A Male Feminist Reports
A personal reflection by Jonah Gokova, Zimbabwe, first published in Gender and Religious Education
I wanted to be different I was born in 1956 in a family of very devout Christian parents who both were active leaders in the Methodist Church. I was number two in the family but first born son. I have a young brother who comes after me and four sisters.
Traditionally my status in the family was higher than the one of my sister who came before me. In my case, my sister is seven years older than me! It is not about, who is older; but who is the son. This emphasis was repeated throughout my formative years and even up to now.
The Zimbabwean society, in which I was born, is not different from any other society in the world in terms of social expectations relating to gender roles between boys and girls who grow up to be men and women. There was an unwritten law, which regulated behavior and was read as the following: boys must be tough, boys do not cry, boys do ‘men’s work’ outside the home. At every step the requirement on maleness had to be confirmed. Physical ability, toughness were objectified as necessary ideal, that had to be achieved by every boy in our society.
I had four sisters who had an enforced ‘cultural and religious obligation’ to cook, wash dishes and clothes for me. In my younger days I was not satisfied with this arrangement and wanted to be different from other boys in my community. I was interested in assisting my sisters in doing household chore and I gained a lot of satisfaction from it. I learnt to cook, to iron and to perform household tasks, normally done by girls and women. My mother encouraged me to work together with my sisters and I enjoyed sharing the tasks with my sisters. My brother was rather different. He enjoyed playing with other boys away from home and his level of gender sensitivity is not notably high today.
Well my involvement in all this is definitely not the result of some fantastic gender theories I had read before. At that stage of my development I was not even aware of the work of feminists, who later assisted me with tools of analysis of social organization and unequal power relations that seem to be consistent in our societies today. I was simply doing what I felt as the right thing to do at that moment. It is important to note that my mother played a crucial role in encouraging and supporting me. She did not read any of the feminist theories and up to now, at the age of over 80 years, she is not familiar with the gender theories that are beginning to inform our critic of social and power relations between men and women in society.
It is very possible that as a leader in Church she must have been influenced by her belief in God to develop a sense of justice, that is reflected in the way she worked hard to create opportunities for her daughters, and the encouragement she gave me to develop a sense of equality between me and my sisters. I listened to her and I have never regretted.
My concept of salvation As I look back I always ask myself, what specific contribution has the church made to my gender consciousness? What I remember from Sunday school theology and youth leadership lessons in the church is that God has always been neutral to these issues. Gender stereotypes have always been glorified as God-ordained. Boys should strive to positions of leadership while girls should be submissive and learn to obey.