaliate, since it’s used against them emotionally and legally in the future.

  1. Same as a above, but sexual harassment against men is not generally taken seriously.
  1. Men die of suicide 3-4x more than females. 70% of homeless are men.

  2. Western legal structure generally favors women, who serve 60% shorter sentences for the same type of crimes, and twice as likely to be commuted or released on parole. Divorce courts are complex, but lawyers generally exploit positions that favor women more than these favor men. Hence, there are many “irreconcilable differences” divorces with no children in which woman decides to leave marriage with husband supporting her financially.

  3. Social expectations put more pressure on men than women. Pew research surveyed and asked what people are looking for in ideal woman and man. For ideal woman it was attractiveness and empathy. For ideal man it was honesty and occupational success and competence.

  4. Men are more likely to be expected to do the dirtiest, most dangerous, and more physically demanding jobs that women don’t want.

  5. Male “patriarchy” as a system is not a concept that necessitates anything other than societal strategic organization for coping with necessarily environments of the time. Both genders could have abused it, given that both could have exploited position of influence in a scope of their assigned responsibilities.

Hence, I don’t think it’s viable to claim that hierarchy itself is evil as opposed to whether it’s necessary in a scope of societal presets that we have today. We could argue that it’s not necessary. But most of our biological context revolves around these in some configuration.

Hence, it has to be a much more nuanced conversation than the author presents.

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We sometimes assume that this is true “over there”, but surely not among the educated people of the west. Not true.

A guy likely isn’t quoting Ephesians 5:22 as he is abusing his wife.

When my children got lippy, I would tell them, “Your mother is queen of this house. Treat her like a queen.” Marriage doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.

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Admiral,
An astute writer, as you yourself are, is up to the challenge that the naysayers will bring! Thanks for the essay, very timely. Looking forward to the discussion!!

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Great article! It puts together the basic issues related to abuse of women. However, the author, Admiral @sirncube, should be prepared to receive some criticism to his article that will try to “refocus” from the abuse to women to the “abuse of men.” Thus trying to minimize and equalize the abuse of women.

Yes, women do abuse men as well, but the proportion is not even comparable. In any case, it doesn’t matter if the abuser is male or female, the only way to stop (to decrease is more realistic) the violence and abuse is to send abusers to treatment (group therapy, 52-week program, 2 hrs weekly).

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Hello George,
I understand what you are saying and agree as far as my knowledge is complete. My observation is that of the perceived cost to the one that would need help. He’s going to do the math: 2x52x~100 and give up. My guess is that many perps don’t have sufficient insurance coverage in the first place.
I understand the issue enough to see this is not the only cost involved. The practice must stop. But looking at the math, it seems this assertion is prohibitive.

Bob, the cost may be as low as $25 per 2-hr session for people with low income. Sometimes people spend way more on cigarettes and alcohol in a week… The most difficult part is,

  1. To accept responsibility for the unacceptable violed behavior. Usually men describe a violent epide as “a little thing.” Minimizing and denial are major impediments for resolution.
  2. To accept treatment. When they are told that they may benefit from psychological treatment, the first reaction is, “I am not crazy.” Total ignorance. It’s not about being crazy, it’s about being violent and abusive.
  3. Investing two hours a week in treatment of such a serious issue should not be a problem. People usually have plenty of time for it, it’s just that they don’t want to do it.
  4. Those programs are actually more educational than clinical. It’s like going to school to learn about self-control, healthy relationships, anger management techechniques, etc.

But I agree with you, people will not invest in themselves that easily. I wish they did it on a voluntary basis, becasue every case of abuse will escalate and sooner or later will end up being so dangerous that someone will go to jail. Then, they will go to a program like this by Court order anyway, and will have a criminal record.

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I don’t disagree. My observation is that these people are as much victims as those they are abusing. Look at the cultural prompts, the ignorance, the stress, control, etc.
Aspects of our entire culture are part of the problem.
Just observations.

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Bob, I didn’t take your comment as disagreement. I just expanded the idea.

I also believe that churches should promote this kind of education. The problem is that the courses would certainly be created and ministered by pastors with absolutely no training other than on applying “Thoughts & Prayers.” Which would do absolutely nothing to help the problem.

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The answer is clearly explained in Genesis 4:6 “Then the Lord said to Cain, … sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” There it is in plain terms. No sugar coating, no external blaming. It is easier to resolve a problem when we take ownership of the problem.

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Questions:
What is the problem?
How does society determine the extent of the problem?
How do we take ownership of the problem?

It may be possible that focusing on each individual grain might not be the most efficient way to thresh the field.

The problem is the personal wish to subjugate another person.

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Is that the problem or a symptom of a deeper problem?
Why would someone wish to do that?

Whatever the cause it, at times what counts most is how to solve the problem. In six out of ten cases of clinical depression, the etiology will never be known but the majority of clinical cases will respond positively to clinical intervention. The same goes as in this case.

Another half? Please check your statistics. Much family violence is about power and control. Women may be more verbal, but when it comes to brute force, usually men have the advantage. You can guess how many men come to the hospital or see a councilor because they have been raped.

George , I think you are proving my point, and actually structuring an oxymoron when it relates to one of his premises:

I understand you point below, although that’s not really the case as it relates to some studies that estimate that 40% of domestic abuse has males as victims… again, precisely because males can’t retaliate. So, below isn’t quite accurate.

The issue here is the cultural slant towards the “defaults” that exacerbates the division between sexes, and serves as a detriment to marriage as an institution. I’m hearing much more often from adults who are married advising their children not marrying until they are in their late 30. Such dynamics really impacts society of the future in which the structure of the family is demolished.

I understand your point, but that kind of attitude is precisely why we have a culture in which “fight club” masculinity becomes more and more prevalent, and where Trump becomes appealing.

Oh…, I didn’t expect you to agree with anything I said. Actually, I am not even a bit surprised that you are disagreeing with what I say.

I am talking based on my personal professional experience dealing with this exact issue, treating DV perpetrators for 12 years (full time), and having graduated 1,850 people from the 52-week program in CA, I have plenty of confidence stating what I stated. I want to see experienced therapists in the field to disagree… then I would certainly examine the details…

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I’m not questioning your professional experience. I do question the overarching premise of the narrative that such experience feeds back into the culture that already has an anti-male bias in that particular instance.

So, you miss my point by a mile here.

Sorry, I can’t help. One mile is way too far away… :wink:

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It’s not really that far. I bet you can run it in 12mins. :wink:

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