This image of Timoclea of Thebes throwing the soldier who raped her down a well could be the poster for the #metoo movement of the middle ages. Once he was down there, Timoclea hurled heavy stones at him until he was dead. The painting was done by Elisabetta Sirani, the most famous woman artist in early modern Bologna. She established an academy for other women artists, but died at 27, of “unexplained circumstances.”
Women have been suffering since long before the middle ages from having their bodies objectified and abused, and are still suffering from not being seen, heard, paid fairly in the workplace, and of being valued only for their physical beauty and sexual prowess. This is the outcome of a patriarchal system, of man over woman.
The women’s movement has done all that it can to move the needle, and yet the gaping wounds of gender oppression have not been reconciled. There’s good reason to believe we will not have widespread lasting change until both women and men undergo a true healing and reconciliation process. Entrenched systems of oppression do not change when the oppressed alone rise up to say they’ve had enough, and from that day on are going to be empowered. It is a good start, and in the face of oppression often the only thing they can do, but leaves the transformation that is needed incomplete. Women cannot simply throw men down the well and get on with their lives. In a re-balanced, sustainable system, men are going to need a new place. For this to happen, women cannot do it alone; men and women will need to do it together.
We are in a moment when both men and women are ready to do the deep and lasting work of healing at the roots of the patriarchy. A lot of the men we know are frankly dumbfounded about how to respond to #metoo; they want to be feminists, they want to support the women in their lives, yet they do not know how.
The most effective model we know for healing patriarchy at its roots is the work of Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI). Founded by Will Keepin & Cynthia Brix, they intentionally bring women and men together, with a strong awareness that in patriarchal systems, it is not only women who suffer. Men also suffer from being conscribed and contained to roles defined by the patriarchy. In an introduction to their work, they bring this point home:
In GERI workshops, people of all sexual orientations and genders are brought together, creating containers to confront gender disharmony and reach reconciliation. It is not about a women’s movement or a men’s movement, it is about the two groups coming together to heal and build a new way. “Each needs the other for a true and complete healing.”
Over the course of a few days men and women listen to each others experiences, both in gender-only groups, and in collective groups. “We create safe forms for women and men to have intimate and often taboo conversations around gender and sexuality. In these safe forums participants are invited to bring their personal stories of pain and suffering into the open, and speak truth about their experience — not as victims but as witnesses to their story and to their life. This is not to wallow in our pain and suffering but rather to bring it into the light so that it may be healed and transformed and move into a place of wholeness, health, and spiritual fulfillment.“
Will and Cynthia describe one listening circle, where a woman shared the horrific story of her rape. After bearing witness, one of the men listening shares, “I don’t know how to be a man anymore.”
This is emblematic of where we are right now in America. The movement for women’s equality is incomplete, and the male masculine does not know where it belongs. The masculine also needs to find its appropriate expression in order for the system to be in balance.
“Men cannot hear the deep truth of women’s pain and remain the same men. Women cannot hear the deep truth of men’s pain and remain the same women.“
This is more than just an aspirational quote, it is currently being proven by a research team based in South Africa, led by world-renowned specialist in trauma and forgiveness Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. After studying the GERI methodology over three years, they are showing that gender relations and ideologies between men and women were significantly transformed through the process. And amazingly, “researchers were able to pinpoint the precise moment and dynamics of the transformation of consciousness.”
Doing this work for over 25 years, Will and Cynthia are convinced that although “patriarchy is thousands of years old it is only a few days deep” since in workshops of a few days they consistently witness profound healing and transformation of women and men together.