On Gender, Family, and Integral Human Development
A Working Hypothesis
The patriarchal culture of control and domination is the root cause of all social and ecological violence. It corrupted the original communion between man and woman (cf. Genesis 3:16) and is now disrupting the harmony between humanity and the human habitat. Just as we are now aware that slavery and racism are moral evils, we must become aware that gender discrimination is a moral evil that must be eradicated if solidarity and sustainability are to be attained.
The need to reform patriarchal structures applies to both secular and religious institutions. Understanding the urgency of this need brings about a new "epiphany," the striking realization that overcoming patriarchy is a "sign of the times" pursuant to fostering authentic gender solidarity, social and ecological justice, and nonviolence for the good of humanity and the glory of God. Given the enormous influence of religious traditions, it is especially critical for religious institutions to extirpate any semblance of male hegemony in matters of doctrine and religious practices.
Integral Human Development
Integral human development includes all dimensions in the life of each person, including the physical, intellectual, psychological, ethical, and spiritual dimensions. In particular, the spiritual development of each and every human person is crucial for sustainable development. It is recognized that spiritual growth is impossible for people living in misery. However, the extreme poverty of many is mostly a consequence of the spiritual underdevelopment of people living in abundance.
From an integral human development perspective, roles of authority are not about exercising power but about rendering service. Authority is always to be exercised as a service to society, to families as the fundamental units of society, and to each and every human person. Integral human development requires a transition from "authority as power" to "authority as service." The same applies to the transition from our current global predicament (violence, inequality, pessimism) to a new civilization of solidarity and sustainability.
Cross-Gender Solidarity in Family Life
Solidarity is Pro-Family, Pro-Love, and Pro-Life
In family life, the concept of a male patriarch presiding and having absolute authority and power to make decisions for the entire family is mercifully fading away. After millennia of such family order being taken for granted as normative, the "signs of the times" point to a new family order based on cross-gender solidarity: solidarity in relations between husband and wife, between parents and children, and between generations. What better way to foster sustainable development as "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"?
The nuptial covenant is unsustainable without cross-gender solidarity. Conversely, nuptially sealed cross-gender solidarity is pro-marriage and pro-family. It is also pro-love and pro-life. Domestic solidarity in turn begets social solidarity. It is in family life that solidarity is learned and practiced in the most intimate way, and then radiates outwardly to society and the entire community of creation. This is the kind of solidarity that is economically and ecologically sustainable. Nuptial solidarity, with husband and wife sharing both responsibility and authority, is the starting point for the restoration of the original unity of man and woman. It is responsibly pro-love, with neither husband nor wife imposing anything by physical force or psychological manipulation. It is responsibly pro-life, making family planning decisions that are both generous and prudent.
Nuptial solidarity in the family is the best "training camp" to foster cross-gender solidarity in all dimensions of social life. It is a most effective agent of sustainable development and, by signifying both the gift of love and the gift of life, makes it visibly clear that human actions and social policies are effective only to the extent that we don't surrender to the false gods of money, power, and honors. Nuptial solidarity disabuses us of misconceptions such as "the ethics of expediency," whereby unethical and even violent means are used to attain presumably legitimate ends, including sustainable development. Abortion is a case in point, as eloquently stated by French philosopher Gabriel Marcel when writing about "an affluent society choking on its own material comfort":
"This generalized comfort, with its appurtenances, such as standardized amusements, now seems the only way to make life tolerable. Life is no longer considered a divine gift; it is just a "dirty joke." The existence of a widely diffused pessimism, at the level of the sneer and the oath rather than that of sighs and weeping, seems to me a fundamental given fact about contemporary humanity. It is in the perspective of this widely diffused pessimism, a sort of physical nausea at life, that we ought to consider such a serious and significant contemporary fact as the prevalence of abortion." Gabriel Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, 1955. For an English translation, click here.
In what may be the most repugnant fruit of patriarchy and the ensuing corruption of the original unity of man and woman, most aborted babies are girls.
Gender Balance in Post-Patriarchal Families
Selective abortion of females in the womb is but one consequence of patriarchal indoctrination, some of which can arguably be attributed to religious institutions. Who can deny that, in the Roman Catholic Church, the exclusively male priesthood contributes to reinforce patriarchal hegemony? Who can deny that, in the Muslim world, Sharia law contributes to reinforce male hegemony in marriage and the family? Few are the religions that have escaped the patriarchal mindset, although this is beginning to change.
Traditional marriage, where both the biology of love and the biology of life require a modicum of gender balance, is the place to start. But, in post-patriarchal families, gender balance is much more than just one man and one woman. It requires balance in marital relations (no marital rape allowed), reproductive decisions (how many and when), and all other expressions of domestic authority. Gender balance in family life, where children learn by osmosis, is the best way to foster gender balance in society, as well as balance between humans and the human habitat.
Indeed, the patriarchal mindset of male domination is intrinsic to the "subjugate the earth" practices whereby natural resources are exploited as "free lunch" and the planet is polluted without counting the cost. But "what goes around comes around," and Mother Earth is giving signs that her patience is growing thin. There can be no infinite material growth (and the consequent exhaustion of natural resources) in a finite planet, and there can be no infinite escalation of domestic violence; sooner or later, both ecological abuse in the planet and nuptial abuse in families must come to an end. There is mounting evidence that resource depletion and pollution accumulation are becoming lethal, especially for those who are most vulnerable. In family life, patient resignation under abusive conditions is no longer an acceptable option for many, and rightly so; again, a "sign of the times."
Families and the Family of Nations
Entire nations are in denial. Both population growth and consumption growth continue even as violence increases and the planet deteriorates. But how can population growth be slowed down as long as "the bed is the consolation of the poor" and as long as men (and women) are not liberated from the patriarchal mindset of male hegemony? How can consumption growth be slowed down as long as people, rich and poor, bow in idolatry of money, and as long as seemingly the only way to pursue "happiness" is to buy and consume more and more (beyond basic necessities) under illusions drilled into their minds by the market-driven and constant bombardment of advertising?
Just as, in a functional family, fathers and mothers (husbands and wives) keep each other honest in dealing with family affairs, having gender balance in positions of authority would provide natural "checks and balances" in formulating and implementing social policy. The salutary effects of gender balance would apply at all levels (local, national, international) and all kinds of institutions (both secular and religious). Given the male propensity to violence, it seems reasonable to infer that more wars will be averted, and more resources allocated to legitimate human needs, and more care exercised about the human habitat, when there is gender balance in all institutions of governance.
The entire family of nations will benefit from gender balance in governance. Gender balance is also required for integral development of each and every human person. As is well known, integrally developed persons usually exhibit, in their way of thinking and acting, a fusion of masculine (fatherhood, brotherhood) and feminine (motherhood, sisterhood) traits; and this without compromising their masculinity or femininity. Fully individuated persons do not cease to be healthy men or healthy women; they become persons in whom the masculine and feminine polarities intrinsic to human nature are fully integrated and reconciled. In the literature of modern psychology, this clearly emerges in the analytical psychology of C. G. Jung (1930s) and seminal books such as The Invisible Partners by J. A. Sanford (1980). In the Christian tradition, this is beautifully stated by Edith Stein (1930s) albeit in a way that still manifests hesitation about giving up the patriarchal mindset:
"Christ embodies the ideal of human perfection: in Him all bias and defects are removed, and the masculine and feminine virtues are united and their weaknesses redeemed; therefore, His true followers will be progressively exalted over their natural limitations. This is why we see in holy men a womanly tenderness and a truly maternal solicitude for the souls entrusted to them while in holy women there is manly boldness, proficiency, and determination." Edith Stein, Essays on Woman, 1930s. For an English translation, click here.
The Gift of Love and the Gift of Life
From the viewpoint of integral human development, there are two factors that really matter: solidarity rooted in love and sustainability of life and life support systems. For there can be no solidarity without some measure of love driving
human decisions and actions, and there can be no sustainability of life without solidarity. Sustaining the gift of life is contingent on practicing the gift of love. This applies in all dimensions of life, and is especially true in the context of marriage and family life.
"Time is God's messenger." Patriarchal traditions about family life are changing. The rich tree of human experience needs pruning, not to eliminate the institution of marriage as a life-long mutual gift of love and life, but to renew the way both gifts are shared in accordance with the signs of the times. It may well be that patriarchal family traditions need radical pruning. Malignant tumors often require drastic surgery, and the tumor of male hegemony must be removed if families and societies are to survive and bear more fruits of love and life. But marriage cannot go and the family cannot go, for it is in marriage and the family that both the gift of love and the gift of life become real "in the flesh" and radiate outwardly to all the other dimensions of human existence.
The reason is that, as humans, we are essentially "body-persons," persons in the flesh, and it is as "body-persons" that we must act not only in personal and family life but in all other contexts as well. In this regard, the anthropological insights of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body offer precious guidance to resolve gender balance issues in both secular and religious institutions. For instance, consider the following insight on the precedence of the human body over sexual differentiation:
"Corporality and sexuality are not completely identified. Although the human body, in its normal constitution, bears within it the signs of sex and is, by its nature, male or female, the fact, however, that man is a "body" belongs to the structure of the personal subject more deeply than the fact that he is in his somatic constitution also male or female." John Paul II, The Original Unity of Man and Woman, in Theology of the Body, 1997, page 43.
In other words, being male or female is the result of sexual differentiation but does not entail any hierarchical order (male over female or vice versa) that is intrinsic to human nature. It follows that patriarchy, as the subjugation of females by males, is not intrinsic to human nature either. In fact, according to the biblical tradition, patriarchy is but a consequence of corrupting the original integrity of humanity (Genesis 1-3, in particular 1:27, 2:18, 3:16), a process that was triggered and carried out entirely by human hands. What is intrinsic to human nature is that we must responsibly share the gift of love and the gift of life as "body-persons," for that is what we are at the most basic core of our existence.
Therefore, in the living Christian tradition, what matters is that God became human, not that Jesus was male. According to authentic Christian tradition, we were redeemed by Christ's solidarity with humanity, not with men alone. The ramifications of this fact extend to all Christian-inspired doctrines and practices in churches and societies. Specifically, it exposes the absurdity that only fathers can be the sole heads of families, and that only males can preside over churches. Since the resolution of gender balance issues is crucial to advance further toward a new civilization of solidarity and sustainability, it is incumbent on all people of good will, and all human institutions, to let go of patriarchal concepts and practices that no longer make sense and increasingly constitute obstacles to experiencing the gift of love, and the gift of life, in ways conducive to integral human development.
The current series of editorial essays (November 2013, December 2013) attempts to refocus attention on the root-cause of the issues that must be resolved in the transition from the patriarchal era (starting 10,000 years ago or so) to a post-patriarchal era of gender equality and gender balance. The "signs of the times" are eloquent in this regard: the time to overcome patriarchy is now. As we enter the Anthropocene, the patriarchal order of things is no longer capable of functioning for the good of humanity. It will be a difficult transition, for "old habits die hard" and many people remain mentally and emotionally attached to doctrines and practices of male hegemony. As we enter the New Year 2014, let us reflect on these issues and keep praying and working for a new post-patriarchal civilization of solidarity and sustainability.
Man Against Mass Society,
Gabriel Marcel, 1955 (translated to English by G. S. Fraser, 1962).
The Invisible Partners, John A. Sanford, Paulist Press, 1980.
The Female Body and the Sacramental Priesthood in neo-orthodox Catholic Theology, Tina Beattie, Chapter Four in God’s Mother, Eve’s Advocate. A Gynocentric Refiguration of Marian Symbolism in Engagement, with Luce Irigaray, Centre for Comparative Studies in Religion and Gender, University of Bristol, 1999.
A User's Guide to Integral Human Development (IHD), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Baltimore, 2008.
The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, John Paul II, Pauline Books, 1997
Two Wings of a Bird: The Equality of Women and Men, A Statement of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, Bahá'í Topics, 1999.
Caritas in Veritate: On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican, 29 June 2009.
Gender Balance in the Post-Patriarchal Age, Editorial Essay, Mother Pelican, November 2013.
The Many Faces of Denial, Paul Chefurka, Approaching the Limits to Growth, 14 November 2013.
Science Challenges Doctrine, Frank Lawlor, Tony Equale's Blog, 15 November 2013.
Church views on sexuality: recovering the middle ground, Savi Hensman, Ekklesia, 25 November 2013.
Hegemonic Resistance to Change, Roger Boyd, Humanity's Test, 26 November 2013.
On Gender Groupthink, Solidarity, and Sustainability, Editorial Essay, Mother Pelican, December 2013.