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Men using Women to Shame Men

This was the week that a Journalist swore at a politician. Barry Bateman reacted to the vitriol of Julius Malema – and called him a poes (Afrikaans for a pussy). And all hell broke loose.   As I read the various articles and listened to the anger expressed at this action, this one thing stood out: while everyone acknowledged this to be an insult, and all sides knew that insulting Mr Malema was political dynamite, nobody has a problem with men using the body parts of women to convey the insult. The fact is, we live in a society that does this regularly. Somehow the body parts of a woman are a more powerful insult than those of a man.

Let me illustrate: I can call you a dick, and we all laugh together. But if I call you a cunt then you are insulted. This is not just limited to colourful epithets. We use girls to insult and to shame men in other areas of our common life too. I am reminded of a moment as a boy in a school classroom, where my teacher said to me “You are a twit – without the ‘w’”. The class of boys laughed – and I felt shame. My shame was at being compared to a woman’s breast.  

We men shame one another by suggesting that we are like women.  I have heard men put other males down with words like: “you smell like a woman” in reference to a cologne; or “you run like a girl” in an attempt to make someone run faster; or a father saying to his son “don’t cry like a little girl” in seeking to silence his tearful son.

Our culture allows us to use women as an insult, and in so doing we do not nurture healthy images of women. We use feminine images to shame each other as men – and then we wonder why the men of our society lash out at the women around us.

I want to offer a well-known Biblical text as a corrective:

Proverbs 31:25 “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future”.

There are two parts to this text:

She is clothed with strength and dignity: we men do not have to give dignity to women – they already have this as God’s gift. Genesis tells us that women are made in the image of God. They have the strength and dignity of God within them. It is us men who are blind to this. Every time we use feminine images to insult each other, we are insulting the one who made them. Men need to open our eyes and see the God-given dignity of women. I challenge us to refuse:

  • Refuse to use those female bits as insulting epithets.
  • Refuse to use female attributes to shame another man.

She laughs without fear of the future: this one is up to us as men. Women are afraid to walk down the road alone. Women are afraid to catch a taxi if it is empty. Women hate coming home to an empty house alone. It is up to us to build a world where women can feel safe and respected. Here are three suggestions:

  • Teach your sons to respect women. The fact is that a son learns respect from the way his father treat his mother.
  • Reign in your friends. Do not allow conversation in your presence that denigrates women.
  • Create safe space for women. For example many of us conform at work because of the disciplinary codes, but then we men tell those awful sexist jokes in the sports locker room! Choose to be the kind of man who has a reputation for safe space for women at all times.

While it is true that some men have suffered some kind of abuse, the fact is that every woman has been the victim of some kind of abuse – every single woman. I challenge you to speak to your wife / sister / daughter and ask them what it is like to walk past a building site full of men. Put differently, men do not walk past a building site and suffer the indignity of wolf-whistles!

I close with a story of someone I consider to be a man’s man:  

Luke 13:10  Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11  And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your disability."13  And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.

Luke tells us that Jesus meets a broken woman. She is bent over, full of pain, and cursed by the way society viewed her body. And Jesus takes her hand and straightens her up. Surely this is our calling: to straighten the backs of women in our society? We must work for a society that makes space for women to walk tall. We can create a society where women can flourish:

Let us speak good words to each other. Give one another courage to be like Jesus, to straighten the backs of women.

[1] This blog is based on a talk given to the Bryanston Methodist Father’s Group 13 September 2019.

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“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)