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Posts tagged ‘equality’

Love and Feminism

imagesUntil I read Bell Hooks books on feminism and love – Communion: The female search for love and All About Love – I would have sworn that I supported women (and men’s) liberation in every aspect of my life. But after the first few chapters I became painfully aware of the fact that I haven’t applied the same understanding and equality I try to faithfully practice at work, with friends, raising children and doing household chores to my intimate romantic life.

In Communion, Ms. Hooks says, “Some men cared enough to consent to feminist thinking and to change, but only a very, very few loved us – loved us all the way. And that meant respecting our sexual rights.”

I always think of my partners pleasure and satisfaction during sex and am turned on by her joy as much or more than my own sensations, but I also see how I have used coercion, control, emotional distancing and blame in the past to get what I wanted. I continually gave her the message (unconsciously and nonverbal) that she was never “good enough”. I always wanted her to be more sexual more often with greater variety and be different than she was or is, in order to fulfill my desires, perceived needs and fantasies. The underlying implications were “if you don’t change or be more like I want you to be, I’ll have to leave and find someone else.” It created a sense of fear and rejection.

Seeing this reality shattered my self-image of always being a loving, caring man and helped me acknowledge how often I and the continually reinforced messages from society, have caused such intense and long lasting loneliness for those women seeking loving, shared partnerships with men. Hooks states, “Feminist silence about love reflects a collective sorrow about our powerlessness to free all men from the hold patriarchy has on their minds and hearts. Our heartache came from facing the reality that if men were not willing to holistically embrace feminist revolution, then they would not be in an emotional place where they could offer us love.”

I began to realize that it is love and connection that I desire most, not sex. I no longer need sex to reassure me that I am loved or wanted. In the past, having someone desire and want me sexually meant that they loved me. If they didn’t have sex as often as I wanted I reacted out of fear and sadness believing it meant they didn’t love me completely. Out of this sadness I would react with frustration and anger by trying to get them to “prove” their love for me with sex or by emotionally distancing myself and not talking in order to “protect” myself from having expectations or “being hurt”.

These reactions and I believe that of most men, are not realities I have totally ignored, but until reading hooks words I hadn’t really taken them to heart and honestly confronted my own patriarchal fears and thinking in the matter of love and relationships. It felt like Bell had me in her sights when she said, “Feminist women stopped talking about love because we found that love was harder to get than power. Men, and patriarchal females, were more willing to give us jobs, power, or money than they were to give us love. Women who learn to love represent the greatest threat to the patriarchal status quo.”

While reading Communion some kind of switch went on in my head. At first it opened the floodgates of grief over my part in perpetuating such alienation and pain. Then a kind of peace engulfed me – a new found love and acceptance of myself and my partner. I am less stressed and anxious about the future and don’t try to make people be different than who they are. Is it any surprise that my partner has also experienced more peace with herself and in bed? She no longer has to worry or wonder if she will ever “be enough” or meet my suffocating patriarchal images of how she “should” be.

As I learn to love, without depending on her to fulfill or “make” that love, she to is finding that our mutual appreciation and respect for what is present, rather than what is absent, has deepened every aspect of our lives. Neither of us need the other person’s “approval” to love or be loved.

Ms. Hooks insightfully reminds her readers that, “Knowing that both women and men are socialized to accept patriarchal thinking should make it clear to everyone that men are not the problem. The problem is patriarchy.” The problem is our refusal to acknowledge our own behavior in the most intimate moments of our lives and the fear of real connection and closeness that keeps us perpetuating the myths and lies about the minor differences of genes, gender and genetics.

Women’s Day in Rwanda

From ROP Stories

ROP Celebrates International Women’s Day
by Sean Jones
13 March, 2012

To be honest I don’t recall having ever heard of International Women’s Day before I came to Rwanda. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve just been oblivious all these years or if it’s because it’s just not a major holiday in the States. My guess is the latter, but only because America is a country where women for the most part have the equality and respect they deserve. In Rwanda, however, as in so many other developing countries around the world, women are still treated as second class citizens, sometimes by law, sometimes by their society, but usually by both.

The Rwandan government is quite progressive when it comes to women’s rights as far as African countries go. Famously the Rwandan Parliament has the highest ratio of women to men in the entire world, Western nations included. There are numerous laws on the books giving females equal rights to education, employment and even land ownership. As a Westerner it’s easy to be unimpressed, but in most of Africa girls are still not guaranteed access to school and land and property inheritance for women is almost unheard of. Imagine being a wife and mother in Africa and your husband dies. If you have no sons everything your family owns get passed to the nearest male relative. It could be his brother or distant cousin you don’t even know. Whoever he ended up being he wouldn’t have to (and most likely would not) share any of it with you and you would have no legal recourse. This is how it is in many regions of Africa and it used to be this way in Rwanda as well until relatively recently.

Anyway, back to Women’s Day. It sort of sneaked up on us but we decided to have a little celebration after school had finished. As many of you know we do not have any girls living with us at the ROP but we do allow about 30 girls from local poor families to attend our school free of charge. When we first opened our school to these young ladies we had some issues early on with our boys, and outside boys, giving them a hard time. But through several workshops and group chats conducted by our social workers on gender equality and respect for women we have been able to change our boys’ attitudes towards girls and bring most of the problems to an end.

After school everyone made their way into our dining hall – the girls on one side and the boys on the other. It seemed a little strange at first and I considered having them mix together, but in the end it worked out better because we could address the boys as a group and then the girls as a group. Sandrine, our head teacher, spoke to the children first, followed by Elisabeth, our head social worker. Then Jenny spoke to the children, explaining that a man is not more valuable simply by virtue of being male; that we all have strengths and weaknesses and that we should respect each other based on our skills, talents and accomplishments rather than on our sex. My turn came next and I asked our boys to consider a world without women and all the beauty, love and sensibility they bring to the world. I added that a world composed only of men would not be a very pleasant place and probably wouldn’t last very long.

After the speeches we had a short Q&A session with the children and then we wrapped up ceremony. I wasn’t really sure what our boys would take from our words but I think now that they did have an impact. Although Rwanda has many laws proclaiming the equality of women, the fact is that gender bias remains strong in Rwandan society, particularly in the country’s poor rural areas, where most of our children have come from. As I told the children on Women’s Day, it’s most likely too late to change the attitudes of adults in the country, but change comes from the youth, and they all – both boys and girls – have an opportunity to be vehicles for change in Rwanda, and perhaps Africa as a whole.

See more photos at ROP Stories.

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