(By Mandy Marshall)
‘It’s alright – I know what sex I am love’ came the response from a man when I told him what job I did. The phrase Gender Advisor is not exactly the clearest of job titles. It does make it open for comments such as ‘Do you work in a sex change clinic then?’ and ‘So what do you do once you’ve separated the men from the women?’
The very title of my job can actually scare men off. The word gender conjures up images of bra-burning feminists of the 1960’s that has somehow stuck with us. Not something that is helpful when you are trying to bring men and women together to work in partnership and harmony. I need men!
It is easy to slip into stereotypes and makes assumptions about people and words that we use. A challenge I have is to try to engage men in gender issues when the vast majority think it’s a ‘wimmin’s issue’. The reality is very different. Gender looks at the cultural stereotypes we have of men and women. They differ from culture and culture and change over time. So the images we have of what men did in the 1800’s certainly is different from today. The same applies for women. Roles change over time as opportunities for education & employment increase and policies are in place to support this.
Gender equality is all about ensuring that men and women have the same opportunities in life, laws that are applied equally, discrimination based on being male or female ended. Gender equality includes equality for men. It is not about raising the rights of women at the expense of men. That is not equality. It’s about restoring a balance: a balance that has historically been skewed for a long time. Both men and women suffer as a result. In my work it is often men that don’t think that they need equality, or that they see it as bringing them down a peg down a two. That is just not the case. It is often about having a new vision and seeing how better life can be when all are considered for the talents, skills and experiences they have. Allowing both men and women to be who God created them to be. Not boxed in by what society tells us we ‘should’ be. This applies equally to men and women.
I see in the media in the UK a real dumbing down of men that is frankly unhealthy and at its worst, sexist. The new diet coke advert is an example of this. At one point in the ad a woman pinches a man’s bum in the bar. If it was the other way round there would be a stream of calls complaining. So why should it be acceptable the other way round? It is not. It objectifies men. It is unacceptable. It makes my job harder.
The ‘F’ word has also been much maligned and misunderstood. I’m talking about Feminism. The very word makes men want to run in the opposite direction. It is a movement for equality. You could say Jesus was a feminist. He pushed and challenged the cultural boundaries of the day. He allowed women to financially support his ministry (Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene and a host of his other female followers would have actively supported him), he mixed freely with women in his daily life, he taught women theology (Mary) that was unthinkable in his day, he allowed a woman to show him affection in public (Mary Magdalene washing his feet), he restored women’s dignity, self worth and value (Samaritan woman, woman bleeding), he displayed a balance (woman caught in adultery). Overall Jesus treated women as equals, subjects not objects. He was radical, inclusive, and counter cultural in his day.
When we look at feminism from the perspective of restoring a balance, the balance that was from the beginning, it is easier to engage. In my job I need men to bring about changes. They are often the ones in positions of power, authority and responsibility that can bring about change. I need men to model healthier relationships to other men to stop violence against women. I need men to confident in themselves and who they are in God to step out in faith and be counter cultural in today’s society. Not conforming to the pressures of society that tells us that money, status, power, who you are having sex with, and consumables are who you are. We have the good news to share. As every person who has been to Sunday school will know, the answer is Jesus. We need Jesus to bring us into a newness of relationship with him. To challenge those areas that are not right. To bring our self value and self worth based on money, status, power, cars, consumables, sex rather than on whom we are in God before Jesus. We are loved, restored, forgiven, highly valuable, amazing, powerful, heirs with Christ, part of a family, unique. We need to apply these truths on the inside. Each one of us, both men and women, are needed to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.
I am one person doing a job in a large organisation. The task is massive. It’s a UK issue. It’s a global issue. I can’t do it on my own. I need men to join in the journey for better, healthier relationships. To journey on restoring the balance between women and men. Will you join me on this journey? Men are required – apply within.
Mandy Marshall is Tearfund’s Programme Development Advisor focusing on Gender issues & Co-Director of Restored. She has travelled extensively with Tearfund over the last 17 years.