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Home Church Don’t ask me to diminish myself — a response to patriarchy

Don’t ask me to diminish myself — a response to patriarchy

One of the excuses for the increased violence against women is that men feel emasculated by the gains that women have made professionally and socially. Margaret Blackie argues that the answer to gender-based violence does not come by elevating the self-esteem of men. Instead, the Church and other institutions should look at how the interests of all members of society can be served so that all enjoy equal dignity in every area of life.

As a member of the Cape Town community and a university lecturer, the events of the last week have been too close for comfort. When a young woman is raped and murdered visiting a suburban post office, it is clear things are out of control. Our society is fundamentally broken. While it is clear there is a problem with law enforcement; that is not my focus here.

My question is, what am I doing to perpetuate the problem? Where am I failing? My social circles are not places where casual talk is sexually charged. I actively discourage any kind of talk about violence. So what is mine to do?

Earlier this year I was asked to read a pre-press copy of Cardinal Napier’s book, “The Here and Now Christian”. The persistent memory I have of the content was my anger over the four chapters dealing with the problems regarding men and violence. To be fair, the book is simply a collection of talks and writings rather than an established position. Nonetheless, the underlying message in these chapters was the same – men are violent because they feel displaced from their proper position in society by capable women.

… the underlying message … [is that] men are violent because they feel displaced from their proper position in society by capable women.

There are some good suggestions about creating men’s groups where men are able to share their vulnerability and develop significant friendships. This is a good thing and he Church should attend to this. But then there is the hand-wringing undertone of “this isn’t the way it is supposed to be”. Men are supposed to be the head of the household. Men are supposed to be the providers, the protectors, the leaders.

The following is just one excerpt:

“There can be no doubt that the role of men in society has changed. Similarly there can be no doubt that women are in a stronger position than ever before. In business and many other fields, there are many women in higher positions than men. How then are men going to come to terms with these changes? How are men going to build their self-esteem? How is the higher rate of violence going to be curbed? It is these vital questions which the Church needs to address if the interests of men are going to be served” (The Here and Now Christian, pg. 93).

I doubt very much whether any woman in South Africa thinks she is in a “strong position” even if she is financially independent. This last week has highlighted that! Is there any more evidence we need than the #AmINext? As for women’s success, why does the gender of my boss make any difference? And if I am outperforming my male colleague, surely it is reasonable that I would be rewarded? I read these statements and feel like I am being asked to diminish myself to make men feel more secure. That may not be Cardinal Napier’s intent, but this is how the words are perceived. And it makes me angry.

But it is the final sentence that is the real problem. These questions do need to be asked, but not to serve the interests of men. They need to serve the interests of every single person.

These questions do need to be asked, but not to serve the interests of men. They need to serve the interests of every single person.

When women complain about patriarchy in the Church – this is what we mean. Don’t get me wrong… we do need to diminish violence in men for many reasons, two of which are: Firstly, to reduce trauma in women and children, and secondly, so men can make a greater contribution to society. This is not to save men; this is to save the remnants of our society.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Margaret Blackie
Dr Margaret Blackie is a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch University. She is also a spiritual director and author of two books: ‘Rooted in Love’ and ‘The Grace of Forgiveness’.

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