Herbert Anderson – « A theology for reimagining masculinities »

2. The urgent need for change

This essay is in two parts. The first part describes the persistence of hegemonic masculinity as a global reality and the consequent difficulty in embracing new and more just expressions of masculinities that are not simplistically opposed to femininities or structured in a dominant relationship with femininities. The second half of the essay proposes some themes for a theological framework for emerging masculinities. In every region around the world, ‘strongman’ leaders continue to dominate with unchallenged power. These strongmen feed on cycles of fear and their political power that supports the reproduction of male dominance and privilege in the household, in the marketplace and in the political arena. Both women and men are casualties of this continuing crisis. Worldwide sexual trafficking also confirms that women continue to be violated and abused to satisfy male desire for sexual gratification and power. 

The HIV crisis in sub-Sahara Africa is generally regarded as a gendered epidemic, supported by patriarchal constructions of masculinity, commonly characterized by power, potency, sexual aggression, and fertility. In response to the HIV epidemic, African feminist theologians pointed to patriarchy as the root problem for masculinities that became deadly in the context of HIV.[1] This crisis, however, is not unique to African societies. Countries and cultures in which human trafficking and other forms of emotional and physical violence toward women persist need to identify a similar mandate to address toxic masculinity embedded in patriarchal systems. Patriarchal cultures incubate toxic masculinity.  

When a significant number of women in the United States, empowered by the #MeToo movement, exposed patterns of sexual harassment and abuse by high-profile men, male claims to power and privilege were publicly challenged. As a result, male dominance and abuse is no longer simply personal and private, confined to family or the workplace and tolerated secretly by women. It is now also public and political. Despite all the changes in men that have occurred over the last five decades, patriarchal assumptions linger and male patterns of control and domination and consequent violence persist. The sexual abuse and sexual harassment of women is simply another exercise of male power and the desire to dominate. Even more alarming are the connections that have been made between domestic violence and mass shootings. In more than half of the mass shootings between 2009 and 2017, an intimate partner or family member has been an intended victim. The current social and political climate in the United States has given some men permission to reclaim old, damaging patterns of patriarchy or link a toxic masculinity with racial anxiety to support white male primacy. The articulation of alternatives to these old destructive stereotypes is an urgent matter for the sake of a human future.

[1] Adriaan S. van Klinken, ‘Theology, Gender Ideology and Masculinity Politics: A Discussion on the Transformation of Masculinities as Envisioned by African Theologians and a Local Pentecostal Church’, Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, 138 (2010), 2–18.

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