Men, Masculinity, and the Struggle for Gender Justice in Church and Society

Dr. Matt Matthews
Dr. Matt Matthews

At Equity for Women in the Church’s Calling in the Key of She program at Memphis Theological Seminary, theology professor Matt Matthews questions our culture’s definitions of “masculinity.” In his powerful presentation he demonstrates that if there is to be gender equality and justice, men as well as women need to be involved in bringing personal and institutional change.

Matt2Dr. Matthews challenges men to work for gender equality as part of their gospel calling. He claims that in order to embrace their baptism as Christians, men must work to liberate masculinity from patriarchy: “For men to become allies of women in the struggle for gender justice, they must embrace their baptism by doing the hard work of reimagining masculinity and liberating it from the same patriarchy that oppresses women.”

Dr. Matthews shows how socialization of males has created and maintained violence against women. He recommends the documentary series Tough Guise, by Dr. Jackson Katz. This series demonstrates that the ongoing epidemic of men’s violence in America is rooted in our inability as a society to move beyond outmoded ideals of manhood. Tough Guise examines the violent, sexist, and homophobic messages boys and young men routinely receive from every corner of the culture—television, movies, video games, advertising, pornography, the sports culture, and U.S. political culture. Tough Guise seeks to empower young men — and women — to challenge the myth that being a real man means putting up a false front and engaging in violent and self-destructive behavior.

Here is a Tough Guise video:

The work of Tony Porter, co-founder of A Call to Men, also informs Dr. Matthews’ presentation. He gave us an article by Porter titled “A Call to Men: It’s Time to Become Part of the Solution.”

Porter urges “well-meaning men” to acknowledge the part “male privilege and socialization play in sexual assault and domestic violence as well as all forms of violence against women.” He defines a “well-meaning man” as one who believes women should be respected and who would never assault a woman. “A well-meaning man, on the surface, at least, believes in equality for women,” Porter writes. “A well-meaning man believes in women’s rights. A well-meaning man honors the women in his life. A well-meaning man is a nice guy, a good man.” He continues that it’s not the purpose of a Call to Men to “beat up on well-meaning men, but to help us understand through a process of re-education and accountability, that with all our goodness, we have still been socialized to maintain a system of domination, dehumanization and oppression over women.”

“Well-meaning men,” Porter writes, must examine how male socialization fosters violence against women. “We must examine the ways we ‘keep’ women in marginalized roles throughout every aspect of society that enforces and maintains our male dominance.” As I read this statement and listened to Dr. Matthews’ presentation, I thought especially about how “well-meaning men” have kept women marginalized in the church, an injustice addressed by this Calling in the Key of She program, a project of Equity for Women in the Church. Calling in the Key of She works to change the socialization of males and females that marginalizes women who are gifted, called, and educated to serve as church leaders. Only about 10% of pastors of all Protestant churches are women. The percentage of women of color who find places to fulfill their call to pastor is much lower. In many denominations the percentage of women pastors of all ethnicities is lower than 1%.

Porter challenges men “to understand and acknowledge that violence against women is a manifestation of sexism” and to “acknowledge that all men are part of the problem.” He lists ways “well-meaning men” can become part of the solution to ending sexual and domestic violence.

  1. We have to examine and challenge our own sexism.
  2. We have to stop colluding with other men, get out of our defined roles in society, and take a stance.
  3. We must remember that silence is affirming: when we choose not to speak out, we support the behavior.
  4. We must educate and re-educate our sons and other young men.
  5. We must challenge our homophobia, which serves to get in the way and stop us from actively getting involved in the fight to end sexism.
  6. We must accept our responsibility that sexual and domestic violence won’t end until well-meaning men become part of the solution. While a criminal justice response to violence is necessary, cultural and social shifts are also required.
  7. As well-meaning men, we must accept leadership from women; we must accept that, left to our own devices, our sexism will continue to surface, consciously or unconsciously. Owning and accepting our sexism and our role in ending violence against women also means taking direction from those who understand it best, women.
  8. We need to be reminded that living in the United States means living in a construct that was purposely designed as a race, sex, and class-based system of domination. So, when speaking of ending sexual and domestic violence, we must ALL, men and women both, accept and own the reality that we are not doing the best work we can until the voices of women of color inform us that we are.

Here is a TED Talk by Tony Porter, co-founder of a Call to Men, an organization that works to end violence against women by promoting healthier attitudes about masculinity:

At the  Calling in the Key of She program, Dr. Matthews also gave us a handout titled “10 Things Men Can Do to End Men’s Violence Against Women” (Copyright ©  2004, ACT Men Inc.):

  1. Acknowledge and understand how sexism, male dominance and male privilege lay the foundation for all forms of violence against women.
  2. Examine and challenge our individual sexism and the role that we play in supporting men who are abusive.
  3. Recognize and stop colluding with other men by getting out of our socially defined roles, and take a stance to end violence against women.
  4. Remember that our silence is affirming. When we choose not to speak out against men’s violence, we are supporting it.
  5. Educate and re-educate our sons and other young men about our responsibility in ending men’s violence against women.
  6. “Break out of the man box.” Challenge traditional images of manhood that stop us from actively taking a stand to end violence against women.
  7. Accept and own our responsibility that violence against women will not end until men become part of the solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence against women.
  8. Stop supporting the notion that men’s violence against women is due to mental illness, lack of anger management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc. Violence against women is rooted in the historic oppression of women and the outgrowth of the socialization of men.
  9. Take responsibility for creating appropriate and effective ways to develop systems to educate and hold men accountable.
  10. Create systems of accountability to women in your community. Violence against women will end only when we take direction from those who understand it most, women.



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