Reporterl, Nov. 4, 2014
inequality is a man's problem
By Joan Chittister
are confusing. The questions they raise are even more so. For
instance, we "empowered" women, right? After more than
2,000 years, the Western world finally woke up, in our time, to
the astounding recognition that women, too, were human. Almost.
By 1922, most English-speaking countries, including the United
States, finally allowed women to vote for political leaders. The
struggle was a fierce one, and churchmen and politicians alike
considered that breakdown in society to be simply the beginning
of the decline, "the nose of the camel under the tent"
of civilized male society. As Cardinal James Gibbons is said to
have reflected, "Imagine what will happen to society when
women start hanging around polling places."
And sure enough,
the floodgates of immorality swung open: It wasn't long before
women were allowed to own property, to work outside the home,
to drive cars, to keep their own money, to get an education, to
enter into legal contracts, to become "professionals"
-- at first, teachers and nurses, but eventually even doctors
and lawyers and now bankers and engineers, astronauts and college
presidents. Not all at once, of course, but at least a little
at a time.
We don't know
yet if a woman can be president of the United States, but we do
know that some churches -- no names mentioned -- are still sure
that God does not want to do business with a woman. And yet, a
good number of other churches and countries have done both, and
neither their steeples nor their statehouses have collapsed under
the strain of it.
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prescribed legal doctors.
is to think that at least in the United States, women are free,
independent, secure, respected, welcomed on a par with their fathers
and brothers everywhere. You
would think, with a record like that, that women had really arrived
at a point of full adulthood, independence, moral agency and personal
is another set of headlines, more powerful, more telling than
the first, that expose the lie of it all.
This set of
headlines -- women groped here, kidnapped there, murdered everywhere,
disappeared forever -- headlines bold and ubiquitous, remind a
woman always not to misunderstand, not to assume that she can
walk down a city street in the United States and expect to get
home safely, in one piece, alive. These stories remind her that
however much she achieves, does, saves, earns, manages, or assumes
to be her human right, her life is really not her own. It is at
the eternal mercy of fraternity boys, football teams, stalkers,
prowlers, sex addicts, women-hunters, and rampant testosterone.
This set of
headlines talks about the domestic abuse of wives and mothers
and so-called "honor killings" or pornographic humiliation
women are subject to even now, even here in the United States,
if she violates a man's unwritten code for a woman. Regardless
of all that talk about "equality."
violation of women crosses all social classes, all racial differences,
all cultural more.
is unstated everywhere but in the headlines: Women and girls are
still a commodity to be had, controlled, used and discarded.
called it "a woman's problem." Then we got civilized
enough to realize it wasn't a woman's problem; it was a human
problem. But we will never really resolve the situation until
we begin to admit aloud that it is really a man's problem.
It is only
when men stand up as a class and confront other men on the subject
that women can begin to hope for violence-free lives.
Men must face
other men. Men must tell the male judges and male parliaments
and male police departments and male servicemen and male coaches
and male sports teams and male rap music and male CEOs of everything
that they will no longer be silent. That they will no longer look
the other direction when wife-beaters and rapists and stalkers
and trash-talkers find some excuse for it in male hormones or
Then the dirty
jokes will cease to be funny; the locker-room talk will stop being
acceptable; the language you must "never use in front of
your mother" will not be acceptable anywhere, including in
front of other men.
At the end
of the day, it all has something to do with the way fathers train
their sons and conduct their own lives for them to model. It has
something to do with the way coaches train their teams. It sets
a standard for the way ministers give their sermons on Father's
Day and shape their marriage preparation courses.
too, on the way courts and colleges deal with the only crime on
the books that is not really treated as a crime until it's too
late -- for both the woman and the man involved.
little girls and college students and young mothers and professional
women still afraid to go home alone, still being abandoned by
the schools and colleges that promised to protect them but then
protect the men that violate them instead, still missing on the
streets of the United States.
No, this is
not a woman's problem. This is not about the equality of a woman.
This is about our definition of a man. This has something to do
with what we really believe about the rationality, self-control
and spiritual quality of men.
I stand, for men to take it for granted that men simply "do
these things" is the greatest male insult of them all. Maybe
that's why football commissioners and Army generals and college
presidents are failing so badly where women are concerned.
the news flash of the day: Just as I was finishing this column,
Iceland announced a men-only U.N. conference on women and gender
of the conference, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said, is "to bring
men and boys to the table on gender equality in a positive way."
There will be a special session on violence.
Then, on top
of that, the local paper on Oct. 3 announced that dozens of men
in a small adjoining town will "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes"
-- in high heels -- to show support for women dealing with domestic
Now if men here -- men in clubs, men in parishes, men in administrative
positions, men in religious ministry, men in locker rooms and
bars and schools and on army bases -- will only do the same, maybe
someday, women will be able to walk our streets alone, too.
Sister Joan Chittister is a frequent NCR contributor.]
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