Prabu Deepan, who leads Tearfund’s work in Asia, explores how Jesus Christ is the best model to transform masculinity, and how we must all be on a journey to challenge and change our behaviour to become more Christ-like, treating each other equally.
My father was very violent towards my mother. But he was a really good cook. He always cooked and took care of us. But that didn't change how he saw my mother as a person, as a woman. He saw her as property: someone he could act violently towards without repercussions – even his church did not challenge his behaviour.
My journey exploring masculinity started when I decided that I didn’t want to be a man or a husband like my father. Or a father like him. But that was just the start. It’s the same as believing you are a good person because you haven’t killed anyone. You look at the worst and, because you are not like them, you believe you must be a good person in comparison.
Jesus is the man
Instead, we need to look into scripture – at Jesus Christ – and ask what model of behaviour did he display? We need to aspire to that, rather than looking at the worst in society and being satisfied we are better. We need to look at Jesus and decide that we want to be like him. And work towards that ideal.
I have never been physically violent towards women. But I am quite passive-aggressive and I behaved that way in my relationships. But my benchmark was people who use physical violence, comparing myself to my father and other men. I thought my passive-aggressive behaviour was okay because I was better than others.
Back then, I hadn’t done anything to unlearn, unpack and critically examine my own life. Now I understand that violence is more than physical, it is emotional, economical and sexual.
I came to understand that behaviours that constrict and limit women's autonomy in relationships – emotional and psychological threats and manipulation – are toxic. I realised there was more to change in my life before I started to work with others. It should be a journey we are taking together. I don’t come to other people saying that I’ve got it all figured out. We need to critically reflect together and hold each other accountable, working towards the aspiration of being like Jesus Christ.
Based on this principle, I helped to develop Transforming Masculinities, a Tearfund programme that encourages positive, healthy behaviour in men and promotes gender equality to more effectively address sexual and gender-based violence. It focuses on individual behaviour change around gender, masculinity and faith. Aiming to engage men and boys, the programmes’ activities are a mix of biblical reflections and best practice from other approaches.