I love mowing my lawn—seeing the green lines left by the mower, figuring out how to go around obstacles, and enjoying how good it looks when I’m done.
Then, as I sweep the grass clippings off the sidewalk, I chat with my neighbors as they stroll by, with or without their dogs.
A few years ago, I took over this task from my husband John. For awhile folks were surprised to see me doing it. They asked if John was away, was he sick, why me instead of him. Some people questioned us, claiming that I had taken over what they considered to be men’s work,
This got me thinking about assumptions people make about each other, about who is suited for what, and about what is proper. Surely this is a form of prejudice.
Two of the primary teachings of the Baha’i Faith are elimination of all forms of prejudice and the equality of men and women. If people were free of prejudice, there would be no reaction to a woman with a healthy husband mowing the lawn. A true recognition of the equality of men and women would include realizing that the word “equality” does not mean “sameness.” A task would simply be done by whoever is willing or available. Furthermore, sometimes the less capable person would do it in the interest of capacity building, good exercise, or because they simply wanted to. Men would benefit, too:
When students have arrived at the end of their school term an examination takes place, and the result thereof determines the knowledge and capacity of each student. So will it be with woman; her actions will show her power, there will no longer be any need to proclaim it by words. …
In our competitive culture, typically the so-called “best” person does a job rather than someone else who can do it well enough and is eager to contribute their time and effort.
Taking this idea to a global scale, every child should have not only adequate food and health care but also opportunities to develop their capacities. There is especially a need for girls to be educated, to enter all fields of endeavor, and to contribute to creating a future world known for vigor, cooperation, harmony, and compassion.
In the early days of the feminist movement, men were blamed for our social ills and told that they needed to change. I now think that is not enough—that a more balanced, and ultimately more successful, approach calls for the personal growth of men and women alike. We share responsibility for transforming the society in which we live. In 1995, the Baha’i International Community wrote:
Men must use their influence … to promote the systematic inclusion of women, not out of condescension or presumed self-sacrifice but out of the belief that the contributions of women are required for society to progress. Women … must become educated and step forward into all arenas of human activity, contributing their particular qualities, skills and experience to the social, economic and political equation. Women and men together will ensure the establishment of world peace and sustainable development of the planet. – Baha’i International Community
The Baha’i teachings say that human society needs to move beyond cultural barriers that prevent girls and women from developing their capacities and pursuing their interests. Everyone should be free to grow and to contribute—free of others’ prejudgments.
This series of essays comes from Jaellayna Palmer’s newly-published book, Personal Path, Practical Feet, which is available here.