Sunday, January 14, 2018

Toward Better Gender Relations


I got up later than I wanted to this morning and so turned on CBS's Sunday Morning in the middle of Oprah Winfrey's discussion with an informal panel of other celebrity women talking about the "me, too" movement and related issues. Men seem to be taking a beating these days, but we tend to be dense, and it will take more blunt dialogue to get it through our thick skulls that we must modify not only our behavior towards women, but our entire mindset when it comes to gender relations reform.

Tracee Ellis Ross said something in that roundtable that really got my attention, but I fear it was lost on a lot of people listening. The crux of her comment was basically that men no longer get to define women, as individuals or a group, in any way. Men do not get to define a woman's mood ("Smile, smile!"), her purpose (catering to men?), and definitely not her place in society (quiet and demure).

We have, unwittingly, perhaps, treated women in the same manner that we have treated non-Caucasian races and ethnic groups. We have given them "permission" to fulfill certain roles and then become hostile when they resist or get "uppity" and create their own roles, the ones they truly desire and are usually the most qualified for. Blacks, for example, are embraced as long as they entertain us on the stage, screen, athletic field, court, or arena, or otherwise perform for us Whites. They cease to be human, but are products instead, though we would never frame it that way in polite conversation.

Women are right, the time for polite conversation is up. Time for some hard lessons. I know I could stand a vastly better education myself. Women are realizing they no longer have to answer to men, to be subservient, settle for less than they are worth, or settle for less than they are capable of achieving. They are not obliged to modify their bodies or emotions for the benefit of men. They have been tolerant to the point of boiling over. Many still struggle with conflicting emotions of assertiveness and "not wanting to rock the boat." That only points to how blessedly empathetic they are. God knows we could use more of that.

Women have allowed men to deny them not only opportunities for advancement in every conceivable context, but they have bent over backwards to please us. The karma chiropractor of the "me, too" movement has been long overdue. I find myself oddly relieved by it. Maybe I don't have to pretend to be macho anymore; but I also have to confront my own attitudes, impulses, and instincts and overcome them or refine them. The scientist in me understands that human beings are still animals, and we have a long history of "base" relations to the opposite gender. Those biological imperatives are not overcome overnight. However, that our species has advanced as far as it has in other aspects of the "logical" gives me hope that the "bio" will become less of a defining element in reaching a more equal and enduring pinnacle of social evolution.

So what if the "natural order" of things is toppled, or even turned on its head? It would be a small price to pay in the short run, with massive benefits in the long term. Gender relations as expressed in the "me, too" movement are very much akin to the civil rights movement. Indeed, emphasis should be on civility as extended to all human beings regardless of any other personal attributes.

Women have a dream for equality in every regard and they are entitled to it. To paraphrase the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they long for the day when they, and their female descendants, will live in a nation where they will be judged not by the size of their booty, the content of their wardrobe closet, their decisions about childbirth, or whether they want to be housewives or entrepreneurs, but by the way they treat themselves and others in meaningful ways. Note the emphasis on intangible qualities, made evident through positive actions. The women I know already lead that kind of life of mutual respect and dignity and assertiveness. It is a model of true leadership that both women and men should strive to attain.

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