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When desire meets expectations

  • 28 October 2022
Welcome to 'Stray Thoughts', where the Eureka Street editorial team muses on ethical and social challenges we've noted throughout the week.  In 2009 I went to a talk from US-based Sister Joan Chittister at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. During her presentation she told the story of two children, a boy and a girl, who had lost their father. Both were, of course, devastated by the loss. But the space they were given to experience their grief was very different.

At the funeral, the little girl was held and comforted in her grief. She was allowed to cry and just live in that time of grief. Meanwhile, the little boy had people at the funeral coming up to him at the telling him to be strong, and that he was ‘the man of the house’ now.

This, said Sr Joan Chittister, is how patriarchy harms men as much as it harms women. Instead of being free to mourn, to share his feelings, to be consoled by the people around him, the little boy was given a role that he had to conform to. Rather than being given the freedom to take the time adjusting and coping in this new world without his father, to find his own way in that world, the little boy had new, and completely unrealistic, burdens and expectations placed on him.

It was a revelation to me at that time. I was aware, of course, of feminism, and supported women’s struggle for equality. I’d learned about how society disadvantages women, giving them fewer opportunities, lower wages, and a greater burden in the home. I knew that women were more vulnerable to violence and abuse, and that there were many issues around masculinity that men needed to grapple with. But it wasn’t really until then that I realised I’d never really been told what feminism had to offer men – how so many of us men, too, needed to be liberated from a world that was hurting us.

There’s been much public discussion recently around the issue of men’s violence against women. The Australian Government recently released a 10-year national strategy designed to end violence against women and children. The Australian Catholic Bishops’ latest social justice statement also explores this theme, as well as how religious teachings can sadly be used to excuse violence or to exert control over others.

These are, of course, important initiatives and conversations to be had. In each of these documents, the voices of