There is no doubt that many men are moving towards an acceptance and a celebration of the equality of the genders, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Within the Bahá’í community this spiritual law of equality of the genders is becoming more and more of a reality. Boys are raised to see their sisters (and women in general) as their total equals, to be respected and admired, and men work hard at eliminating any traces of superiority or condescension that they may feel towards women. However, this is far from being the norm in the incredibly patriarchal society in which we live. Many tribal practices still place women in a position of utter servitude, bound completely by the will of men and seen as little more than carriers of water, providers of food and instruments of pleasure when required.
This is a story that was related just a few months ago by a woman in business: “I was calling on a client who happened to be a very senior manager in a para-statal organisation. I was discussing the equality of the genders and how advanced we were in South Africa, particularly with the new Gender Equality Bill. There were several people in the meeting; but, when we were leaving, this manager asked me to stay. Once we were alone together, he had this to say to me:
‘I am sick of hearing all this talk of equality. A woman’s place is to lie beside my bed on the floor. When I need her to pleasure me, I poke her with my knobkerrie and then she joins me in my bed. When I have finished with her, she must get back down to her bed on the floor, because that is her place. I get so angry when I come to work and I find these women who say that they are now managers and I must do what they say. I look at them and I think that they don’t understand their place – which is next to me, on the floor’.
When we consider that these points of view still exist, it’s hard to reconcile them with the Bahá’í teachings that state: “As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs.” (Abdu’l Bahá – Paris Talks)
How will men benefit from gender equality?
An obvious question would be – why would certain men give up their dominance when their lives are made so easy by treating their women as their servants and objects? Further, in relation to the quotation above, by continuing their existing behaviours and control over women, how will men be held back from achieving greatness?
It seems that the answer comes in the following quotation from the Bahá’í Writings, as Bahá’u’lláh teaches that the divine purpose of creation is the achievement of unity among all peoples:
“Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.” (Bahá’u’lláh – The Hidden Words)
In other words, when men dominate women and reduce them to an inferior level in order to exalt themselves over half of their own human race, they literally cut themselves off from spiritual maturity, and deny themselves their true destiny and greatness. It is particularly ironic in this country (South Africa), where the majority of men have been subjected to unfair discrimination and have often been treated inhumanely, that any of these men should continue to hand out similar treatment to fellow citizens who simply happen to be of the female gender.
It is clear, then, that men have an inescapable duty to promote the equality of women.
The presumption of superiority by men inhibits the ambition of women and holds back the creation of an environment in which equality may exist. The destructive effects of inequality prevent men from maturing and developing the qualities necessary to meet the challenges of this new millennium. It is essential that men engage in a careful, deliberate examination of attitudes, feelings, and behaviors, deeply rooted in cultural habit, that block the equal participation of women and stifle the growth of men. The willingness of men to take responsibility for equality will create an optimum environment for progress: “When men own the equality of women there will be no need for them to struggle for their rights!” (Abdu’l Bahá – Paris Talks)