Saturday, February 14, 2015

Man-A Woman's Best Friend

I know a man that for 20 years has been a faithful friend to his wife, staying by her side through breast cancer, an auto-immune disease making it extremely difficult to walk, sometimes affecting vision and the use of her hands, more breast cancer requiring surgery and chemo, a broken hip; year after year of countless doctor visits and treatments, some very painful. With all that, their lives together have also been wonderful and magical in so many ways-- the love and committed friendship, the wife will tell you, has meant everything. They live far beyond mere survival and enjoy a quality of life unimaginable but for that deep and abiding commitment. It’s been a beautiful thing for me to witness up close.

There are so many examples of men as friends, allies and partners with women in intimate relationships, work relationships, co-operating in extreme adventure of all kinds and quality; from war to space exploration, parenting to politics. Old tropes about a battle between the sexes is not only outdated, it never was true. There has always been a “partnership society,” even in the midst of bigoted pedagogues, oppressive patriarchal regimes and distorted religions that would have it otherwise. I am talking about partnerships that do not place anyone above another on the basis of gender and exhibit a deep honoring of each other’s strengths and gifts.

That said, those regimes and distorted religions have much to do with why partnership societies are far from universal in the 21st century. The idea that men are superior and women are inferior is still a mental virus afflicting significant portions of populations around the world. The symptoms of the disease; sexual harassment, rape in war, the military, universities and elsewhere, domestic violence, the large scale sex and slavery trades, genital mutilation, female infanticide, wage inequality and others must be treated along with implementing the cure.

Among the many allies and friends of women is a 90-year-old man whose efforts are among the most widespread, thorough and often effective on a global scale. He was the 39th American President, and the only one that did not start or maintain a war but used what political influence he had to wage peace. He is Jimmy Carter and with his equal partner in life Rosalyn and his team of 175 at the Carter Center established in l983 works tirelessly to eliminate disease, injustice, inequality and violence in dozens of countries.

And while doing so, Jimmy Carter now writes passionately about his chief mission in life—to end violence against and discrimination of women in all forms with a particular emphasis on examining the abuse of religion that becomes a tool for justifying discrimination. A biblical scholar and teacher for life, Jimmy Carter works with other religious scholars who agree that there is no authentic basis for discrimination in religious texts, only out of context and distorted references that speciously support dominance and control, a sense of male entitlement and privilege that has no basis in reality and would not be approved of by the original founders or the source of inspiration for the creation of world religions.

Jimmy Carter's new book A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power draws attention to the symptoms I mentioned above and provides the impassioned but calm, balanced and fair treatment of the problem with a perspective that all men could benefit from, as men also suffer when their mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and communities are diminished or destroyed by this discrimination that affects everyone.

"It's not a so-called woman's issue," Jimmy insists. "All of society is affected by what is both an injustice and a tragedy.

In reading the book I have to admit that with my erstwhile background in rape and domestic violence education and men’s role in family planning and parenting notwithstanding, there are staggering statistics that took me by surprise. Case in point, there are more slaves today than before the US Civil War, most of these women and tens of thousands passing through Carter’s native state of Georgia, USA!

If statistics seem cold and aloof, Carter’s reach for collaborative solutions are anything but. I was inspired and encouraged to learn about how many men at high levels of leadership care and are involved in doing larger scale systems thinking while generating and delivering solutions on the ground in partnership with women. Carter is a member of an international group of men and women called The Elders, many of them former leaders of state. The men in this working group have either recovered from the mental virus that still helps drive isolated, marginalized and disenfranchised young men to a movement like ISIS or they were fortunately exposed as I was at an earlier age to the truth about gender equality by select families, teachers and communities.

So, what then is the cure for the ongoing violence and discrimination? Running with my epidemiological metaphor a bit longer, we need an anti-viral agent. And as with most diseases the cure often comes in the same package as the disease, or the solution is contained within the problem.

The virus we want to spread is the news about boys and men being inherently good—I’ve never known a male baby to go to war or rape someone. We begin as whole human beings, malleable, but whole. One powerful protein in this positive virus is parenting. How we cuddle and talk to boys, the messages they receive about their inherent worth and lovability is not turning them into something they are not to begin with, it’s maintaining and further nurturing their strong sense of self and humanity. We need to root out sometimes invisibly different treatment boys receive in school that fosters bad or anti-social behavior and see to it that any and all kinds of sexist references in media are eliminated. We need to help boys discover and live their passions and talents with teaching and mentoring that supports their passions and sense of purpose.
One of the strongest proteins in this pro-virus are the men who are consciously building strong communities to provide women-respecting role models of what it means to be a man as a partner with women, modeling that at home, work and in public in a variety of ways and scales.

Having worked with former gangbangers creating new lives for themselves, I know that much of the violence they were forced into perpetrating is simply a distorted means to receiving attention, recognition, a sense of belonging and even love. And that they were usually first violated in some way before they violated others. From gangbangers, to campus and military rapists, to tribal warlords and ruthless despots, under these distortions of maleness is the need for human closeness and friendship that remains constant. It is possible for every man to learn how to be a woman’s best friend. Let’s join Jimmy.

Become aware of and join the larger global movement called 1 Billion Rising Revolution now joining together people and partnerships across all nations