As we approach our workshop on gender roles and power dynamics at the Kennedy School later in October, I want to share some thoughts with you about the importance of the theme and why I very much hope you will attend and be part of the conversation.
I think this conversation is important to the repair and renewal of our families, communities, and workplaces around the world. The justice issues of gender, power, and sexual behavior deserve focus in their own right. From the sexual abuses by clergy to the daily abuses of women and girls, these injustices are deeply enculturated nearly everywhere. These injustices have been constructed by our social systems, neglected for millennia, and are now finally surfacing in a way that provides important opportunities for us to shape the future we pass on to our families and societies. Men and women of our generations need to figure out how to be the best we can be as men and women in each domain of our lives, and to create new gender models for those who will look to us for ways to both depart from and take the best of our cultural traditions forward.
I think there is also a link between the pressing macro dangers facing the world and the role identifications of men and women. These links between sex, power, authority, and the world’s looming dangers may be subtle but I think they are real. There is something problematic in the ways that men and women are socialized that has relevance to the challenges of poverty, climate change, migration, terrorism, crime, sex trafficking, pandemics, and the secondary interacting effects, not only of natural catastrophes, but the collection of impacts that result in political regressions like tribalism, repression, and war. The most obvious link is limiting the choices of women in traditional, poor societies who feel they need to have many babies to ensure that at least one son will survive to adulthood as the primary source of their own elderly security. When the number of children exceeds the carrying capacity of families, schools, and economies to raise, educate, and give hope close to home, teenage boys and girls are vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist, criminal and trafficking organizations, or they will migrate if they can. There are other links, as well, that we need to figure out and understand. For example, the limitation of options and the violations of trust that women experience every day are a product of men assuming entitlements. When we fail to invest and draw upon the full capacity of women, and when men grow up feeling entitled, what other impacts does it have on our ability to work collectively to generate and distribute collective goods for the long-term?
I feel strongly that men need to be in this conversation as much as women. Men have so much to gain and give. I know. As a man and teacher, I’ve pushed the envelope of my understanding of these issues and dynamics in my courses. I frequently come home to share my insights from class with my wife and sometimes my daughter, and I routinely get “an earful of further understanding” that, after resisting, always, always illuminates the unseen of my assumptions and helps me hold more human complexity with more insight, compassion, and challenge.
So, men and women, please come if you can. Apply for a scholarship if you need one. This will be an extraordinary opportunity to safely work issues that are intimate and essential to our lives at home and at work, and to the world we renew.