Thursday, 22 January 2015

We men are too “machista”: Why Pope Francis is both right and wrong

By Trevor York

The Argentine pope recently commented on the male-dominated turn out during his visit at a Catholic university in the Philippines by saying that "we men are too machista." The leader of the Catholic church responded to the crowd by claiming the importance of women’s perspectives, especially in decision-making. To many, it’s refreshing to hear more liberal sentiments from Christian leaders. However the noted male-dominated turnout brought attention to the real issue: a systemic and institutional patriarchy resulting in discrimination against women. That’s not something that can be fixed with the surface appeal of a silver tongue.

Consider that the Catholic church bans women from becoming priests. While this may at first seem to be an issue with the Catholic church in particular, if we look at other religions we can see that the roles and identities that men and women are supposed to take on are typically highly gendered. This has been the case in many world religions over time, reflecting a historical patriarchal order that permeates western society, and many other parts of the world as well. For example, it was only in the 1970's that women started serving as rabbis for the Jewish community. Looking eastward towards Asia, we find influences of patriarchy through Confucianism and even assigned gender identities in the dualism of Taoism. The Islamic community has in many cases encouraged traditional family roles for women, conservative dress, and traditional sexual identities for men and women.

The permeation of patriarchy has historically been evident in religion, politics, economics, science, education, philosophy, the organization of society and family; for our age, these things have reflected the patriarchy, often the “machista”. Seeing the symptoms of patriarchy in the Philippines merely reminds us of it’s global reach. Although it's easy to blame a particular religion, or even religion in general, for discrimination against women, history tells us patriarchy, male domination, is the typical order of most societies across history. It's a mistake for us to only prod religion in the advancement of women's rights, gender equality, and all relevant social justice causes. The machista Pope Francis refers to - what we might alternatively call hegemonic or toxic masculinity - is often perceived as the natural form of masculine identity. Yet, I contend that embracing this version of masculinity, one that necessarily seeks to subordinate women and also men who fail to meet its standards, is actually a form of weakness, for all it requires is to accept the status quo and all of the privileges that it confers. True strength can be found in the courage to challenge an unjust system and reject its false rewards.

The 20th century saw some great progress for gender equality, identity, and rights, but this is merely the beginning of a new age. Our time, and the future, I hope, will mark a shift from a general order of patriarchy to the creation of an at least incrementally more equitable gender order, perhaps even the establishment of a matriarchy. The process of creating such a new order necessarily provokes us to ask new questions about the roles and identities imposed onto us by the conditioning of the media, religion, education, and all other socializing institutions. Does it even make sense to associate sex and gender? Who profits from the patriarchy? What will future students of York University say about how we acted when they look back at us? Will they ask, "why didn't anyone speak up, or do anything at that time?"

The easiest way to fight the machista is to be yourself. We are naturally resistors of patriarchal society, the imposed hegemonic masculine norms, because in real life people are individuals who in most cases don't have inherent qualities that align neatly with the established gender order. Are men really fundamentally rational, dominant, and strong? Are women irrational, submissive, and weak? Of course not. A man has emotions, just as a woman does. Only by willfully suppressing and neglecting those attributes perceived to be "feminine" (sensitivity, emotions, intuition, passivity, etc.) do men cultivate and perform hegemonic masculinity at the expense of women, the exploitation of the planet and its natural resources, and, even, themselves.

The men who can acknowledge these problems, who can acknowledge we're not inherently restrained by assigned gender identities and characteristics, are the ones able to glimpse the creative potential of the future. For once, it can be up to us as individuals to construct our identity, instead of some element in society. For once, we can be in control of who we are. The men who take action, those who try to move society forward, are the are the ones who can help create a new vision for humanity. They are the ones who ask how rational it is to exploit and hurt others and the world around us.

Patriarchy has produced a number of illogical conclusions we've mistakenly taken on as norms. The most important thing we must all do is face up to the fact that the dualistic sex/gender system we have been taught is nothing more than an illusion. The reality is that we all exist beyond duality and have the potential for infinitely diverse forms of identity. Free yourself from the matrix of patriarchy.

It was once said we can live in a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. It's where you go from here, a choice I leave to you.

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