The Time Traveler: Hugh Ellis

What I’m going to say here might upset some people – I say it nevertheless.

One of the requirements for ending gender-based violence is for men and women to being to see things through each other’s eyes. Another is that we men begin to embrace traits that were once seen as feminine, such as gentleness and nurturing.

To do this, we will have to break down the very concept of gender itself.

Often, we grow up believing that men are one thing and women are something completely different. Indeed, I grew up thinking the same thing myself.

But the older I get, the more I see this is not true. In fact, I would go as far as to say that a woman cannot trust a man who does not see that we are all, first and foremost, people.

When I was younger I used to quote certain parts of the Bible (chapters five and six of Ephesians come to mind) to suggest that men and women should stick to well-defined roles. The man was a leader, protector and provider. The woman was a follower, helper nurturer and emotional feeler.

As an older man, I’ve learned that’s not always the case.

I’ve learned that as a man, I need to be nurturing, too. I need to be in touch with my emotions, if they’re not to boil over into violence.

I’ve learned (several periods of Covid-19 isolation have reinforced this), that far from being domestic dunces, men are more than capable of cooking and other domestic duties, as well as taking care of children, even being primary caregivers in this regard.

Having played a junior role in the Namibian feminist movement, and served under excellent female bosses at work, I have concluded that often, women are more than capable of leading themselves, and at times like these the most useful thing men can do is to butt out and let women do the talking.

Furthermore, while a man should not deny his responsibilities, especially towards his children, I’ve seen how men taking on the role of sole providers for their households has put unrealistic pressure on their shoulders. As well as being incredibly patronizing to women and their earning potential. Across society, a renegotiation of this idea is needed.

Let’s not forget this country often goes out of its way to underpay black men, less educated men, and men from disadvantaged families. I acknowledge there is a gender pay gap, but the idea that a man should be sole provider while a woman’s salary is mere pin money is one of the main contributors to this wage gap existing in the first place.

Further, I’ve come to realize that one of the main ways in which men can be protectors of their families is to protect their families from themselves. Most women who suffer GBV are victims of men in their own household. It goes against my macho instincts to say this, but if you want to ‘protect women’ as a man, your first step should be gaining control of your emotions, not arming yourself or learning kickboxing.

One thing I’ve also learned is, it is unwise to blindly quote the Bible – and other sacred texts – without due regard to context.

One of the remarkable things about the Bible is that a text written 2000 years ago, when Caesar’s legions still ruled the world, is still applicable to the modern world at all. The Bible is a valuable book for that reason alone.

Because it is a valuable book, we owe it a more considered response than mere parroting. A thought-for-thought following is better than a word-for-word one.

Ephesians five and six were written in a warlike society, a good 1800 years before the first police forces were created. A world where work meant ploughing fields or military service, not Instagram marketing. Slavery was the law of most lands, illiteracy was the norm, and inequality was expected. We make a serious mistake if we uncritically apply a text written for that world, to ours.

What I really want to stress instead is, let’s make ourselves new men. Let us, as St. Paul said in Romans chapter 12, ‘not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds’.

Hugh Ellis is a Namibian citizen and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication of the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog at http://ellishugh.wordpress.com