The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals—or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more properly balanced. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 2, p. 4.
The 2016 American presidential campaign has raised, in many ways and on many fronts, the issue of male dominance and sexual assault—and has even called into question the kind of society we live in.
Most of us live, after all, in patriarchal societies. Run primarily by men and for men, patriarchal societies give men control in government, in business, in the arts and at home. In patriarchal societies, even most religion is male-dominated. In a patriarchy, male privilege becomes an unspoken ideology that suffuses all aspects of life—especially the relationships between the sexes.
In the distant past, you can understand why patriarchy once ruled. The stress of simply surviving in a hostile natural environment favored sheer physical size and strength over most other qualities. Men competed with one another for food, for mates and for resources. Males used their physical strength to prevail in battle, to kill animals for food, to protect women and children, and to prove supremacy over others. The rule of male dominance, and all patriarchal cultures, grew out of those necessities:
In nature there is the law of the survival of the fittest. Even if man be not educated, then according to the natural institutes this natural law will demand of man supremacy. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 352.
But the Baha’i teachings also tell us that the natural law of survival of the fittest has begun to lose its prior dominance. In the early childhood of humanity, the brutal law of the jungle drove our actions, our roles and our cultures. As civilization has advanced, though, as we’ve learned to live with one another peacefully in many places, as we’ve transitioned from daily violent struggle just to stay alive, the law of survival of the fittest has become a major liability for us all. The Baha’i teachings say that we, as human beings and as civilized groups, now have the spiritual capacity to transcend the law of the jungle:
In the world of nature the greatest dominant note is the struggle for existence—the result of which is the survival of the fittest. The law of the survival of the fittest is the origin of all difficulties. It is the cause of war and strife, hatred and animosity, between human beings. In the world of nature there is tyranny, egoism, aggression, overbearance, usurpation of the rights of others and other blameworthy attributes which are the defects of the animal world.
Therefore so long as the requirements of the natural world play paramount part among the children of men, success and prosperity are impossible; for the success and prosperity of the human world depend upon the qualities and virtues with which the reality of humanity is adorned while the exigencies of the natural world work against the realization of this object. – Abdu’l-Baha, Asiatic Quarterly Review, quoted in Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 15.
“…the exigencies of the natural world,” Abdu’l-Baha wrote, “work against the realization” of human success and prosperity—while survival of the fittest “is the origin of all difficulties,” the “cause of war and strife… tyranny, egoism, aggression, overbearance” and “usurpation of the rights of others.”
It’s no coincidence that those negative qualities accurately describe the major mechanisms of male dominance. When men use their physical strength or their egos to aggressively tyrannize, to be overbearing, and to usurp the rights of women, they fail to recognize women as human beings, and their actions perpetuate patriarchy.
Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, asked humanity to rid themselves of those qualities, and to adopt their exact opposites. In the process, he wrote, all people should take it upon themselves to make sure they refuse to allow such tyranny to oppress women:
The friends of God must be adorned with the ornament of justice, equality, kindness and love. As they do not allow themselves to be the object of cruelty and transgression, in like manner they should not allow such tyranny to visit the handmaidens of God. He, verily, speaketh the truth and commandeth that which benefiteth His servants and handmaidens. – Baha’u’llah, from a tablet to an individual Baha’i.
In the last sentence of that quote, Baha’u’llah gives us a clue about implementing justice, equality, kindness and love in relationships between men and women. He says following that advice “benefiteth His servants and handmaidens”—meaning both men and women. So instead of giving up power and authority, the Baha’i teachings suggest, men will gain, not lose, when they begin to treat women equally.
By losing their male privilege, men will gain human privilege.
Next: How Men Win by Losing Male Privilege