This recent hashtag #MeToo has revealed the mind-blowing magnitude of sexual assault.
Witnessing the pervasiveness of such stories has forced men to be more prepared to listen and believe the women who report harassment and assault, and to say they’re sorry for the abuse women have experienced. It feels like a new day is dawning, a day in which men are finally acknowledging the scale of sexism and mistreatment perpetrated against women.
Recently, Christian blogger John Pavlovitz, speaking for all men, wrote,
We are the other side of the #MeToo stories.
We are the writers of these awful stories.
It’s time we owned this sickness.
It’s time we stopped it.
But I wonder whether mere acknowledgement is enough. Will anything ever substantively change while we operate in a patriarchal system like ours?
What is Patriarchy?
It’s not just that our society is male-dominated, or that most of our politicians and CEOs are men. And it’s not just about the gender pay gap and the glass ceiling. These things are symptoms of a more pervasive system called patriarchy.
We live in a patriarchy because our society has been shaped by European culture, which was organized around the centrality of paternity. The lineage of the great houses of Europe was determined by who your father was. European citizenship was based on your “family name,” which in reality was your father’s name.
So it was absolutely essential for you to know who your father was if you were to make your way in the world. And since so much depended on your paternity, then it became necessary for men to control women. Wives effectively became the property of their husbands, because controlling women was the best way for society to be able to determine everyone’s paternity.
By “locking up” his wife, a man could keep an eye on any offspring he produced. He gave those offspring his name and maintained control over them. He “gave” his daughters to other men to do likewise with them. Certain rights and freedoms were afforded to men that weren’t offered to women in order to maintain this system of paternity.
So the chief characteristics of a patriarchy aren’t just male domination or sexism, but more insidiously, patriarchal societies by necessity became societies of control and separation.
Over generations, this control and separation has seeped into every aspect of society, creating a culture based on dominance and submission, over women, over our basic nature and over the natural world. We operate in terms of command and control. In other words, patriarchy is the superstructure of human society. We have become so habituated to this state of affairs that most of us don’t even see that it is our own creation.
It’s Christian to Usurp the Patriarchy
Compare this system of dominance, exploitation and regulation, with Jesus’ remarkable vision of human happiness from his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10):
Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Happy are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Happy are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Happy are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Happy are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God
Happy are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What Jesus called the “kingdom of God” is the mirror image of patriarchy. It is about relinquishing control, submitting to one another, and fostering hospitality, justice and kindness. Even when Jesus spoke about marriage he did so in a way that undermined patriarchy, by condemning men for divorcing and discarding wives who couldn’t give them sons (or any children at all).
The early Christians understood his teaching to be about mutual fidelity and devotion, not control and separation. But more than that, they understood the world Jesus was creating welcomed the widow, the orphan, the childless woman, the outsider, into a new family of God.
The reign of God is only a patriarchy to the degree that God is our Father. It is an unimaginable realm in which God rules over a redeemed society of mutual submission, justice, and love.
Fighting the patriarchy shouldn’t be merely a second-wave feminist agenda. It should be a Christian project, one in which we seek to overturn a system of control and dominance. To smash patriarchy is to usurp a system where human beings have made themselves the masters of their own destiny, a world where both men and women thought of themselves as separate from others and from God. Fighting the patriarchy isn't a feminist agenda, it is a Christian project. Click To Tweet
There’ll be more Harvey Weinsteins in the future. Men like him flourish in societies where others are seen as things to exploit, use, and subdue, and where the more powerful a man you are, the more your ability for exploitation and subjugation is enhanced.
Saying sorry helps. But undermining the patriarchy will help much more.
10 Ways Men Can Smash the Patriarchy
1. Take seriously the fact that Jesus instituted a new family of God, one that included Gentiles, foreigners, widows and orphans.
This isn’t to say he rejected the Jewish understanding of marriage. Actually he reinforces the sanctity of marriage in his teaching on divorce. But he sees marriage operating within a broader, new context, a context in which non-paternal brothers and sisters were given equal status. In this way, he shattered the basis of patriarchy, which is the obsession with paternity and the control of women.
2. Stop deifying the nuclear family.
If the church takes our calling as a family seriously, we would take things like reconciliation more seriously, as well as the radical idea that our family includes more than just those who live under the same roof. Include singles in your communal family life. Practice radical hospitality. Include your non-paternal Christian brothers and sisters in your biological family’s life together.
3. Learn how you have been taught to read the Bible on gender.
Reading patriarchy as God’s norm has skewed the way we interpret God’s intention for us. We miss that we were designed equally. We miss the radical ways the New Covenant and the coming of the Holy Spirit have changed gender expectations for believers. Reading patriarchy as God's norm has skewed the way we interpret God’s intention for us. Click To Tweet
4. Ask women to look closely at how safe your church or organization is for them.
You might not notice that there’s not adequate lighting in the parking lot, but women sure do. An all-male church council/board/elders might scratch their collective heads as to why they can’t get women to join them, but astute women will be able to help you see why, and how to change it.
5. Don’t take your daughter on a Valentines date.
Or better still, don’t “date” your daughter at all. Please spend time with your daughter, but let her know that you want to be with her to work on joint projects or play sports or because you value her opinion on things, and not just because she’s “my little princess” or that you’re filling in until Mr. Right shows up.
6. Don’t enact the “Billy Graham rule.”
I have no doubt Mr. Graham instituted it in his life for good reasons, but in most instances, it treats all women as potential sexual temptations, it excludes women from joining men as equal partners in creative projects, and it surreptitiously silences them from decision-making. By all means, consider strategies for creating good, healthy boundaries in relationships, but social and professional exclusion isn’t the answer.
[How one male pastor has stopped worrying with the Billy Graham Rule]
7. Listen to women’s voices.
Listen to female preachers, and if your church doesn’t allow women to preach, seriously question the leadership about it. Read female theologians and bloggers, and if you’re looking for a quote for an article or an essay, go out of your way to look for a female voice to make your point. Listen to women on social media. I read a comment from someone this week, saying that even if a woman sounds angry we should set aside whatever discomfort we might feel about that because that feeling is our male privilege prompting us to disengage from an important conversation that women don’t get to disengage from.
[Find more resources by attending the Missio Alliance SheLeads Summit on October 28]
8. Be mindful of how you use your own voice when speaking of women.
Don’t make misogynistic jokes, and speak out against other men making sexist or demeaning remarks in your presence (currently, it’s women who are more likely to challenge men on sexist comments than men).
Don’t talk over women, and don’t stand for it when you see another guy doing it.
Be conscious of how you introduce women. There’s plenty of research to suggest we introduce men with their titles and/or achievements, while we introduce women as “the lovely Julia” or “the beautiful Sarah”.
Be wary of only telling little girls they’re pretty or lauding them for their hair and fashion choices. Sure, little girls love dressing up and enjoy those comments (we raised three daughters), but if that’s the only affirmation they get it shapes their sense of what’s important and how they’re seen by others.
Don’t put the onus on women to have to prove we live in a patriarchy and then argue about whether it’s as bad as they say. There’s nothing more repulsive than a powerful male debating a form of discrimination he’s never experienced. Don’t talk over women, and don’t stand for it when you see another guy doing it. Click To Tweet
9. Pay women as much as you pay men.
And stop quibbling about whether there’s a gender pay gap. Just agree that, in every circumstance, a woman should be paid at the same rate as a man doing the same work.
10. Don’t use your power to force women to honor you or acknowledge you.
In the kingdom of God, we’re called to the self-emptying work of giving power away. Be aware of your inherent power (patriarchal, political, social, economic, etc) and use it to protect and empower women, not to use or abuse them.
Men, we are the writers of these #MeToo stories. It’s time we owned this sickness. It’s time we stopped it. Join the movement by showing up at places like the Missio Alliance SheLeads Summit which is happening this weekend. No matter where you are in the world, you can join this conversation. It is the Christian thing to do.
[With thanks to Bronwen Speedie for some of the ideas here.]