Maryann's Reflection

This film is the only film that the World Council of Churches  had commissioned.   The title is “What it takes to be a man.”  I was struck by the simplicity of the title, but also the depth of that question.  What does it mean to be a man in our context today?  As society is changing the clear definitions of man and woman are not present anymore (if they ever were).  At one point the man leading dialogue about masculinity points out that perhaps these men, who are abusers, do these things because they are trying to prove their masculinity because they cannot find a job and cannot be a man any other way. 

This explanation makes sense, but I found it almost an excuse.  Yet, the man who was the focus did not seem to be making excuses for his past actions, he was instead explaining why he had done the things he did, but was not trying to escape blame or punishment.  I found his honesty refreshing.  He admitted that he was not nice when he was younger.  He admitted that he had learned that men don’t listen to women; that men can beat up on women when they are angry or drunk.  He had learned these things and believed them.    His explanation for his actions, was just that - an explanation, not an excuse, not an attempt to win sorrow or pity, but a simple explanation. 

Every time I watch this film one of the phrases that strikes me is the moment where they say that 80% of South Africans attend Church and yet this country still struggles with violence against women.  The assumption is that “good” people go to Church and since “good” men don’t beat up their wives there is no reason that South Africa should still struggle with this issue.    The narrator asks why society does not reflect the “values” of the Church.  Perhaps this is the wrong question – perhaps society is reflecting the values of the Church.  How can we make the values of the Church clearly empowering of women?  If 80% of people go to Church then this could be a powerful forum in which to address the men who are perpetrators of this violence. 

The Church needs to make a stand on this issue because all people, both men and women are created in the image of God.  The message needs to be urgent and honest.  Being a Christian is not compatible with any form of violence.   If these were the values that every Christian lived out then the fact that 80% of South Africans are Christian would be relevant.

“What it takes to be a man?” is a question that the Church needs to answer, and needs to answer now.  If the Church remains silent on what makes a man then it is remaining complicit in all the violence that men who find that answer somewhere else eventually commit.   

About the Author

Maryann Philbrook is originally from Louisiana in the United States, but currently lives in Austin, TX.   She worked for the World Student Christian Federation in Geneva, Switzerland as the Communications Intern in 2009.   Maryann started blogging in 2003, but has really picked up the pace since she started working for WSCF in 2009, with her blog about her experiences in Geneva.  Maryann graduated in 2006 from Occidental College in Los Angeles, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Politics.  After graduating from University she was a Beatitudes Society Fellow,  an Episcopal Urban Intern and an English Language Assistant in France.  Aside from being passionate about the French language, Maryann’s heart goes out to reconciliation among different strands of Christianity so that a more just world can be created.  

Lucy's Reflection

What it takes to be a man

As the mother of a daughter and two sons, I have had much cause to reflect on gender over the past years. What is nature? What is nurture? Trying to discern what emerges from a child’s inherent personality and what is defined by their gender. Mothers of four and five year old boys are often shocked to discover  the havoc which comes when a small body starts manufacturing testosterone for the first time – there can be big changes in behaviour and yet we still recognise our little ones, with their unique attributes. During pregnancy, we were never bothered to find out the sex of the baby – whoever arrived would be a welcome blessing. But, of course, it is the first question anyone asks new parents – is it a boy or a girl?  Gender is both irrelevant and at the centre of identity.

As a student, my feminism was once ardent and hardline. As the mother of boys, older and wiser, I recognise that life is not so simple. Women suffer at the hands of men, but the men themselves are often acting out of their own suffering. My daughter will one day be physically weaker than her younger brothers, but she will always be the eldest, with the power to wound in words. Wives can goad husbands, parents can humiliate children. Family life is not straightforward and patterns repeat themselves across the generations, for better and for worse. The songs I sing at bedtime, the food I prepare, the way I express anger are all indelibly shaped by my own experiences as a child. There is contradiction and suffering close to the surface in most families. Bongani – the guy in the film – is a favourite uncle to his sisters’ kids but it is not clear if he is allowed to see his own children. He beat up his wife but was ‘devastated’ and suicidal when she left. He recalls his childhood in a ‘good family’ but he experienced repeated violence at the hands of his alcoholic father.

Countries, like families, are contradictory. Out of the cruelty and humiliations of the apartheid regime came, miraculously, the ‘Rainbow Nation’ led by Nelson Mandela, condemned for years as a terrorist, now acclaimed worldwide as a peacemaker. The Rainbow Nation, with its inclusive constitution and democratic values, has come so far and yet casual, endemic violence, sexual and physical, blights the lives of many. 

Learning to live together in our diversity, peacefully and respectfully, is a life long challenge – for nations and for families. The task is impossible if we do not make space for repentance and forgiveness – for people like Bongani to try again, to try and break the patterns of the generations. This is not trite and simple – it is costly and painful and there will be self-deceit and relapses which destroy budding trust. This is the Church’s challenge – in South Africa and worldwide: - To follow the practical example of Jesus, who listened to women, who could assert his truth without violence, whose response to all who fall short is an honest gaze and the invitation to start afresh. For Jesus, there is no ‘lost generation’ - we can all be made new.

About the Author

Lucy D’Aeth is an English born New Zealander who has been living in Switzerland for two years. Most of her time at present is taken up being mother to three young children (11,9 and 5), but in previous lives she has studied history and theology and has worked for churches and in Public Health.  She is active in her local Lutheran Church and is daily challenged and enriched by living in such a multicultural community.

Fulata's Reflection

I am a mother of three sons raised without their father, Solomon, since 1999 April 22 when he died from liver cancer. One eulogy my sons like singing (sometimes I wonder whether it is not so as to butter me up so that I do something for them) is that I am the best mother that any son can wish for. Although sometimes I do not know what they mean, I still tend to enjoy hearing it.  They seem to appreciate my emphasis on the need for making connections and being able to express our love for each other, and respect of their individuality.  I have discovered that the fact that I am their mother, and not their father, means that not every effort I have in living a life of integrity (where I try to match the principles that I instill in them with my life) meets their best effort at imitating me. Actually it seems that sometimes they feel that in the process of becoming men, they better enhance their understanding of masculinity by being contrary to what I am trying to model for them with my life. Sometimes I hear them make comments like: “Mum, you are a very great mum but you are a mum not a dad and therefore if we live exactly as you are trying to ‘make’ us, we would never fit in as real men in the world out there!”  My experience has often led me to ask the questions: What really makes a man?  Who is a real man?

Bongani’s story ties together these questions: What makes a man?  Who is a real man? Being raised in apartheid South Africa, modeling his life after his abusive and drunkard father who, it seems, considered women as inferior to men, Bongani unfortunately became a replica-product of his violent society. The abusive socio-political system, violent peer socialization and existing accepted gender disparities made him into a violent abusive male chauvinist. Since masculinity is a social construct, when his abusiveness ended in a crisis in which his wife left him, Bongani was able to embark on a process of deconstruction. In this video, his journey of mending into positive masculinity for partnership is still going on.

As Bongani shares his story, I ache to hear the testimony of the women in his life. Is he really becoming what he is claiming? I keep on wanting to know.  I miss the voice of the women in his life. I miss the voice of his nieces and nephews. I miss the connection between his departed abused wife and his girlfriend. Yet, as I watch the video, my hope keeps on being renewed: together, with men who are in the process of becoming gender equitable, we can make the difference. Probably my sons, who miss the role model of positive masculinity which certainly was in their father, can find a ‘substitute’ for positive masculinity in churches. Probably such men should also be challenged to deliberately take part in Sunday school teaching and active participation in youth ministries’ so as to be the right models that help make real men!

About the Author

Dr Fulata Mbano-Moyo is a systematic theologian and church historian who currently works as the World Council of Churches' Programme Executive for women in church and society. Originally from reformed tradition in Malawi, she received her doctorate from the University of KwaZulu- Natal, South Africa, focusing on gender and sexual ethics with grounding from Yale University's Divinity School and Department of Public Health. She is also the continental coordinator of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians also trained in contextual Bible study methodology, conflict resolution and epidemiology.