“That woman has really nice shoes,” said a man with whom I am acquainted.
I was at a restaurant in Vancouver with four men. Three of them were talking about women’s shoes, but, in fact, they were referring to certain parts of female anatomy in “code” so they wouldn’t appear rude or lascivious.
This was my experience a couple of weeks ago.
I was sightseeing on Vancouver’s North Shore with these men, one of whom was my friend, and I had specifically come out to visit him. The whole time three of them were commenting on women’s body parts and calling women names that rap singers often use in their songs.
I tried to laugh it off, but I was not impressed. In fact, I was disgusted. After about an hour of this, I called them out on it. I was especially upset because they felt that this was funny, because they were inspired by each other’s presence, and because this was not the first time that I’ve heard such things from men. It has been a regular occurrence.
That evening I vented to my father, who is someone I look up to as a model for respect and loyalty: in short, the definition of a real man.
In our conversation, I framed it as a gender-equity issue, but my father thought of it more as a failure of manhood, although gender equity was certainly in question.
He shared with me that boys are a product of the way manhood is demonstrated in their families. Men who show respect towards other men and women in their lives will pass that down to their sons and grandsons, who will then pass it down to theirs.
“It’s a failure of men to teach younger men that respect for men and women is a sign of strength and character,” he said, adding sadly, “Now, chivalry and respect for women seem outdated in a segment of youth culture.”
Recognizing this, my father’s cousin, Arturo Bergen, pastor at Eben-Ezer Mennonite Church, Abbotsford, initiated men’s retreats some years ago in an effort to teach intergenerational respect and model it. My father, who has been a part of these retreats, said, “I think you have a pastor who sees this as a problem and is seeking to build an intergenerational solution by modelling it. In a few years, I think we’ll see a real difference.”
However, the three men I came in contact with two weeks ago “pretend to have a sense of superiority . . . with women at a distance. They are demonstrating cowardice by not seeking out a real relationship with a real woman,” my father said.
It also has to do with subcultures. According to Dean Peachey, vice-principal of the University of Winnipeg’s Global College, the subcultures within male culture in North America often predict how men speak about women in their presence. “In some of those subcultures, the kind of conversation that you were subjected to is unacceptable,” he told me after I shared my experience with him. “In others, it is fairly standard as long as no one is present who objects.”
Although most of my borderline sexual harassment encounters with men have been with people outside the faith community, I think it is important for those of us within it to remember the importance of modelling appropriate behaviour and teaching respect for everyone, including women.
“Mentors are an important gift to the community,” my father said. “For example, when I mentor a young man or woman, I benefit because I see values of integrity passed down, but the community also benefits because the values are fostered and people live upright, good, righteous, compassionate lives.”
In my opinion, it would be advisable to have more mentorship programs in churches.