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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 That does sound a bit outdated, doesn't it?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.

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