Viewpoint: the roles of men and women

In today’s viewpoint, I will be looking at the changing roles of both men and women in our society and some of the implications of these changes.

It is said that it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Sad and destructive as were the two world wars, they also served to catapult women into the workplace, from which they simply never looked back, and this perhaps more than any other factor, gave a tremendous boost to the growing women’s liberation movement of the day. This serves to remind us by implication that God works in a mysterious way His wonders to perform – noting that equal rights for men and women were in fact decreed as an essential principle in this age by the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith in the 18th century.

The divine decree is all powerful, and it is not surprising therefore that progress has been relatively rapid and we are all aware of the ongoing efforts being made to assure women of their rights. The need for equal access to education, accompanied by equality of opportunity and pay in relation to employment are issues being vigorously addressed. At the same time however, the needs of the home and family continue to need to be met. Just as industrial and electronic developments have in many ways changed the skills and qualities needed for the workplace, so potentially have technological innovations made home and child care a task more easily and simply accomplished than in years gone by and accordingly more readily redistributed.

One implication of this changing landscape seems to be the uncertainty of the role now assigned to the male in the society. It is truly encouraging to see young men, perhaps not a lot, but a few taking the infants for that all important clinic visit or young dads with infants carefully strapped to their persons, bent on some mission or another.

However, overall, there is in my view, a need for greater attention to be paid to the re-education of the male as to where all this focus on women’s rights leaves him. Often, he seems to feel left out – pardon the pun. Many young men seem to be simply opting out of what is becoming a race towards education and training, especially if they cannot keep up, much less win this competition with their womenfolk. Figures for tertiary education in many cases support this view and it seems that there are increasingly greater numbers of young males idling around the street, many times posing nuisance value to young females bent on their own self development.

A thorough understanding by men of the nature of these changing roles would certainly do much to hasten the movement toward change and reduce the potential for a violent reaction which is many times only too close.

The nature of the change is described in the Bahá'í teachings this way –

“The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.”

One implication of such changes would be the development of gentler, kindlier, communities, and ultimately, a gentler, and kindlier world, where war would be something to be avoided at all costs rather than justified by any means.

An understanding of the purpose of life as one of service and the acquisition of virtues, in addition to the knowledge of God, would help point us all in the right direction, and even suggest that in fact far from being the inferior partner, woman has in fact been doing the most worthwhile jobs all along and must now share this privilege with her male counterpart.

The development of the women’s liberation movement has provided many challenges to the roles traditionally and culturally progressively assigned to woman. It is clear that these roles often have their roots (but not always their reality) in religious teachings and in any case were generally related to a particular time and place. Trying to translate some of these teachings in a modern society, results in many seeming conflicts, giving rise to attempts to ‘update’ religious positions. Take for example the controversy surrounding the ordination of women priests when in fact God’s teaching for today’s world is that there is no longer any need for priesthood.

What prevents us from embracing a religion that carries the potential for realizing the true equality of the sexes? Why do we pursue other options, e.g. cling tenaciously to traditional teachings while trying to promote changes which are at variance with them or worse yet, hold back or deny change on the grounds of these same teachings.

These are important questions that deserve careful consideration and just answers.