Last Friday was International Women’s Day. I posted this on facebook and twitter:
And within minutes I was surprised by the responses and replies from men and women alike. Comments like “I’m pretty sure every other day is already international men’s day” or “Men have had thousands of years, you ladies deserve one day.”
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On one hand I understand where these comments come from. Men, especially white men, historically have had unprecedented power and access to things like property rights, voting, and leadership positions in both church and government. There is no argument; worldwide men have had more power and control. For centuries women were 2nd class citizens if that, often no better than mere property. And I know first hand that in many developing countries around the world many women are no better off now than hundreds of years ago.
I know because I live in one of those developing countries. I live in Guatemala, a country where the machista attitude is still king and many women lack access to basic land rights, birth control options and education. It’s a country where family is valued above all else, but domestic violence is still quietly accepted as the norm. Change is happening, but slowly.
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I teach at an all girls’ schools in a small village called Santa Maria de Jesus. Each morning 120 indigenous Guatemalan girls in their brightly woven skirts and colorful blouses walk up the dirt road to come to school. They sit at wooden desks, one size too big, with their little brown feet dangling in plastic flip-flops. Many of these girls wouldn’t get to the opportunity to study otherwise, because preference is often given to their brothers. We always start with full class of 30 girls in 1st grade, but usually only 1/3 of them make it to 6th grade. I believe whole-heartedly in these girls and that by giving them access to education they will have more opportunities in the future.
I, if anyone get, believe in and celebrate, International Women’s Day, but it’s left me with a question:
In our pro-women, girls-only push, are we failing the next generation of young men?
Don’t we need groups for young boys? Groups that teach them what it means to work together? Don’t we need role models who will show how to respect women and serve them? How do we empower men to be wise leaders and humble learners? I don’t think that happens by just elevating and celebrating women.
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Guatemala has a large international community, NGOs from the US and Europe are on almost every city corner. Mission groups and churches have had a long history here as well. Thanks to a large international presence and many NGOs working on women’s rights, International Women’s Day is big deal here. In my local grocery store a handmade hung above the roses, “¡Feliz Dia de La Mujer!” My Facebook feed was full of empowering, encouraging posts honoring Guatemalan women. None of this bothers or upsets me in the slightest, but it does make me question. Why don’t I remember ever seeing a sign at the grocery story or a Facebook post about International Men’s Day? In fact I know very few organizations that are specifically working with boys or young men. I can name a few in the US, like Donald Miller’s Mentoring Project that are targeting boys who don’t have dad’s in their lives, but they seem to be few and far between.
It makes me wonder why and ask what the consequences will be? Don’t we need the next generation of men to grow up respecting, listening to and partnering with women? If we just focus on Women’s day and women’s rights where does that leave our next generation of men?
I believe, as I think Jesus modeled, that women and men are made equally in His image. Jesus constantly went against the culture to embrace the prostitute, the widow or the Samaritan women. In fact, the first person He revealed himself to was the woman at the well. He was radical in his treatment of women not as second-class citizens, but as beloved daughters. He gave worth to women, when society gave them next to nothing.
The church and our world clearly have a lot to learn in how we regard our daughters and young women. But do we also have something to learn about how we raise-up and teach our sons? Sometimes I wonder what would Jesus think of our 21st century Girl-Power society. Would he wonder why we have neglected young men?
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My husband and I are expecting our first baby in a few months and we are thrilled. A little girl. She will be half Guatemalan, half gringo. And you can bet money on it that I want her to have access to education and be able to dream big dreams. I want her to be listened to and respected because of who she is and what she knows, not how she looks. I want her to see people from her gender in Congress and leading companies and preaching in churches. I want my daughter to be celebrated on International Women’s Day. And I hope that one day, many years from now, she will meet a man, who was also celebrated on International Men’s Day.
In case you were wondering, International Men’s Day is November 19th.