I recently read a Fox News article about how men don’t want to get married to the women who are available because, since Feminism came in and crazy ladies burnt their bras, “women aren’t women” any more. And that all this rah-rah pro-lady bias in the media has made men feel sad and broken and unloved.
In college I wrote a paper on what the privatization of land among the pastoral Maasai and Samburu tribes was doing to the masculine identity in those cultures. Both cultures have had very divided gender roles, with the women dealing entirely within the domestic sphere—they build their own houses, raise their children, farm and tend the small livestock—and the men heading out to cattle camps with the herds and men of their extended family groups. Now that grazing lands have been “protected” or privatized, there is a loss of identity among the men. They are lonely, without their fathers and brothers in the cattle camps, and the world has changed within their lifetime. The steps that are often taken to combat the loneliness result in men going to cities and contracting diseases, drinking problems, drug abuse, and other domestic ills. According to Fox News, this loss of identity is similar to what American men are feeling, and instead of Colonialism and Capitalism to be blamed, it’s all on us ladies. Not that we’re even women any more.
The entire Fox argument is just weird on so many levels. Worst, I worry that there is a niggling grain of truth buried in the deep, deep, deep layers of total bullshit. Not that women aren’t women or that ladies are responsible for men’s loss of identity, but that while girls were being raised on the idea that we can be anything, that we CAN do math and science and be nerds and artists and mechanics and mommies and carpenters and princesses, not shave our legs or armpits, sleep with and/or marry men and/or women, be strong and powerful, have or not have babies, own sexy lingerie and Carhartts, play sports, run for political offices, and on and on and THANK THE LORD AND ALL THOSE BRA BURNERS AND BRAVE LADIES AND MEN OF THE EARLY FEMINIST MOVEMENT, very little was done to adjust the dudes to this new, and more awesome paradigm.
My father, god bless him, has lived in a very female-centric world for the last forty years. His mother, his sister, his wife and his three daughters all have few issues with expressing our opinions, and we tend to bristle at the idea that there are limits to what ladies can do. Not that this topic comes up a whole lot—he did raise his daughters to be like this and can’t be too surprised at the results—but sometimes I think that the capability of myself, my mother, and my sisters takes him by surprise. At a reading by the wonderful Terry Tempest Williams this spring, my father stood up to ask about, in TTW’s newest book about her mother, is there a place for her father?
And suddenly I understood that he just doesn’t want become obsolete amid all the women. I don’t imagine that he is alone among men of his generation, who have no model for how to age gracefully with capable women. I don’t imagine he is so very different from men of my own generation who were raised with more rigid expectations of gender roles.
There has been so much necessary focus on women and girls in so many fields. I applaud the results, and while the glass ceiling isn’t an open sky yet, we’re getting there. What worries me is that boys are not getting similar lessons in role models in how to go beyond traditional gender roles. To wit, in a grad school class, a women presented on impact of girl only outdoor programs on the confidence of those girls as they become women. The student presenting mentioned the possibility of less sexual violence against these women, as they would have gained the confidence to avoid abusive relationships, and to stand up for themselves physically. Wise (lady) professor pipes up: “this is great for the girls, but why don’t we have more programs developed for little boys explaining that rape is bad?” A good question, as I doubt anyone dreams of growing up to become a rapist. In fact, the thought of looking at a class of elementary school aged kids and knowing that some of them will grow into heinous criminals incapable of expressing healthy sexual emotions is both terrifying and sad.
Which is why I am so thankful for the men and women I am friends with. I’m not saying everyone is perfect, or escaped unscathed into adulthood without emotional and identity baggage that comes out in weird ways. But, by and large, I think the people of my generation I know have a good grip on the duality (forgive my heteronormity) of what makes men and women great and different and awesomely, commonly human. We’re perhaps the first generation to possibly have it all ways. I don’t know any men who can’t cook, I don’t know any women who refuse to cook or sew because it’s too “traditional and repressive.” I know both men and women who are largely, the stay at home parent. Perhaps I just know a lot of mama’s boys and penis-envying women, but I really don’t think so. That said, there are things that I can’t do, or can’t do as well by the same metric as men can because I have lady biology. That goes for the dudes as well, and I think that’s great. I have friends who are better at foreign languages than I am, no reason that I shouldn’t have friends who are stronger than me, or who look better in pretty dresses than others of my friends. I know heaps of strong, capable, brilliant, creative, athletic women who like to curl up with Adele, a rom-com, and have a good cry. And I know a lot of strong, capable, brilliant, creative, athletic men who have a need to do “dude stuff” which I don’t understand the point of, but wish them well. Not all paths need to cross all the time—we have biology and it plays out differently. We’re not, nor should we strive to be, asexual robots. Or GI Joe figures. Or Stepford Wives.
It’s actually pretty awesome, this everyone being better able to do EVERYTHING. When I am doing traditionally masculine things like building trails or belching like a long-haul truck, I like to say that I can do these things because I am a lady. A friend sent out an apology email recently, saying he couldn’t come out for a beer because he had a cold and was sitting home in his slippers and tea because he is a man. It’s all true, and there’s no war on each other from where I sit.
Now, if we could just get equal pay, equal health care, maternity and paternity leave, more women in government, and a few other small items, it’d be great. No one gets obsolete, everyone gets to hang out with each other and marry or not marry as we all, equally, see fit. Go us!