Saturday, April 2, 2011

Men Around the Top of the Hill

[update:  somehow I thought I'd linked to this post asking "what are we going to do?"; now I have.]

I'm a man. But I don't know whether to be amused or disgusted every month when men who identify themselves as Bible bloggers play King of the Hill. And women are not included in their game, at least not in equal numbers. This is a small thing, I know. It's just blogging and just only about "the Bible." And yet, to me, anyways, it's indicative of some very big things.

Thanks again to Kristen for coming over here to this blog, for reading, and for writing these sorts of questions:
Why are there ... no classes for men on how to recognize attitudes and trends within themselves, their friends, and society in general, which leave a back door open for rape to happen?
I'm a man, and as I blog and blog with men and women too, I'm wondering how we were trained. Blogging about the Bible hasn't seemed to help the sexism for many. There's no need to name names. There's really no time for that. My wife just gave me Mary Pipher's Surviving Ophelia, and I just finished reading it. Read very closely the chapter, "Fathers." Now want to quote a few paragraphs or sentences or words from her final chapter, "A Fence at the Top of the Hill." Let this be a kindergarten class for us men, who blog, and who spout out stuff about the bible, so we can rise, at the expense of, or at the very most, to the neglect of, women around us.

In Pipher's final chapter, she opens up with a real-life scene of her being in a room at a YWCA with teenage girls watching a film on date rate. "This film doesn't hold my attention," the author confesses. And she explains: "I'm gray-haired, I have been married for twenty years and unlikely to go on another date." But she stays and watches and listens and talks. This blogpost may not hold your attention. But, for one reason or another, why not stay just a little while longer? Pipher says:
There is something eerie about teaching our daughters how to fight off rapists and kidnappers. We need classes that teach men not to rape and hurt women. We need workshops that teach men what some of them don't learn: how to be gentle and loving.
Now she's saying many things more to women, about adolescent girls, for parents of young and older children who are females. But here in this chapter, she does mention us men, a bit more:
Schools could offer clear sexual and physical harassment policies that protect students and establish norms for conduct toward the opposite sex. They could offer guidelines for appropriate sexual behavior and teach how to say no. This work with young teens might help prevent the "gang bangs" and the date rapes of the high school years.

"Manhood" needs to be redefined in a way that allows women equality and men pride. Our culture desperately needs new ways to teach boys to be men. Via the media and advertising, we are teaching our sons all the wrong lessons. Boys need a model of manhood that is caring and bold, adventurous and gentle. They need ways to be men that don't involve violence, misogyny, and the objectification of women. Instead of promoting violence as a means of solving human problems, we must strengthen our taboos against violence. Some Native American cultures have no words in their language for hurting other humans. What do those cultures think of us?
As she begins to end her chapter, Pipher credits a man for bringing a poem to her attention, the poem that is the parable forming her title for the closing chapter of her book. And here also she has an additional allusion to the title of the book itself. But there are things for us men to hear, to hear for change, change of ourselves. She says:
My grandfather liked a poem about a town that had people falling off its cliffs. The city elders met to debate whether to build a fence at the top of the cliffs or put an ambulance down in the valley. The poem summarizes the essential differences between treatment and prevention of social problems. My work as a therapist is ambulance work, and after years of ambulance driving, I'm aware of the limits of the treatment approach to major social problems. In addition to treating the casualities of our cultural messages, we need to work for cultural change.

I believe, as Miller, Mead and de Beauvoir believed, that pathology comes from failure to realize one's possibilities. Ophelia died because she could not grow. She became the object of others' lives and lost her true subjective self. Many of the girls I describe in this book suffer from a thwarting of their development, a truncating of their potential. As my client said--they are perfectly good carrots being cut into roses.

....Let's work for a culture in which there is a place for every human gift, in which children are safe and protected, women are respected and men and women can love each other as whole human beings. Let's work for a culture in which the incisive intellect, the willing hand and the happy heart are beloved. Then our daughters will have a place where all their talents will be appreciated, and they can flourish like green trees under the sun and the stars.
Men around the top of the hill may actually be ones who have caused others to plumet to the bottom. Yep. Let me say it again, I know, it's just blogging, and it's only blogging around the Bible. We don't need to change a thing, really, because that's all it is and needs to be. Get serious, have a sense of humor, and get a life or another bible blog, but don't rock the boat because it's all fun, all games, all well intentioned, and so forth, and so on. It's not real life. Blogging and bible don't really hold my attention anyway. And it's hurting no body. Or is it?
There is something eerie about teaching women (bloggers) how to slough off the way men Bible bloggers treat them. We need classes that teach men not to disparage or ignore the many contributions of women. We need workshops that teach men what some of them don't learn: how to be gentle and loving.


Kristen said...

Thank you, Mr. Gayle. I know that there are certain blogs where if I post, I post with a username that does not identify me as female. When certain bloggers know I'm female, the way they relate to me changes. I don't mind it when they speak a little more gently, with a little more awareness that I have feelings. But there are many times when what I have to say becomes less important, more easily dismissed, because I'm a woman. On a blog like this one, there is no need to hide the fact that I'm female. I appreciate that.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you, Kristen. I'm glad you are using your name, because you can, at blogs like this one. It's too bad but understandable that you use a not-female username at certain other blogs where being identified as a woman changes how you are treated. Believe me, I understand. Many have thought that J. K. Gayle (which is my name) is a woman, and treat her differently than when they understand later that this blogger (me) is a man (a Mr. Gayle). Would you feel free to call me by my given nickname, Kurk? It's what all my friends call me. (I do understand, and respect very much, the use of pennames and pseudonyms, especially for blogging. The need for privacy, for protection of agency when readers are sexist or racist or classist can be very important. The objectivising that many do can be subtle or blatant, but always, in my view and expericences, just horrible.)

Kristen said...

I'm pleased and honored to be counted among your friends who call you Kurk.

Katherine said...

It all seems to come back to listening, doesn't it? Or just paying attention in a broader sense. I mean, the way some dismiss things by saying it's "just" blogging, or it's "just" the Bible, or it's "just" women's issues is another way to say "this isn't important, so I don't have to bother listening".

I actually don't comment on many blogs, especially many biblioblogs, so I can't say much to that. But this post made me remember two different stories. One was one of the men who taught regularly in my youth group who was very much into stories and how important and meaningful they can be, which made it great to discuss movies and books and such with him. My sister and I asked him about a movie that had come out that we had all seen, and he said he was bored and didn't find it meaningful because all the main characters were women, so he couldn't relate. I also remembered a review he wrote of a book online where he expressed surprise at enjoying a "chick lit" book because even though it was all about women he found it interesting and actually cared about what happened. I also recently saw a discussion on one of my college acquaintance's facebook page where he talked about how much he liked the TV show "Angel". When someone asked him if he ever watched "Buffy" (which came before it and from which the latter is derived), he said he didn't "need" to bother because it was all about girl empowerment.

Like blogging, I suppose all of these are trivial, but I hear the message over and over that they don't need to listen to anything remotely about women, since it doesn't concern them. But, if they don't ever listen, how are they ever going to hear us saying "Please stop, you're hurting us"?

J. K. Gayle said...

>Kristen, Thank you.

Thanks for commenting, for sharing so candidly your two personal stories. Your conclusion, "I suppose all of these are trivial, but...," is powerful, and your question here is quite a challenge. Listening isn't trivial and is so very necessary.

Nathan Stitt said...

I enjoyed your post and was intrigued about the poem that was referenced. I looked it up and found it:

The Fence or The Ambulance
by Joseph Malines

Truly an excellent poem. Also, I somehow deleted your blog from my feed reader and only added it back just now when someone linked to this post. Looking forward to reading you again. ~ Nate

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for reading here, Nate! Thanks even more for sharing with us the fruits of your research on the poem. (You helped me find it here.)