It is well-documented by minds greater than mine how inequalities along gender lines are, on the whole, harmful to women. Though those same inequalities, broadly called “misogyny,” unfairly advantage men in many ways across different spheres, few would argue that they harm men at all. I disagree, however, and would claim the opposite; in addition to the harm it causes women, misogyny hurts men by supporting society’s conception of masculinity, and the best antidote is robust egalitarianism.
Let me be abundantly clear: I am not attacking nor denigrating men or masculinity — it would be the height of irony to attack myself, a man — but rather challenging men to reach a higher standard of masculinity. Such a standard should establish strength and soundness of character, healthy and vibrant emotionality, dignity for all, and an understanding that the correct use of power is to empower and be empowered by those around oneself, not to dominate them. I also make no attempt to be all-encompassing with this opinion, as the subject is too wide for me to touch every aspect of it.
It is critical to understand that misogyny, like racism, or any other kind of discrimination, is a learned thing. Children are deceptively perceptive beings, absorbing every bit of knowledge their minds and senses can access, well before they have a framework by which to sort and critically process. It stands to reason that, as young children grow up, they will absorb the customs of their surroundings, be it through family, peers or other social groups. It’s how they come to understand culturally appropriate behavior. Unfortunately, it is also how they learn discriminationatory habits, like misogyny. There is even an entire theology of sin based on a similar theory, but, I digress.
I wish I could say the church is exempt from teaching misogyny to children, but it pains me greatly to say that the opposite is true. In my own experience, many of the misogynistic ideas I learned were incubated by twistings and misunderstandings of scripture mixed with culturally hierarchical ideas. I remember seeing several of my female friends subjected to norms that discouraged female leadership alongside legalistic dress codes meant to keep boys from “stumbling.” While the detrimental effects on girls are well documented, few even consider that such behaviour actually neglects boys. Such measures presuppose that boys will “stumble,” and that only responsive measures can be taken, but what if boys could be taught resilience from the beginning, to keep themselves from stumbling and to maintain hardiness of mind? Instead, boys are left mentally weak and undisciplined from a young age, forced either to learn on their own or they never grow in this area. Weakness and stunted growth in impulse control leads to character shortcomings across the board, crippling a male’s ability to respect and treat himself and others, both women and men, with dignity and equality. This is one of a myriad of examples that could, unfortunately, surface.
The issue is that, before they can decide for themselves on the matter, boys are heavily influenced by these harmful ideas. However, as they grow up, men gain the opportunity to reclaim their masculinity as God intended, aimed towards a much healthier and more powerful iteration. The greatest opportunity lies where the church seems to fail. Jesus himself, as the archetype of perfect humanity, is also the archetype of perfect masculinity, one that enshrines the dignity of each individual, respects each person, and most importantly, empowers everyone, for it is the duty of those with power to uplift all those around them. In story after story, Jesus empowered the disenfranchised by healing ostracized lepers, befriending criminals, and allowing women into his ministry, all while constantly defending and uplifting them contrary to a decidedly patriarchal first-century Middle Eastern context. This is an egalitarianism based on empowerment, not oppression, and is the example to which all humans should aspire.
This is not out of reach. By reclaiming self-discipline, men gain more agency, and thus the power to uplift and to live rightly. With power, the need for weakness characterized by petty competition falls away and a mutually empowering environment emerges, based on principles of mutual respect and dignity. Though this process must begin on the individual level, it will inevitably spill out into the surrounding community, for the community’s own edification. Imagine a society where people outdo each other in lifting each other up, sharing an abundance of mutual power and agency for each other’s benefit. Now stop imagining, and start making this happen, for doing so is bringing the City of God.