“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Martin Luther King
The “Me too” movement in the past few years has been a startling revelation for many of us men. Hearing the pervasive stories of women who have experienced forms of sexual assault and sexual misconduct has been painfully eye opening. I know when my wife shared some of her own personal experiences with me, I was filled with sorrow and anger not simply at the callous behavior of other men but at my own ignorance about this reality. Not only ignorance but participation in a system where women are treated as less than fully human. If these stories are not a source of self-examination for all men, then we are not really listening to them at all.
‘Boys will be boys” has been an unfortunate explanation for much of this behavior. I have always been offended by such an assertion as it implies that the very nature of what it means to be a man is to treat women as objects for our own self-satisfaction. The assumption is that “maleness” is defined by power over others (especially women) excluding mutuality and equality. When men do not question this cultural myth, they define themselves in patterns of domination and oppression. The cost is a loss of our own humanity.
One of the insights Martin Luther King asserted was that the liberation of the oppressed also liberates the oppressor. That the Civil Rights movement was not only to affirm the equality of the souls of Black people, but also a struggle to save the souls of White people. In the quote above from his letter from the Birmingham jail, King reminds us that “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” True liberation sets free everyone (black, white, male, female) from patterns of power and domination.
The first step has been to listen to the stories of women. To be silent and truly listen to women’s reality in our world today. I believe another step in this journey of mutuality is to foster honest conversations among men about masculinity. Fathers to their sons; brother to brother. Unless we can name and address the toxic definitions of being a man, we will not truly be liberated from the patterns of oppressive power that define our lives. Unless women are free, we cannot be free.
Grace and Peace,