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Male Elders and the Work of Gender Reconciliation

Gender reconciliation is a movement with growing visibility and moral authority in the world today. Addressing all aspects of gender inequality here and around the world, it examines disparities of power, income, and social expectations between men and women in general, and the specific abuses of women in particular, including sexual exploitation and trafficking, religious persecution, wage inequities and political discrimination. This movement coincides with the women's and men's movements in America, both seeking to liberate us from all forms of social stereotyping, and the re-ascendency of the feminine archetype in the collective psyche, revaluing its qualities of caring, interdependence, compassion, and relationship building.

Most of us men, however, have not fully examined our own pervasive and harmful gender assumptions. With little or no reflection, we lived gender discrimination all our lives, growing up in a time when it was simply taken for granted that woman stayed in the home or worked as secretaries, teachers, nurses and maids, and men held the more important, powerful and high-paying jobs in corporate and political America. So common was this glass ceiling in education, employment and politics that we simply took it for granted, even assumed it's where women fit best. And we passed this belittling inequality onto our children - girls were taught to aspire to become nurses, teachers, nuns, secretaries, waitresses and clerks; boys were taught to compete for power, money and prestige.

We also grew up with sexual stereotyping and exploitation, a time of soft - and then hard core - pornography which typically assigns women to the fulfillment of men's sexual fantasies not their own, the male sport of sexual pursuit and conquest, the double standard of Madonna-Whore, and the sexual objectification of women in the world of work, beautifully portrayed in the popular TV retrospective Mad Men. Sexy women sold cars, alcohol, cigarettes; men were scientists, inventors, politicians and captains of industry.

Finally, we lived with devaluing emotional gender assumptions all our lives, perceiving a world where men were logical, strong, and in charge, and women were overly emotional, strident, weak, hormonally compromised, and dependent, hence best left in the care of children.

Thankfully so much has changed in our own lifetimes, and yet so much still needs to change. While the work of gender equality goes on everywhere in the world today, I believe male Elders have a unique role in this healing movement. What is our work? Here are some ideas:

1. Examine Your Own Past. We lived this discrimination. We supported it. We were it. Yes, we were taught to think in discriminatory terms just as women were, but that does not let us off the hook. Look back over your life and recall where your views and actions were the most damaging. You might even begin in your own marriage and family! Then acknowledge your role in this discrimination and ask forgiveness from real people if they can be found or in your heart if they cannot be found.
2. Uproot Your Prejudices. Examine the overlearned gender discrimination habits of mind and behavior that still operate in you like weeds stealthy creeping in the drakness in your own psyche. Pull them up, get them out. For example, do you still secretly feel that a woman shouldn't be your doctor, stockbroker, clergy, police officer, general, or president? Do you believe God is male? Did God make men superior to women? When examining your beliefs, ask yourself what you fear about women and why you still hold gender prejudice, for this inquiry is also about your psychological and spiritual growth.
3. Take Action in the World. Support your granddaughter's equality and self-worth, pay attention to women's causes, listen to women's stories, and support the work of gender justice around the world.

Our work as male elders is to look back on our lives, heal the past of our own selfish choices, and help envision a future beyond gender stereotypes. When we admit our errors without being defensive, we help others to do the same, and promote genuine freedom of creativity, contribution and leadership as the new standard of human life.
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