Monday, March 7, 2011

International Women's Day

8 March 2011 is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, and I wonder how many of us have noticed. It seems to me that there isn't much about gender equality in the news anymore. Well, at least not as much as when I was younger.

The whole issue of gender equality is very interesting to me, for it is often called "women's rights", as if it only affects women. To be sure, women are far more affected by it than men are, but, as it says in the Writings, "The world of humanity has two wings - one is women and the other men... Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible." And so it really does affect us all.

I'm sure we're all familiar with that beautiful quote from Baha'u'llah in which He says, "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established." I have always found it interesting that He refers to our "peace and security", not our happiness. But elsewhere, He says, "The happiness of mankind will be realized when women and men co-ordinate and advance equally..."

So, there. While peace and security are founded upon unity, happiness is founded upon gender equality. I can actually wrap my mind around that. (Yeah, my own personal happiness is quite intertwined with my wife being my equal. If we didn't "advance equally", there would be a definite lack of happiness around here.)

Aside - I remember a conversation I had many years ago with my then-girlfriend and her mom. Somehow the conversation got onto the topic of women's rights, which is not all that surprising as it was their favorite topic. Naturally, I began to introduce a few of the ideas put forth by the Baha'i Faith, thinking that we were all in absolute agreement. Now, I was a bit surprised that my friend didn't say much, and that her mother actually disagreed with what I was saying. She argued with every point, claiming that it either wasn't practical, or didn't go far enough. I felt extremely detached from the conversation, and noticed that my friend was merely watching the interplay between us, waiting to see what would happen, but obviously agreeing with her mom. Finally, after a number of points had been shot down, I asked her mom, "Excuse me, but do you believe that we will ever have gender equality?"

"No," she said, "I don't."

"Then why", I wondered aloud, "do you waste your time working towards it?" (Oh, and I should make it very clear that whenever I say anything along those lines, it's not me who is saying it. Well, I mean it is, but I mean that I had no idea it was coming out of mouth. I had no idea that she was going to say she didn't think it was possible, for example, so my response caught me off guard, too.)

At that point, the conversation completely changed. She had never realized that she didn't think it was possible, and neither did her daughter.

You see, it is very important to the success of any endeavour that we believe in its outcome. I, as a man, and as a Baha'i, firmly believed that gender equality was not only possible, but was actually a reality that we just needed to acknowledge. These two women, who spent many long hours working towards it, didn't believe it could ever happen. It still puzzles me to this day, but I sincerely hope that they are still working towards it, only now with the belief that it can happen.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes. Gender equality. International Women's Day.

There is so much to write about this subject. Most of it, though, can be found in an incredible book by Janet and Peter Khan, called "Advancement of Women: a Baha'i Perspective". If you haven't read it yet, I would strongly suggest you do.

So while I could write about all the myriad aspects of this issue that they cover in their book, I won't. I mean, come on. They already did. And they do it so much better than I could possibly do. (Of course, if my wife helped me... but I'm probably being delusional.)

They talk about the importance the issue, and how there are many things happening in places like Africa, where the men and the women get together and write down what they do during the day. When that happens, the men discover how much more work the women are doing, and then, out of their own nobility, they arise to take over many of the jobs historically considered "women's work". (You go, guys!) I could write all about this stuff, but as I said, they already did, so buy their book and read it for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

But for myself, I'd rather look at another concept from the Writings:
The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over women by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting -- force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age, less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals -- or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.

For those (few) of you who follow this blog, and have read most of what I have written (God knows why you would, but some of you have), this may seem a bit familiar. I started to talk about this in another article, before I was so wonderfully interrupted. I'll talk about it here, instead.

This quote shows how simply we can see those virtues that are what the Master calls "feminine", and those that He calls "masculine". Obviously they are not confined to women and men, respectively, but found in both. And what He seems to be saying is that today we need to be more cognizant of the importance, and increasing importance, of those "feminine ideals". These are the very ideals that are necessary for helping all of humanity move past this global crisis we are finding ourselves in and leading us towards our great destiny.

He further emphasizes this by saying, "In some respects woman is superior to man. She is more tender-hearted, more receptive, her intuition is more intense."

Part of this global crisis is the increasing despair that people are feeling, and despair, as you know, can be seen as a lack of happiness (as well as hope). So, do we want to help people be happier? Well, that quote way up above tells us how to do that. As we coordinate and advance equally, our happiness will increase.

I think we can also see that within the individual. As the individual develops all of their virtues, instead of only the ones associated with their gender, they tend to be happier, too. Tender-hearted, compassionate and intuitive men seem to be generally happier than those that aren't. Assertive women tend to be happier, too. People who have a balance of virtues tend, in general, to be better people and much more well of. Oh, and that's just my own perception, and not based on anything scientific.
All this just to say that when I think of International Women's Day, I do not think of it as a day for women. It is, to me, a day for all of humanity. It is a day when we can all look to be more balanced in our feminine, as well as masculine, qualities.

And so, on this centenary I wish you all a balanced life of the spirit.

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