“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men”—Joseph Conrad
In the last week, there was widespread anger over the banned BBC documentary India’s Daughter, a man was killed by a mob for allegedly raping a woman and we celebrated International Women’s Day.
I have found it deeply disturbing and difficult to find something to say, though not for lack of trying.
I think it’s difficult for men to write about women because we’re so much a part of the problem. To ask a man to rethink his view of women is like asking a pig in a ditch whether he feels like he needs a bath. We don’t even realise there is a problem.
I grew up with a childish aversion to women, inspired by my comic book idol Jughead, until I turned into a teenager and the aversion turned to infatuation, inspired by the witty and charming men in romantic comedies.
But I had none of the wit and far less of the charm I needed to be the smooth operator I wanted to be. Perhaps that is a good thing.
I nurtured a natural sense of humour which was sharp, cutting and sarcastic. It was the sort of humour that lesser minds turn to when they want to appear intelligent.
I was an excellent body-shaming, objectifier of women and a young Christian leader at the same time.
If anyone was trying to tell me things I should not to say to a woman, I wasn’t listening very well. More than a few women have told me I have scarred them for life with my careless comments and insensitive humour.
I look back now and see a very restless young person trying to be funny because he thought it would make him popular. In some ways, it worked. Perhaps that is not a good thing.
When I grew older, I was acutely aware of my natural ability to offend and insult but completely powerless to change. It became a part of my reputation—what was expected of me and what I eagerly sought to satisfy.
An obscure verse in the Bible kept reminding me that God appreciated a sense of humour but He was not amused by coarse, insensitive joking.
When I started writing regularly, I started reading regularly and I began asking questions that never bothered me before. One of them had to do with how God felt about women.
I wrote a few scattered pieces about India’s Daughter, the shocking rape of a five-year old, a teenager molested by a mob, the growing slavery to pornography among men in India and the sharply counter-cultural view of women I found in the Bible.
But they felt heavy-headed, moralistic and sometimes I think they reek of pseudo-intellectualism. Perhaps that is a writer thing.
What I discovered was a mirror that told me I was less than a man of God until I appreciated the worth of a woman.
He made us equal and He made us with love.
It’s tempting to write an angry letter with scattered facts about violence against women, gender inequality in culture and disguised patriarchy in the church—calling for a new kind of people under a new kind of King in a new kind of kingdom. But the mirror makes it difficult to blame someone else.
It’s tempting to write a socio-theological reflection on the consequences of human freedom, the haunting spectre of an evil adversary and the biblical certainty that God will triumph over evil. But it seems so untimely and inappropriate to pontificate about the condition of women, without sharing God’s burden for the state of His prized creation.
I won’t pretend to know how to change the country but I know what God has given me to change my mind. Perhaps that is an important thing.
The obscure verse about coarse joking has a powerful antidote to obscenity, foolish talk and insensitive humour—a habit of thanksgiving.
A thankless man is more likely to be harsh and insensitive to women than a thankful one.
I was restless until I ran into the person of Jesus. He naturally subverted everything I once thought it meant to be a man.
In a culture of invulnerability, He entered into our shame to rescue us from it. In a system of oppression, He offered His body to suffering so we can be given a new one. In an age of retribution, He endured the anger of violent men so we can be turned into thankful men.
I am a recovering patriarch—learning to see women the way God made them, unlearning the habits that make me take them for granted.
I am assisted by a loving and patient wife, who knows me more than all and loves me liberally still.
While the problems that plague India’s view of women seem overwhelming for a mediocre writer to overcome, I trust what God is doing in the country will lead us into the just society we all want to live in.
Meanwhile, I am learning that my own journey to a renewed mind with respect for women, begins with being grateful for them, to the One who made them.
Perhaps that is the first thing.
Image Credit: Jonathan McIntosh