Should Men Ask Women for Forgiveness?

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A regular reader of my site recently published “Denied equality for thousands of years, letter asks women for forgiveness” and requested that I reprint and comment on it.

Comments – I agree with the article’s overall sentiments about the evils of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. I also agree that patriarchal notions of gods reflect and sustain male power, and female gods or non-personal gods make about as much—or as little—sense as male gods. (The definitive work on various conceptions of gods of which I’m aware is Hartshorne and Reese’s, Philosophers Speak of God.)

In fact, “the problem of religious language” reveals that any talk about gods is problematic. The problem is that human language could never adequately describe the (supposed) divine essence. Thus Thomas Aquinas, for example, argued that since his god was beyond human language then about this god is, at best, an analogy. For instance, your god may be like your mother or father but isn’t literally your mother or father. (However, as a non-theist I’m uncomfortable talking at all about what I view as imaginary gods.)

One problem with the essay in my view is the penultimate paragraph which could be taken to mean that women should be docile. I understand that women shouldn’t emulate men but they probably have to adopt some so-called male qualities to fight their oppression. After all, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony improved women’s lives by being assertive, not passive.

Finally, I won’t comment on the various theological claims in the essay as I have no expertise in the subject. Here then is the unedited essay in full:

Oh, glorious women! Can you possibly forgive us men for having abused you for thousands of years? How we have envied your loving hearts, your commitment to harmony, your subtle gentleness, your inner beauty, your ability to listen, your not needing to be the centre of attention, your ability to serve in silence and your intuitive emotional intelligence!

We males have so much wished to be like you, but we could not, or refused to. Instead, out of our sense of inferiority, we decided to prove to you that we were superior to you. We males had set out during the last few thousand years to transform the ancient world of perhaps several hundreds of thousand years of pre-historic matriarchal-patriarchal peace into a world of patriarchal warfare.

We seem to have systematically wiped out most of the evidence of the existence and success of that previously harmonious world in our history. We males claimed loudly that it had never existed; it was just a wishful fantasy.

But, for example, archaeological excavations in Israel had unearthed numerous little Asherah figurines, which ancient women used as a symbol for worshipping a single Yahweh God who to them was a union of both the Holy Mother and the Holy Father.

Asherah was the representative of the feminine aspect of God or the consort of El, the masculine aspect of the one Yahweh God. Yet the Old Testament demonised the female Asherah aspect of Yahweh and airbrushed her out of the image of God.

The original Yahweh God who was either perceived as beyond gender, or as the union of both genders, became masculinised into only ‘The Lord’ in the Old Testament. Most Eastern religions also eventually masculinised God.

The New Testament presents Jesus as one who worshipped his Heavenly God as father rather than both as the Mother and the Father. Yet in the belatedly discovered authentic Dead Sea Scrolls there is also Apostle Thomas’ Testament, which quotes Jesus saying that his earthly mother (Mary) only gave him birth but it was his divine mother who gave him life!

What? Is it possible that Jesus worshipped God not only as his Holy Father but also as his Holy Mother? Alas, patriarchal Christians will not have a bar of such perception.

We have kept claiming that there was never a world that seamlessly integrated loving spirituality into day-to-day living in our mundane reality. One in which people’s basic commitment was to the spiritual abundance of unconditional love for a just and peaceful world instead of to creating material scarcity with a ‘need’ to fight over insufficient resources.

We males have done everything in our power to subjugate you, dear Women, to break you into our patriarchal mould, to tame you and force you to submit to our lie that we are superior to you.

Have we added even more insult to injury when we triple airbrushed you from the Holy Trinity? It was not to be a united Mother-Father, the Offspring and the Holy Spirit but only Father, Son and the male Holy Spirit. Most Christian denominations still hold on to this patriarchal terminology in worshipping God to this very day!

Tell me dear Women, how could you have put up with this for thousands of years? How could you allow us males to deny a legitimate place for you even in the sacred Holy Trinity, let alone in the unjust patriarchal mundane world that we have been creating and imposing on you by stick and carrot?

Were you crying out and protesting as we co-opted you into such a world? Was this against your will, or did we succeed in brainwashing you into our macho mentality without much resistance from you?

How many of you now aim to be the pseudo males of the likes of Margaret Thatcher, fierce female rugby players, muscly weight lifters, air-punching aggressive tennis players and kick boxing women?

Does your just endeavour to be recognised as equal to men in society in general also compel you to become physically and mentally as much the macho boy as we males are at our reptilian worst or, is there an alternative? Would it not be better for us all if you females helped us males become less macho, gentler, more nurturing and peace seeking, so that we would lovingly co-operate to mutually serve one another, instead of you too, increasingly adopt our worst divisive macho ambitions?

5 thoughts on “Should Men Ask Women for Forgiveness?

  1. Thank you John for your detailed comments.

    I welcome female assertiveness.
    My objection is to the exercise of macho oppression over both healthy masculinity and genuine femininity.
    I believe that irrespective of our biological gender we all have masculine and feminine aspects.
    For a sense of wholeness, the person would need to integrate these inner forces into a united a self, rather than perpetuating a split and warring self.

  2. I have plenty’o problems with this essay. But in summary:

    * The implied framing “all men vs all women” is far too rigid.

    * The apology seems to be essentially that men have not adequately fulfilled their role as protector.
    It isn’t an apology for not treating women as equals, but rather for using men’s proper superior position for selfish gain.

    I will take this opportunity to explain my position on collective guilt.

    If an injustice occurred in the last generation (within the previous 20-30 years), focus on reversing the situation, and only resort to restitution if reversal creates greater injustice.

    If an injustice occurred two generations ago, focus on restitution, unless a obvious path for reversal remains clear.

    If an injustice occurred three generations ago, reversal isn’t likely to produce anything but greater injustice; restitution should be the primary goal, although the likelihood is growing that this, too, risks paying for injustice with injustice.

    After four generations, the window is closing on any action that brings closure to those who were wronged. Restitution should be used sparingly, lest we generate a permanent attitude of victimhood in the descendants of those who have been wronged, and anger those who had no choice in emerging into the world as the descendants of those who committed wrongs.

    Five generations and beyond: we can only regret this history of pain, and resolve to learn from such errors in pursuing true equality in the future.

  3. Very interesting ideas in both the original essay, your comments on it, and the comments of Andris and Mr. Arends. My own reaction is that the original essay can only be appreciated when read as an artistic work, and as such the essay deserves our artistic appreciation but not our intellectual consent. The author cannot speak for all men.

    I feel absolutely no guilt about the abuse of women. I have never abused any woman; I have always treated women with respect and often done services to individual women. Indeed, my own attitude towards women was such that I have long had difficulty believing the viciousness and cruelty that some men have manifested. I told myself that nobody could be so far removed from what I consider to be basic decency. Boy, was I wrong!

    I am less charitable than Mr. Arends in my attitudes towards reparations. My responsibility is exclusively for my own behavior. It is imperative that I treat women — and men, too — with decency and respect. I see no need for me to make sacrifices to compensate for the evil behavior of other men. I condemn such behavior, I will not tolerate any such behavior in my presence, but I will not accept responsibility for it.

    To drift a bit from the mainstream of this subject, there was an interesting and silly brouhaha that I’d like to discuss. At a recent academic convention in a San Francisco hotel, a group of attendees boarded an elevator. The elevator was so crowded that a person at the front of the elevator offered to press the buttons for whatever floor the other occupants desired. People called out their floor numbers, and one fellow called out “women’s lingerie, please!” It was an old joke from the 1950s, a movie, I think. Not even a joke at that — just a petty bit of humor implying that the speaker mistakenly thought that he was in a department store.

    A woman on the elevator took umbrage; the offender sent her an email expressing his regrets that she misunderstood the thrust of an obscure bit of humor, but he refused to apologize for what he felt to be an innocent act. She took the matter to the conference organizers, who demanded that he issue a formal apology, which the offender refused to do. I do not know the outcome of the dispute.

    This event, in my opinion, presents us with a case of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. Of course, the misdemeanor by the plaintiff does not remotely approach the seriousness of the many recent outrages against women perpetrated by evil men. I am curious to see how others evaluate the ethics of the incident.

  4. The elevator incident is completely irrelevant. That incident is simply an anecdote of one individual overreacting to the real or perceived offense of another individual. Such anecdotes of irrational overreaction in human thinking can be found for both genders. Discussing the incident and casting it as a case of the “pendulum swinging too far in the other direction” obfuscates the discussion of how women have been and are still being injured by “toxic masculinity”, as John puts it.

  5. Mr. Rogers, the elevator incident is, as I pointed out, one case of the pendulum swinging too far in one direction. It is an anecdote, not a statistical survey. It is one case of a few people overreacting. It is just as relevant as any anecdote about male abuse of women. Obviously, there are a great many more anecdotes about male abuse of women than of women overreacting.

    Discussing the incident does not obfuscate anything. So long as it is presented as an example rather than a trend, it serves its purpose.

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