March is women’s history month. But women make history all year, year after year. Women’s history is no joke. Women are no joke. Women are the harder-working half of humanity, hands down. They do the reproductive labor of our species, as well as productive labor. And because of patriarchal accounting systems, economies and cultures the world over, a woman’s reproductive labor is not fully accounted for; sometimes it is called leisure. But the very reproduction of the species is a far more significant task than leisure. We cannot monetize it. We cannot, or refuse to, dignify it the way our acquisitive culture dignifies the whole predominantly white male lot of Wall Street bankers who helped dramatically deepen the long crisis that capitalism is. The World Bank and IMF will not categorize and catalogue the full worth of women’s labor. But our patriarchal, consumer society has been far more successful at monetizing women’s bodies, at the gross objectification of sisters, daughters, and mothers for their body parts. In this way women are reduced to mannequins and sex dolls, display pieces in downtown boutiques, or rated, graded, and sold as if on the meat market of human flesh, as when dowries are paid. So any thoughtful vegan should be quick to recognize that the liberation of women furthers the cause. More monumental is the task of having men recognize that when women are liberated from gendercide, subordination, and second-class status as humans and as male property, we men will be liberated to become more fully human ourselves. Women’s liberation is its own worthy and urgent cause, but it is also to our own immediate advantage to participate in and share solidarity with full gender equality in our planetary civilization. For us to become more prosperous, more intelligent, and wiser, uniting with feminism is in the selfish interest of men – keeping it real. Reject male privilege. For women are no joke.
This is because an honest appraisal of who we are as individuals suggests the basic logic of the African philosophy of Ubuntu – that “I am because we are,” that we are fundamentally and immutably interdependent beings. It is informed by a basic ecological principle that whatever our material embodiment consists of, it automatically invokes and forms from the contributions of our parents, their parents, the food they ate, the sunshine that shone on it, the minerals/stardust that fed it, and ultimately, the entire universe itself. By this understanding, the American notion of “rugged individualism” is illogical and misleading, perhaps deliberately so as it aims to divide us, isolate us and atomize us. All of us constitute the community, and the full participation of each of us, realizing our full potential, permits collective prosperity. If women are denied an education, the community suffers the loss of her more fully realized participation and contribution to the intellectual and material well-being of the group. The direct consequence of the unjust enforcement of ignorance upon females is collective poverty. This can be proven by looking at any society that has strong evidence of ongoing work toward equalizing the statuses, opportunities and life chances of men and women, and then looking at a society that treats women like livestock, like household appliances. The more just society is always more prosperous, healthy, educated, safe, clean, and so on, by many multiples across any human development measure.
Active critical thinking informs an honest assessment, for men, of the problem with oppressing women, or even passively acquiescing to their oppression. Think, for example, about how women in urban communities around the United States (really worldwide) must deal with street harassment, with the catcalling and worse, which exacerbate the oppression of black women. The street harassment paradigm posits the threat of violence over all of us. Street harassment is motivated by false and problematic beliefs in males of inherent domination, unearned privilege, the machismo quest for superficial and immediate validation, and the pursuit of easy sexual gratification. These are among the same exact prerequisites for deadly beefs on the street between us black men, the same ingredients for the horizontal violence perpetrated between us. While it is objectively true that the external factors of poverty and social debasement have often left us little option but to get over at the expense of one another, we destroy ourselves when we conform to the external anti-black expectation of our manifest, mass failure to thrive in any sustainable way. The motives of street harassment are one and the same as the motives for fatal internecine hostility. This in turn helps, in part, to enable mass incarceration of black men. Thus, the macho atmosphere of street harassment, which makes the lives of our sisters, mothers and daughters unbearable and dangerous, also makes our lives as men perilous. Street harassment is emblematic of a violent community towards all of its members. The streets with the most street harassment are also the streets where the most black brothers die at one another’s hands. Street harassment, rape and bloodshed all live on the same block.
Critical thinking, aggressively centered on a defense of the dignity and full value of human beings, should also inform how we draw conclusions about how we relate to one another and whether or not what we call “tradition” is worth any respect by any intelligent person in this day and age. If you value your own humanity, we can safely and logically assume that other humans value their own essence and identity as well, and consider themselves worth a fair chance in society. Grounded in this logic, a logic that is more immediate to us as humans than almost any other, we should be able to safely regard any tradition, religion, book, philosophy, politic, ethic, or other source of culture and thought that denies the humanity and dignity of people who are different from the majority, or from those with power, as highly suspect, at best. Thus, those who see difference in others and thus deny that others’ humanity, are behaving illogically, and hatefully besides.
The debate around homosexuality in Africa is centered, for the homophobes, in strange defenses of “tradition” or “religion” that claim the alienness of homosexuality to Africa, the “unnaturalness” of gay sex, and so on. These conclusions are fundamentally antihuman, and thus are to be fundamentally rejected; they are unscientific, dishonest and illogical besides. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is no joke. They are human beings. They are part of the community. They are worthy of respect and of every opportunity to fully contribute to and participate in the growth and empowerment in community; this is no less true in Africa or in black communities anywhere than it is in the West or any other part of the planet. The homophobes in power in Nigeria, in Uganda and elsewhere are using politics to disenfranchise, terrorize, scapegoat and dehumanize a part of the community that should be given every right to enjoy their human lives and be the sisters and brothers to our family that they truly are. By thinking critically and imagining ourselves the target of these laws and antihuman paradigms, we cannot but help draw conclusions that lead us to recognize the inhumanity and fundamental stupidity of homophobia and patriarchy. In this vein, heterosexual people should stand in full solidarity and advocate for the full inclusion and enfranchisement of our homosexual kin. This is the mature stance which will allow all of us to contribute our utmost to grow as a collective. Reject your heterosexual privilege and arrogance. Lives are at stake – and by the logic, critical thinking and Ubuntu understanding we have applied here thus far, it is unacceptable to deny the humanity of anyone in our community, no matter what gender or sexual identities they are born with or adopt. When we begin to take what private parts people have, or what they do with them in private, as justification for branding certain people unworthy of human dignity, we are being utterly childish, and any religion, tradition, or person that has that tendency is also ignorant, childish, dangerous and stuck in the stone-ages.
As a heterosexual male, I hope I have made a reasonable case that we, over-privileged straight men, will be far better off when we reject the convenient privileges of our status which permit us to dominate women and dehumanize gays. Equality of opportunity, for women to be born, to be educated, to enjoy equal participation in the maintenance of a family and household, and to be able to contribute their fullest potential to our collective excellence, will always lead to a superior quality of life for our community. The same equality of opportunity and recognition of humanity for non-heterosexual members of our community will also enable everyone to contribute fully and without fear of denigration.
Machismo is deadly to women and to men. Patriarchy and male supremacy are harming the planet and keeping millions of women from even being born, let alone contributing their full worth to the excellence of humanity. Only equality – an equality that enables us, especially as men, to see women as at our level in all productive, cognitive and creative capacities – can move us forward.
Gender inequality is a hallmark of underdevelopment, a cornerstone of neocolonialism and a function of ignorance. All sorts of indicators of social well-being in different societies show this. And when men, straight men at that, reject the insults of patriarchy, chauvinism, and homophobia, we truly begin to become revolutionary. For we begin to honor the basic nature of human beings that the Ubuntu principle reminds us of – that I am because we are, that all of us deserve to participate to the fullest might we can muster as free people towards our collective greatness.