Ezra Chitando – « Masculinities, religion, and sexualities »

4. Religions, masculinities, and sexualities: Ongoing sites of opportunity

The interplay among religions, masculinities, and sexualities brings up a very queer picture indeed. It is a messy and complex interaction. In this section, I seek to highlight some of the strategic areas for the (possible) transformation of masculinities within the faith sector. In turn, this would facilitate the recognition of liberative (as opposed to oppressive) sexualities. Although I draw attention to these areas with special reference to the African context, I am convinced that they have resonance in other parts of the world.  

Engaging with conservative theologies and interpretations of gender, masculinities, and sexualities

The appeal of an invented and idealized ‘old time religion’ is difficult to dispel. Religious people have historically thrived on the understanding that there are certain and fixed dogmas that do not change. Thus, conservative interpretations of the identity and roles of men as decreed by God/the Sacred will continue to appeal to many believers. In Africa, this has seen debates on masculinities, sexualities, and access to sexual and reproductive health, rights, and services being dominated by those who swear by their sacred texts. Consequently, scholars and activists who wish to see a world characterized by gender justice must budget for resistance from this particular sector. To say this, however, is not to suggest that religions are always opposed to the quest for gender justice. Indeed, when sound strategies are employed, religions can become effective allies or even provide the setting/context in the quest for gender justice.

Need for life-giving and progressive readings of sacred texts to promote transformative masculinities and sexualities

Sacred texts and traditions provide believers with guides to belief and action. They are very significant in shaping attitudes towards diverse masculinities and femininities. For example, in Africa, the Bible and the Quran are the two texts that are central to the lives of many communities. In many instances, they will be accorded more authority than the national constitution(s). Therefore, while the progress in removing sections that criminalized homosexuality from the statute books in some African countries such as Mozambique and Angola is noteworthy, and the recent legal triumph of LGBTI organizations in Botswana is notable, more needs to be done. Creative and progressive interpretations of the sacred texts to promote transformative masculinities are required in order to change attitudes. Placing emphasis on Africa’s own struggle for the rights and dignity of all, recovering texts that celebrate sexualities, and highlighting the message of tolerance within the sacred texts is quite effective.

Acknowledging the influence of femininities in shaping masculinities and sexualities

Perhaps the study of masculinities and the accompanying sexualities has tended to shift towards the extreme of exclusivism. There is need to acknowledge that femininities have a major role in shaping masculinities. The tensions that are emerging from men who have embraced non-aggressive masculinities meeting resistance from women who are guarding roles and spaces that have traditionally been associated with women and femininities serve as a timely reminder that both forms of gender expression need to be transformed simultaneously. Although femininities are often placed in opposition to masculinities, in reality masculinities are always in dialogue and negotiation with femininities. Therefore, it is important for scholars and activists to continue to analyze the two together.