“Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.”
Genesis 21:19 NRSV
As men, we still have miles to go before we have a healthy honor and respect for womanhood. Every mention of the allegations and actions of the 45th president, the owner of the reigning Superbowl champions, the jovial television role model of husband, dad, and doctor, and the former R&B legend serve as vivid reminders of the distortions in our view of womanhood.
Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar
Even Abraham, the biblical patriarch, struggled with how to honor his wife Sarah’s wishes while respectfully caring for Hagar, the Egyptian slave woman, and his son Ishmael. Sarah asked Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, and God affirmed her request. After a short time, the loaf was gone, and the water ran dry. Hagar sat Ishmael under a tree and went some ways off so that she would not see her son die of hunger and thirst (Genesis 21: 8-21). Hagar, a matriarch in her own right, demonstrates the hopelessness and despair many mothers and women experience when men devalue and dismiss them by thoughts, words, and deeds.
The Matriarchs Lead the Heard
Researchers assumed a similar fate for the females and their children among the most prominent elephant herds across Central Africa. Male elephants were known to have abandoned the herd for a time during the dry season. When the grass is low, and the water is scarce, the matriarchs lead the family through migratory patterns inherited from their mothers. These patterns lead to wells of water in distant lands while allowing time for vegetation in grazing areas to grow again.
The elephant herds remind me that we learn to honor and respect womanhood through our experiences with motherhood. Our first interactions are with our mothers, who nurture, protect, and provide for us as children in our homes, and then, with the many women that care and rear us in our families, schools, and communities. It is from the healthy attachment to motherhood that we gain the confidence and courage to explore paths the matriarchs left and venture out to find our own wells of water.
Respect for Womanhood
On the path to manhood, we abandon our mothers and the honor and respect for motherhood that characterized our youth. This separation is an essential step of the journey (departure, separation, and return) to adulthood. Learning, again, to honor and respect womanhood is also necessary. Respect for Womanhood is a core value of the Becoming A Man program. This value is grounded in recognizing how as men our thoughts, words, and deeds either devalue or uplift women. And, acknowledging how we either contribute to sustaining a system of oppression or work towards developing a liberating path that impacts all women including those we love.
Bees Protect the Queen
In 2013, a colony of bees was installed on the roof of the Notre Dame cathedral to address the declining bee numbers in the city. These bees survived the recent fire not by some modern-day technological advancement, but by a miraculous feat and demonstration of bees commitment to their hive. As one beekeeper described it, “European bees, unlike some bee species, don’t abandon their hives when facing danger.”
As it turns out, the young male elephants leave the herd to be trained by the older bulls in the strength, self-knowledge, and tactics needed to survive their own journey. To prepare the next generation of presidents, politicians, business owners, actors, and musicians for manhood, we must progress as men from respect and honor for motherhood and womanhood, to a reverence for the personhood of all women. As we are all created in the imago Dei, we must learn to abandon neither our hives nor our queens when faced with danger.