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Monday, February 20, 2012

Gender's on the Agenda

I don't know where this post will take me. I often write wanting to explore a theme, just to learn something myself. Not to state my opinion. I call it 'going impro'.
Today the theme is gender roles and true emancipation.

    Roughly speaking there are two of them: male and female. The sex that gives birth, or lays eggs, is generally designated as the female and the other sex, the left overs, should therefore be considered male. So far a working definition, just to avoid miscommunication. (No one communicates with me through my blog but that won't stop me from seeing my blog as a form of communication.)

    What's all the hassle about men and women? Men coming from Mars and women from Venus? I know pretty certain that both my parents are earthlings. My father has Frisian blood, my mother's from 'Holland' (which together with Friesland forms the Netherlands.)
My father comes from a typical macho family, being raised with the credo “if it's a girl we don't like it”. He felt very comfortable in his job at the Air Force. Until the number of female military personnel began to grow and the ladies appeared at the so called 'social evenings', which used to be male only. That does sound a bit outdated, doesn't it?
    Especially if I tell you about my great grandparents, mother's side. They were born around 1885 and got married before 1910. There was a slight traditional role pattern in their marriage: my great grandfather held up the rule “Where there are pants, skirts won't pay”. Meaning that when going out, his wife was not supposed to pay for anything.
But when it came to their marriage they said there were two captains on their boat! The man did not boss his wife, nor did the woman control her husband.
    Since my traditional father folkloristically refrained from bothering himself with his children, my mother  raised my brother and me single handed. In the egalitarian ways of her family. I was hardly aware of any gender issues until I was sent to kindergarten. I don't want to elaborate on it, there is another post for that, but I was really surprised to find that some children expected me not to play with cars, but with dolls. Not being gifted with a docile nature, I refused to comply to this nonsense and became a loner. An observer and a philosopher. And, in trying to gain some appreciation from the misogynist at my home, a bit of a tomboy for some time.

    Most parents can live with a daughter who is a tomboy. But oh, what if your son is a sissy? Help! Therapy is sorely needed. This odd phenomenon made me think twice about feminism and women's emancipation.
    What is an indication of a culture were women and men have 'equal rights'? That women get an education like men do. That women hold high positions in companies like men do. That women can join the army or become police officers. In short: that women are allowed to do the same things as men do. Fine, I'm all for anyone having the right to do what he or she likes most.
    But there's a little venomous snake hiding and waiting for it's poison to take effect in this type of feminism. Women are not only allowed to do what men do, there is special praise for these women: they are called 'succesful'. An Example ! Being a tomboy is what such a culture advocates for women. Female traits, female qualities, still are not being appreciated. Not in men and not in women.
    Is this true liberation of women? Of anyone? No it's just maintaining the status quo 'Act Like a Man'. Even if you're a woman.

    The snake has been identified by some and different forms of feminist movements have been born out of this: difference feminism, new feminism, Chacha-warmi, … all advocating emancipation with the respect of female values. Gender complimentarity. Women are not like men, but they are as valuable and deserve equal rights.
    This respect for female virtues is, in my opinion, a lot better than the appreciation of women who prove that they can equal men in many ways. But even in this type of 'Equal Respect for Women' there is a hidden sting. It reinforces the traditional role patterns. For some women -and men- a fine thing, but not for those who carry character traits, deeply rooted in their veins, in their souls, that are not fitting with their appointed gender role. Gendercomplimentarity will not make them happy.

    Let's take a look at a society where the most successful men are very macho. For this we must travel to Chile, to the foothills of the South American Andes; where else? There lives a very interesting type of rodent, related to the better known chinchilla's and guinea pigs: the degus (Octodon degu). A typical degu man spends his day defending his harem (!), his food resources and chases predators and rivals out of his territory. One of his occupations is building piles with pebbles, the higher the pile the stronger the other males believe him to be. Destruction of the tower leads to loss of the harem.
In the mean time his wives tend the nest and raise his youngsters.
    The behaviour of the male degu is purely dictated by natural pressures. When these macho degus are in captivity, no longer pressed to defend the territory nor the food resources, they help their women in taking care of the young!

    Maybe that is what we should do: just let go of the idiotic idea that some types of behaviour are reserved for men and other types of behaviour for women only.
Character traits, behaviour, are as they are, no matter to whom it applies. Nurturing children, caring for sick and cleaning a house deserve the same respect as showing strong leadership, being smart enough to make a good deal or coming up with a new technological masterpiece. Whether these traits are being performed by a man or a woman is irrelevant.
I'm not saying that men and women are the same. I'm just saying that no two persons are alike. One has a more of this, the other a bit more of that. There are very feminine women, never to be equaled by any man. There are very masculine men, no woman could beat them. And there are a lot of men and women with some overlap in their preferences and behaviour.
    Let's respect all of them. Give them all room to grow and flourish in their own way.

     What is respect anyway? What good is it in society? What does it mean in a relationship, where gender plays an important role ?
The best definitions of respect are these:
- to pay proper attention to; not violate
- to show consideration for; treat courteously or kindly

    Respect can be pretty hollow, if it's not accompanied by understanding. Within a large -cultural- group, you cannot know or understand everybody. So a government promoting respect is good. It is useful when you are dealing with strangers, knowing you'll be respected – and have to show respect- without having to do the impossible: getting to know each and everyone you meet.
    But in a one on one relationship respect is not enough. It is not enough to show consideration, treat courteously or pay proper attention to your partner, while believing you don't have to understand him, or can never understand her, simply because (s)he comes from another planet.
    Or is that just my taste, my point of view ? Maybe there really are those who like to share their life with someone who just looks up to them. Without ever being understood by that partner. What will be shared in that case? Very little, only practical things I think. That must be very lonely.
    It's a choice. And I have to respect that.

    On my desk is a booklet entitled “Wellsprings of Jewish Wisdom” I couldn't let this small book stay at its undeserved location, a secondhand bookstore. I quote from it:

The woman came out of a man’s rib.
Not from his feet to be walked on.
Not from his head to be superior,
but from the side to be equal.
Under the arm to be protected,
and next to the heart to be loved.”

[The Talmud]  

Since she came from his side, under the arm, 
I guess she is good at encouraging and comforting.
And coming close from the heart, she too is capable of loving.

Hitching or Hiking ?

    Her holiday had not been what she had expected it to be. But today she would start on a special field trip. One that had come up unexpectedly. She had immediately warmed to the idea, thinking that this might compensate for all the disappointments she had run into during her stay.
    The trip was very plain. A challenging hike, a walk that would take a couple of days, to an Alpine meadow. It was said to be very beautiful this time of year, full of exotic flowers and the wildlife bringing out their youngsters from their nests and hideouts.
   She'd have to do the largest part of the journey on her own. The other members of the travel group had declined this exercise, preferring to visit some more cities, where there would be the entertainment of musea, markets and concerts. And modern comfort.
    The goal was worth it. Besides she was used to doing things on her own, so she didn't change her plans on account of that.

   The sun did her best some of the days, giving her a good view over the mountains. Other days the rain made the spring gurgle more and more, being a talkative companion during her walk.
    The climb gradually grew more difficult, the road narrower, rockier and the sun really started to burn. The beautiful view became less entertaining. Breathtaking was a description now reserved for the steeper parts of her walk. If the goal of her trip hadn't been so alluring, she might even have turned back.
    Suddenly she heard a familiar sound coming up from behind. It was Herr G. a local landowner and farmer. One with quite a lot of land scattered around here. And consequently a lot to dictate in the area. But the local folk didn't mind so much power in the hand of just one person. This person. For the man was good natured and friendly. Always helping where he could and donating to those who needed support.
    Herr G. was in his buggy like carriage drawn by two horses, speeding along a lot easier than she ever could on foot. Wasn't Herr G.'s summer chalet in the midst of the meadows ? He could take her along, there was enough room in his carriage. It would save her a day. She held up her hand to stop the carriage.
   “Are you going up to the meadow?” Herr G. asked her as he slowed down his horses. She nodded.
“Well you're on the right rack”, the man told her reassuringly. “If you step lively, you'll be there tomorrow afternoon.” He urged his horses on with the reins. Leaving the woman behind, her eyes large with surprise. 

    Herr G. had been right, the next afternoon, she reached the pasture. The sun had done her work well that day and bathed the mountainside in her light and warmth for hours already. The flowers opened their buds for the first time of their short lives. The four footed mothers poked their noses out to see if the pasture would be safe enough for their babies. Having noticed all this with great satisfaction the hiker sat down to rest. She hadn't just been stepping lively, she had stumbled, slipped and even taken a few fearsome slides. But she had made it. She complimented herself on that. She sat down on a large boulder, closed her eyes just to feel the sun and smell the flowers and herbs of the pasture. She concentrated on the sounds surrounding her. Could she hear the rustling of the marmots in the undergrowth, or the bleating of some young chamois or mountain goats ? She heard something alright. She frowned, eyes still closed. What could it be? It .. sounded.. like .... footsteps. Human footsteps. A shadow fell over her. She opened her eyes, meeting those of a big strong man, radiantly smiling down on her. Herr G., without the slightest trace of a bad conscience in his eyes, face or demeanor. “So you made it,” he cheered, handing her a cool drink. Then he sat down next to her, the boulder was large enough. After a few gulps she turned her head to face this powerful man who had left her struggling at the roadside. “You could have given me a ride, you know. It would have saved me a terrible struggle and several sore spots.”
He nodded. “Yes, but then you would have arrived too soon. While the pasture was still barren and gloomy. And you would have been disappointed again.”


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Behind the Scenes

The story “The Essence of Incense” is based on some true facts. While I was writing a letter to myself, my way of dealing with a problem, I was playing around with incense. Very much like Chris did.
Suddenly I saw the parallels between the way I dealt with the incense and the way I had been dealing with something else, making it a painful experience instead of a pleasure. In that moment I became Collin.
Since Chris is just a kid, I didn't want his father to bother him for too long, with too many rules. But in reality I came up with 8 mistakes I had been making! From those mistakes I made up a list of helpful hints, that I am putting into practise.

Whether you are working on any kind of dream or relationship with someone, maybe you can use these hints too...

  • Don't lose track of your dream nor ruin it by being greedy.

  • Enjoy what you've achieved already. Don't let fear of what might come later on, rob you of that joy.

  • Dare to let things evolve without interfering. Because your interventions may not always be right (they are often prompted by fear or greed)

  • The flame of love, between you and your friend or your dream, is sacred, no matter what it's final shape will be. Handle the flame with great care. 
  • Focus! Don't invest in anything worthless.

  • Everything needs time to grow. Be patient.

  • Set aside your expectations and ideas. That way you give the other room to show what (s)he is really like.  (S)he may be even better than you thought.
  • Don't give in to reactions like fighting or fleeing. Welcome the Unknown and the Unexpected.

Life will give you so much more when you don't manipulate.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Curiosity Dyed the Cat

   He eyed me with suspicion this morning, while I cut my hair short with my clippers. Of course I use a machine that leaves me with  a decent hair length, I don't want to be mistaken for a marine.
And neither does Diego.  He's not vain, but he doesn't want anyone to meddle with his long persian fur coat. Only cat tongues are allowed to groom it. His hair is real beautiful: when he bobs through my living room, he reminds me of a waving curtain.   - That doesn't sound very beautiful, but there is too much of a comic book caricature in him, to use poetry -
Anyway, Diego likes his fur and wants to keep it as it is. So this morning he had no trouble surpressing his natural curiosity and stayed miles away from me while my hair was covering more and more ground around me.  His relief when the clippers fell silent was profound.

But brief. As soon as I had finished the cutting, I prepared a paste of henna, mixing it with vinegar, and applied the brown greenish muck to my head. Now I didn't just look silly, I smelled bad too.
Diego still had no lust to come closer. He just counted himself lucky that the female human is not the one responsible for his coat.
Since I kept on wearing the stuff on my head, I was a fashion enemy that had better be left alone.   So against his habit,  Diego let me go through the process of washing dishes on my own -someone with an academic background should not be thinking about dirty dishes so often. ;)   But I can't help it: dirty dishes are like the seven heads on a dragon: you may get rid of them, but they grow back in no time. -

It was while I dried my hands with the towel that I spotted the little prince jogging around with an odd looking  green blob in his coat.  Had he come from the litter box, I wondered. But he didn´t smell that bad... I tried to rub him clean with a paper tissue. The stuff gave off an unmistakable orange stain.
While Diego had considerd me a Dangerous Presence, a thorough inspection of the smelly paste could do no harm, he thought. After all, as a cat you have a reputation about curiosity to hold up...

Alas for the prince. the paste had dried up and matted his fur, so I had to take the scissors and clip away a bit, misshaping his coat. Fortunately his grows back.

Friday, February 3, 2012


I am longing for my rocky seat, my 'horst'. 
To reach that special place I have to climb through the rough woodsy twigs of purple heath, leaving the sparse and lonesome trees behind me.
As I get closer to the summit, the howling wind of the moorland is giving way to the steady heartbeat of the ocean. It  already has sent out it’s smell to guide me.

My rock protrudes high over the sandy beach granting a rich view over the  ocean. The rock is my throne, the ocean is my spouse, whispering words of wisdom to me.

I am a king and I’ve come to this throne to overlook my world, my life. I fight for those  who are in it, but now  I need to look at  them all from a distance. For I am tired of doing battle and falling back.
The throne, not a symbol of power, but a divine seat, a place for wisdom, is the best place for a retreat.

The purple heath is the robe I let slip off my back.  I am vulnerable now, small and defenseless. I let the rain soak me to the bone, the salt remove the sweetness of my lips.  I let the crying of the wind unnerve my spirit. The drone and clatter of the waves drowse me into numbness .  The storm may shake me, push me to the edge, the cold cuts off my breath.  I will not go for cover.
Because I know these are the rough bejewelled  gifts of Nature, the full range of emotions that come with Life. They are full of power, but I shall not fear them. They may move me, impress me or even leave a mark. But they do not change me. I know that I will walk away from my throne as Me. Enlightened. Encouraged to rule my world again.