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Horrible News! Apex Events! Headline Grabbing! Shocking Details! Another outrage perpetrated against a woman or women in general, and we’re jolted into a greater awareness of what can happen when women are grossly denied equality and protection under the law.
However, when all the righteous indignation and condemnation dies down, along with the usual denials and excuses (That could never happen here!), the story descends in importance until gone from view and memory. But the issue, unresolved, patiently persists. So I’d like to ask: how can we change human thought and behavior to recognize the equality of the sexes and establish the necessary equilibrium in humanity? How can we stop these repeated outrages against women? Baha’is would say it requires an independent investigation of reality:
The foundation of progress and real prosperity in the human world is reality, for reality is the divine standard and the bestowal of God. Reality is reasonableness, and reasonableness is ever conducive to the honorable station of man. Reality is the guidance of God. Reality is the cause of illumination of mankind. Reality is love, ever working for the welfare of humanity. Reality is the bond which conjoins hearts. This ever uplifts man toward higher stages of progress and attainment. Reality is the unity of mankind, conferring everlasting life. Reality is perfect equality, the foundation of agreement between the nations, the first step toward international peace. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 376.
If we seek reality, “the divine standard,” then we seek reasonableness, which illuminates humanity. What, then, would we call the opposite of reality?
…for reality is contrary to dogmatic interpretations and imitations of ancestral forms of belief to which all nations and peoples adhere so tenaciously. These blind imitations are contrary to the fundamental basis of the divine religions, for the divine religions in their central and essential teaching are based upon unity, love and peace, whereas these variations and imitations have ever been productive of warfare, sedition and strife. Therefore, all souls should consider it incumbent upon them to investigate reality. Reality is one; and when found, it will unify all mankind. – ibid, p. 372.
As far back as the middle of the 19th century, the Baha’i teachings proclaimed that reality demanded gender equality:
The teachings of Baha’u’llah also proclaim equality between man and woman, for He has declared that all are the servants of God and endowed with capacity for the attainment of virtues and bestowals. All are the manifestations of the mercy of the Lord. In the creation of God no distinction obtains. All are His servants. In the estimation of God there is no gender. The one whose deeds are more worthy, whose sayings are better, whose accomplishments are more useful is nearest and dearest in the estimation of God, be that one male or female. – ibid, p. 374.
This quotation, if we all accept it as true, could lead to a remarkable change in human behavior. However, this can prove to be very challenging. We all know that denial of our own conduct, consciously or unconsciously driven, can lead us, like the Titanic, towards a very predictable outcome.
Does the death of gender equality start with one catastrophic outrage–or is the deed done daily by a thousand cuts? Does it begin from birth when girls are discouraged from playing sports or being smart; in school when teachers may, however innocently, fail to encourage avenues of study or a professional pursuit; in the workplace when an employer pays women less; or in a discounted feminine perspective? Do the cuts deepen with the paucity of female representation in civic life; in hyper-sexualizing women in the public arena; in fostering the belief that a women’s greatest achievement is to be desirable, a product of male fantasy complete with body-altering surgeries? Does the mortal cut occur when female children are sold into sexual slavery or bartered into a marriage; or when women are veiled, hidden from view, owned and controlled and monitored without the protection of the law?
How can we change this sad state of human affairs? As a starting point, the Baha’i teachings provide a challenging perspective from which to judge our own behaviors:
When we look upon creation, we find the male and female principle apparent in all phenomena of existence. In the vegetable kingdom we find the male and female fig tree, the male and female palm, the mulberry tree and so on. All plant life is characterized by this difference in gender, but no distinction or preference is evidenced. Nay, rather, there is perfect equality. – ibid, p. 373.
When we uphold “the divine standard” of gender equality by honestly evaluating our own beliefs and actions, then a change in behavior can occur. When we refuse to add our cut, no matter how slight, to the thousands of cuts that injure women every day, we can gradually and utterly destroy the apex events that injure and kill women every day.