“Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.”
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MANY of the roots of gender inequality and discrimination are ancient prejudices often prescribed and reinforced by censorious religious strictures, most especially today, driven by religious fundamentalism and toxic masculinity.
There is an analog between racial superiority and male superiority: feelings of insecurity redirected toward those who are made to feel inferior by those rigidly needing to retain power and control over others, whether minorities or women.
The Bahamas is one of the few countries in the world and in the region that has yet to outlaw marital rape and still has not granted certain women full constitutional equality to automatically pass on citizenship to certain children.
The two issues are inextricably linked, revealing structures and mindsets of prejudice by mostly men and some women, who still deem women inherently inferior. Moreover, they also reveal the cage of a certain masculinity in which many men are trapped.
Political leaders are afraid to change the law on marital rape for fear of political backlash.
While more Bahamians may support changing the law than some years ago, many Bahamians do not support the change. Thankfully, there are women’s groups and others who are campaigning for greater equality.
Some religious leaders are defiantly opposed to the change, while others, like the Rev. T. G. Morrison, have declared that rape is rape, and “should not be given special protection simply because it occurs in the privacy of a marital woman on bed.”
One religious leader, who appears uncomfortable with outlawing marital rape, noted that marriage is an institution ordained by God.
In a modern pluralistic society, marriage may be seen as a gift from God.
It is also a civic institution that evolved over millennia.
The reverend gentleman seems to believe that marriage is a static institution, failing to appreciate how it has evolved, including in Western civilization.
Further, many of our laws have roots in ancient Roman law and English common law.
Moreover, those who have a static understanding of marriage, based on the Hebrew Scriptures, might recall that polygamy was legal in ancient times. Should we revert to polygamy in 2022?
Earlier this year, Roman Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder offered a theology of marital love and complementarity rooted in a more enlightened Christian anthropology based on the radical dignity of the human person – male and female – made in the image and likeness of God.
The Archbishop stated:
“This relationship is one of complementarity, not ownership. No person can be the possession of another. Human dignity does not allow this. The legacy of slavery and its abolition has surely taught us this lesson.
“It is from this perspective that the Catholic Church in The Bahamas addresses the proposed legislation amending the Sexual Offences Act.
“When an individual is forced to engage in sexual activity against his or her will, the perpetrator does violence to the dignity and value of the human person created in the image and likeness of God.
“When forced sexual activity takes place within the context of marriage, the biblical understanding of marriage is distorted and the relationship between husband and wife is ruptured.
“Such sexual activity is not conjugal love and is rightly seen as a crime against the dignity of the human person.”
That this is so morally obvious stands in contrast to those clerics and others who must somehow believe that a man’s supposed right to dominate his wife supersedes what should be a covenant of love and mutual respect.
If a wife is lying sick in bed or is hospitalized, and does not want or feel able to engage in sex, does a husband have a right to force her to have sex? Suppose a wife has had a stroke or is in a coma or is immobilized. Should she be required to have sex?
The need and fevered desire by some men to control a wife is rooted in negative conceptions of masculinity. Authentic masculinity at its best includes virtues and traits such as: responsibility, strength, mutuality, equality, courage, genuine friendship, honesty, kindness, compassion and others.
Hegemonic masculinity, evidenced by many men who believe that a woman cannot be raped in a marriage, is primarily about male domination, privilege and authority over a woman, often resulting in violence and oppression.
This toxic and faux masculinity is embodied by men like Donald Trump, who lives in a psychological cage about what it means to be a man. Many men, including some here at home, are attracted to Trump’s domineering, bullying, angry male persona.
Trump’s bellicose and seething attacks on Barack Obama are about race and the latter’s authentic masculinity.
Trump’s primitive and hegemonic masculinity is reminiscent of when some men in the 1980s used to hold their genitals in public as if they were about to drop off or were somehow at risk of dismemberment.
The recent forum on marital rape and the killing of a woman in Iran, who wore her hijab loosely in public, showcase similar misogynistic attitudes. On September 16, 22-year-old Masha Amini was accused by Iran’s morality police of publicly violating a dress code.
There are strict rules in the Islamic Republic “on dress, behaviour and mixing between the sexes in public”. The dress and other freedoms of women are strictly curtailed.
She was arrested and allegedly brutally beaten while in police custody.
State officials allege she died of heart failure, after falling in the police station and two days in a coma. Her family believes this is a fabrication to cover up the cause of her death.
Iran has erupted in anger in many cities since her death, with at least 75 people killed and counting in protests across the country in defiance of the Islamic Republic’s ruing Muslim clerics.
Iran is being run by mostly archconservative, old, doctrinaire men who maintain their kleptocratic cum theocratic regime through repression and brutality. The economic blockade of Iran by the U.S. has played a major part in Iran’s myriad problems.
But, the corruption, incompetence, theological rigidity in the interpretation of Islamic law and tradition, and unwillingness to reform by the ruling elite, enrages many Iranians, especially younger generations, who desperately want to see the backs of the literally old guard, who are mostly at fault for the dire state of the country.
A recent Economist article reported:
“Amini’s death has become a rallying cry, sparking protests across dozens of cities and towns, including the capital Tehran. Women have taken to the streets, brazenly removing their required head coverings and burning them as others record the protests on cell phones.”
Iran, the ancient Persian civilization, is historically a cosmopolitan nation with a storied history and brilliant accomplishments in the sciences, the arts and literature and other fields. The country is being shackled by religious fundamentalism.
A new generation of women is rebelling against the structures of oppression, including unequal treatment of women. One woman protesting the killing of Amini asked a question that may be global in nature: Are men so weak and unable to control themselves that women have to cover up their body and hair to avoid attacks?
The Economist also noted: “In 2002, 15 Saudi girls were burned to death at their school, after morality police prevented them from escaping a fire because they were not wearing abayas, loose robes worn for modesty.”
Misogyny and gender inequality are typically based on how many men feel in relationship to a woman, placing their machismo – aggressive masculine pride – and power needs and desire for control above the dignity of a fellow human being who happens to be female.
Strong men secure in their masculinity do not require such domination and control, which is the preserve of men less secure about themselves, desperately needing to appease their feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, often through bluster, belligerence and bellicosity.
In many cultures, a woman is still primarily judged by many men and women by how she looks, while a man is often judged as being a “true man” by how aggressive he is, no matter what may be his other unappealing traits.
If more men were to break free of their small hard cages of toxicity, they may liberate themselves and other such men, while also helping to free more women from the cages of inequality, prejudice and discrimination.