I was privileged to grow up in a home with a father and mother who have a strong, loving relationship. Throughout my life I have witnessed my parents’ commitment to walking though life’s ups and downs together with respect and honor. They have been married for over 50 years and still act like young lovers, even today.
So when I met Jennifer I felt intensely privileged that she would trust herself to me as her lifelong partner. I consider her a treasure of great value– one which I have never earned nor deserve, but is mine as long as she continues to endure the challenges of life with a flawed mate.
It didn’t take long for me to begin noticing that not everyone shared the view of relationship and commitment I had grown up with. I heard language like, “the old ball and chain” used in reference to wives. Many of my male friends seemed to see marriage and commitment to one woman as the end of life as we know it.
I, as most of my male friends, wasn’t particularly aware of the plight of women around the world. I had a vague sense that equality and woman’s rights had been achieved. I knew that great strides had been taken in the U.S. Then I produced a fundraising video for a women and children’s shelter for homeless and abused women. I discovered that domestic violence against women is still a significant problem. Women are so often sexually abused and taken advantage of because they don’t have the physical strength or the personal empowerment to resist the violence and domination of the men in their lives, whether fathers, relatives, husbands or boyfriends. And the rise in single parenthood over the last couple of decades seems to symbolize an increasing epidemic of men abandoning their responsibility to their mates and the children they have fathered.
As I began to travel and experience other cultures, I realized an even greater gap between my personal experience and reality. Many cultures in Africa consider men with multiple wives as normal. It seemed that in almost every village I visited, the heat of the day found men sitting in the shade while the women worked the fields. The more I traveled, the worse the plight of women appeared. It seemed half the world did not allow women to vote or own property. And many nations, like India, who provide legal rights for women in their constitution fail to enforce those rights in the face of a prevailing patriarchal culture which believes women are inferior and subordinate to men.
Over the years, what I would have expected to be a trend towards increasing rights and protections for women throughout the world has seemed to go quite the opposite direction. Sexual exploitation and trafficking of women is at an all-time high. Systematic rape has become a new weapon of terror in times of war. There are 2 to 3 million cases of female genital mutilation every year.
The past couple of years spent producing It’s a Girl and witnessing first-hand the scope of gender violence in the world has left me shaking my head. I wonder how societies moving towards greater economic prosperity and social complexity can be moving the opposite direction on women’s issues. I think often about the underlying forces at work behind cultural mindsets or traditional practices that require the victimization of an innocent human being in order to preserve or protect the status quo. How does change come when such beliefs are so deeply engrained in the social fabric of a nation? How does one contribute in a positive, productive manner to the process of culture shift on such an overwhelming scale?
I know for me, it starts in my own home– loving and valuing my own wife and children; raising my daughter to know her incredible potential as a woman who can change the world; raising my son to honor and respect women and carry on the values I was taught; standing behind my wife as she becomes a world-changer in her own right. It doesn’t seem like enough, considering the scope of the problem, but it’s a good start.
Why do you think men should care about the plight of women in the world today?