PARENTING BEYOND GENDER
Attitude to women is a significant index to the wholeness and sanity of a society. Since the time issues began to be settled by might, men havehad that sort of ‘ascendancy’ over women. He assigned her roles. He determined the breadth of her rights. He fixed norms she had to abide by. He recognised or denied her worth as and when he pleased.
In the process,men forgot that men and women were meant by the Creator to live in communion and community. Love is the foundation of both. Love is nothing if not egalitarian. Egalitarianism is not a pious and fancy thing: it is a value rooted in a spiritual worldview.
The essence of the ‘spiritual’ is a relationship of harmony between body and soul, between matter and spirit. In Hindu thought of ancient times, the man-woman relationship was seen also in cosmic terms. Purusha, the maleprinciple, was active and dynamic. Prakriti, the femaleprinciple, was passive and receptive. It took two complementary principles —the active and the passive —to create lifeforms. Everything dynamic, and life-related, involves this harmony of the opposites.
The scheme of things that man created on the evolving canvas of culture was contrary to this law of nature and logic of life. The principle of complementarity was replaced with conflict and control. Communion was abandoned in favour of domination. In the process, both principles — the male and the female —got distorted; the male, more than the female. The worst was that women came to internalise this deformation as the norm, with unfortunate consequences for wholesome parenting. Mothers who do not treat their sons as greater assets are the exception than the rule even today.
In biblical thought a man is truly human only if he has the heart of a mother. In a real sense, Adam was the physical mother of Eve if the second Creation Narrative is read as complementary to the first. The first Creation Narrative affirms the essential and irreducible oneness of the male and the female. They are created as inseparable,created in one breath, so to speak. The Second Narrative elaborates and fortifies this foundational principle symbolically with the idea of Eve originating in what is internal to Adam —his rib.
What is internal is indispensable. It is, or should be, out of bounds for manipulative control. It is to be cherished and protected, like one’s own life. Such is the status of woman in the divine scheme of things.
The biblical narrative consolidates this insight further with reference to the institution of the family. Completely contrary to the cultural norms prevalent in every culture we have known till date, it is the man who is required to ‘leave his father and mother and to cling to his wife’, which is envisaged as a pre-condition for the two becoming one body (Gen. 2:24), which is the benchmark for any man-woman relationship.
Millennia later, the biblical account took up the same concern, burdened a great deal more with historical experience, in the context of the Crucifixion. In a sense, the Crucifixion signals the macro failure of parenting. A whole generation had come up by then, callously insensitive to the cause of justice and the call of humanity. Responding to all of this Jesus says, “Woman, behold your son” (Jn. 19:26). It is customary to interpret this exhortation with reference to family duties and obligations. But it has a wider scope. Every mother, every parent, needs to mind what sort of sons they nurture. Are they, indeed, nurturing sons as wholesome human beings, as ‘sons of women’? In this context, Jesus, on the eve of his death, makes it abundantly clear that a caring spirit should be the hallmark of ‘sons’ and ‘men born of women’. Maleness must be measured not on the scale of the capacity for cruelty and control, but by the capacity to care; care, especially for women.
THE RULE OF LOVE
The availability of justice, especially to the weaker sections of a society —women, children, the poor, the underprivileged and the despised —is not a matter merely of the ‘rule of law’. Even more basic is the rule of love. That is where parenting connects with the cause of justice. There is no substitute for parenting in propagating a culture of caring: in laying the foundations of love for a life based on life-sustaining values for a society. Strictly speaking, therefore, parenting that remains blind to the duty ofinculcating values in children, especially sons, is poor and paltry parenting.
There is an issue of extreme poignancy that Jesus raises, ironically with an important functionary of the Judaic religious hierarchy: Simon, the Pharisee. It is recorded in the 7th chapter of the Gospelaccording to St. Luke. Given the constraints of space, I do not summarise the context but limit myself to quoting from it one of the most searching and searing questions Jesus ever asked.
“Simon, do you see this woman?”
For twenty centuries, the significance of this question — the fundamental issue it flags —has remained glossed over. The issue is that men have lost the capacity to see woman as woman. I do not want, here, to go into the sociology of this issue, relevant though it is. It is a harsh and regrettable reality that men choose to see ‘woman’ as a sinner and as a seducer. Even religious literature abounds with these insinuations. The subliminal disquietude that men feel about ‘woman’ is sustained largely by this presumption of gender-encoded guilt ascribed to woman as woman.
This unjust ascription, wholly incompatible with the overall spiritual vision of the Bible, served as an alibi for treating women with less than fairness for centuries. Various lame excuses, including presumption of pollution associated with cyclical biological processes — surprisingly, even including the holiest of all experiences, childbirth —were improvised and institutionalised. The net outcome of all this has been that man lost the ability to ‘see’ woman —woman as the heroic bearer of life. Surprisingly, even Mariolatry —with which I am at home spiritually —did not make a good enough dent on this.
Ironically, the ghost of this oversight visited the church in the form of Dan Brown’s Davinci Code. Under the garb of historical fiction, Jesus was insinuated to have had a physical relationship with Mary Magdalene. It rattled the church. It need not have,for it was wholly fictitious and factitious. The reason it had such a shocking impact was the arbitrary ascription of spiritual inferiority to women. Jesus had, if you like, a ‘physical’ relationship with a leper, who got cleansed because he touched him. “Having a physical relationship” is a man-made expression the meaning of which will change if Jesus is the Son of God. Language will not define him; he will define and refine language. If Jesus has a physical relationship with Mary Magdalene she will be cleansed and her demon-possession will come to an end. That should be, ideally, the nature of man’s relationship with woman; and vice versa. The inability to see ‘woman’ as woman is the demon-possession afflicting man, if Jesus is believed.
Jesus raises the issue, for all times to come, that Simon, especially because he is a high religious functionary bounded by the roles, traditions, and stereotypes of his religion, could not ‘see’ woman. His eyes were good enough to see sinners. His religious sight is super in spotting ‘sinners’ in women. Jesus has the eyes to see a woman, created in the image and likeness of God, in the soul written off as ‘sinner’ by Simon.
Jesus came into this world as the Son of Man so that ‘the Son of Man’ in every human being — male and female —can be awakened and expressed. It is my conviction that Christian parenting is far more crucial in this respect than anything else, including church-centered ministries, valuable though they are.
Those who have even a nodding acquaintance with the Gospels cannot fail to see the comparative centrality of Mary in the life of Jesus. Joseph, his earthly father, is by far the weaker presence. Legendary stories complementing the scripturally niggardly treatment of Jesus’ life prior to the commencement of his public ministry at the age of thirty, have it that he was close to his mother and helped her generously with household chores. The takeaway from these plausible narratives is that mothers can play a profoundly important role in the humane formation of their sons.
Blessed is the society in which parenting makes its invaluable contribution towards creating a humane, healthy society in which women would not have to be protected by the might of the state against the gender-rooted cruelty and perversions of men.