15. Why Gender Stereotypes are a Barrier to Peace
Updated: May 12
How did the western world in which I was raised develop its expectations about gender roles? How was I expected to choose between the two most popular alternatives of 'dressing up' or 'cowboys and indians'? And how little did we recognise, at the time, the broader implications attached to these narrow roles!
I remember my grandmother telling me how 'nice young ladies' should behave. I wanted to make her happy but, as the only girl in my family and one of few in my neighbourhood, the knowledge that I should not lean my elbows on the table, or talk with my mouth full, was never going to improve my social standing in a street full of rowdy boys.
It is no surprise that girls have grown up burdened by a belief that they have only a narrow sphere of influence and opportunity in the world, whilst males have an opposite but also burdening belief that they must know everything. This societal pressure produced what one wit called Male Answer Syndrome, humorously described in an article entitled "Why men always have opinions, even on subjects they know nothing about.” The key point was an exposure of the consequences of faulty sex role stereotyping, where men are expected to know something about everything, whilst women are assumed to know nothing much about anything at all. That is a huge burden to put on either gender!
So I learned to be more than my brother's equal in bike riding, climbing, long-distance running and other areas. l learned to have my own opinions about things and not be afraid to express them, to convincingly argue my point of view and not stand down. And when I eventually discovered the Baha'i Faith with its endorsement of gender equality, I determined to investigate and, consequently, to follow it.
'Abdu'l-Baha emphasised the unique role of the mother as the first educator, who bears the troubles and anxieties of rearing a child, who undergoes the ordeals of birth and the ongoing training. He described the tragedy of a mother sending into battlefield a child she has reared and trained for twenty years. And then He added;
"So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it. This is true and without doubt.'
And that is when I realised how very far we still seem to be from that. How few men recognise that it is in their own favour and best interests to support the full engagement of a woman in the affairs of the world? To praise and encourage her, to resource her needs, to strive for a society that will produce such strong and capable women?
As the nineteenth century stood on the threshold of world unity, Baha’u’llah proclaimed that the society of His day, with its conflicting groups and hostilities of race, nation and class, must give way in the path of the coming world civilization. Abdu'l-Baha observed; 'The most momentous question of this day is international peace and arbitration, and universal peace is impossible without universal suffrage".
Our present day is still testing mankind on those very matters. How slowly, unwillingly, world affairs are dragging us towards a genuine recognition of the oneness of mankind. Consider today how many of today's nations that are currently at war still deny women the right to vote.
The Bahá’í Peace Program that developed from the teachings of Baha’u’llah, considers the development of world order as an unfolding process, based on the premise that the reality of our age is the interdependence of all peoples. The institutions and policies which regulate our political, economic and social life must achieve a world order in which this consciousness will find complete expression.
As mankind is presently struggling through a range of calamitous upheavals, Baha'is have the benefit of recognising their purpose; to reshape the diverse habits and institutions of life into one vast and universal system. We are being called to participate in a creative task that will surpass the opportunities of any people in any previous age and hasten the emergence of a world community. Accomplishment of this task will energise a growing consciousness of world citizenship, and signalise the first glowing promises of that “coming of age of the human race” which in the fullness of time will bear its richest fruit in a world civilization and culture.
"Now, with the coming of Bahá’u’lláh, the human race stands on the threshold of its maturity. World unity is finally possible. A global order that unifies the nations with the assent of humanity is the only adequate answer to the destabilizing forces that threaten the world." ---Universal House of Justice, 18 January 2019. To the Bahá’ís of the World.