Towards Feminine Strength

And against dependency. The author is a scholar of Shakespeare, so perhaps she has thereby learned something of human nature.


Texan99 said...

What I hear loudly from the article, and from some of its angry comments, is that most of us are vulnerable to scary, angry feelings when we realize we have overwhelming needs we can't quite trust other people to meet. A typical but destructive response is to pretend we don't need the people who may let us down, and to treat them as objects. Thus the woman who thinks of her intimate male partner as the brutal face of the Patriarchy, who must be made irrelevant and valueless to be borne at all, but also the beleaguered man who thinks of women as the sexual toys who unaccountably behave with coldness and arrogance. Who needs them? Just treat them like a disposable Kleenex after sex.

Mark Perry has an article out this week about pay equity, pointing out that a lot of pay disparity can be accounted for by the higher discomfort and deadliness of male professions. (Equal gender pay day may be in April this year, but equal dying-on-the-job day won't happen until 2029.) Or note this twisting of thought about who bears burdens: “Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.” – Hillary Clinton. That's a style of thought that reminds me a great deal of another common approach, which is to think of women as chattel that other men are always threatening to steal. Sick, sick, sick all around. We are not each other's possessions, to be kept in boxes or lost to theft.

Grim said...

It's one of the better attempts I've read of a woman attempting to give an account of what men want, feel, and experience. That's interesting in and of itself, apart from what I think are healthy recommendations.

Let me say that again: men need us. It’s silly to enter into a conversation about women and men without acknowledging the basic biological drives of our species. I’ve never known a heterosexual man who isn’t constantly preoccupied with thoughts of women. Their own nature is at work against self-possession: the sight or the thought of a woman can overturn a man’s thoughts, his will, and seriously compromise his reason and unbalance his ability to make decisions.

That's right, as is her follow-on conclusion about what much of the current moment's complaints are about:

At times, this preoccupation can manifest as anger and even hatred. Nobody is suggesting that misogyny isn’t real. Most of the time, however, men’s need of women results in clumsy attempts at flirtation or awkward and unwanted advances. From what I can tell, a large proportion of the #Metoo complaints are of this nature.

But, in my own experience, men aren’t interested in maintaining power and control over women—they simply don’t see women as a group that they are oppressing, or that they would like to oppress.

She also says some sharp things about the power differential:

We hear a lot about “male privilege” but historically it has been the “privilege” of men to make their way in the hard world in order to first win a woman’s affections, and then support the family structure financially. We might call this “patriarchy,” but this term isn’t the synonym for misogyny that contemporary progressive political culture seems to think it is. (One has to appreciate the misplaced sincerity of many of my university students who roundly condemn The Patriarchy, while driving their father’s Toyota to campus every day, and using his savings to pay for their tuition. Not infrequently it occurs to me that the people who are most vocal against The Patriarchy are those who have benefited from it the most.)

After decades of discussing this, I find that I've grown exhausted with the idea -- so earnestly taught to each new generation of young women, as she fears it will be taught to her daughters -- that our society is somehow organized to oppress women. (Or anyone.) I have been running an experiment for the last year or so, where in every random strip mall I stop in on road trips, I count how many stores there cater exclusively or almost so to women, to men, and to neither. Grocery stores, for example, count as neither; the Men's Warehouse counts as being for men; women's shoe stores and manicure/pedicure salons, boutiques of various kinds count as catering to women. (Not gyms, unless they clearly show that they intend to court mostly or exclusively female membership. Car parts stores? I'm divided about that one.)

What I notice is that our society's economic activity, at least, is directed almost primarily toward the comfort and pleasure of women.

Unlike those who dislike women, which I don't at all, I don't even mind that this is the case. I don't mind doing the dangerous jobs; I'm the one who fells the trees and runs the chainsaw, and that's OK. I just wish that women could see clearly, as I think she does, how all this looks from my side.

Just as she says, I don't see women as a class I think I oppress or wish to oppress. I see women as individuals, mostly, some of whom I like and enjoy interacting with; others of whom I dislike and would prefer to avoid. One of them, my wife, is in a class by herself; far from oppressing her, I do everything I can to support her every ambition and desire. Others I'm close to are friends, and I try to support them in other ways. But there are literally no women I relate to that I try to control or manage, let alone oppress. It's just not on the agenda.

Texan99 said...

A common pattern between men and women is that the women fail to appreciate the strength of the purely physical sexual drive, and the men fail to appreciate the strength of the drive for connection and commitment. They need each other badly, with many needs in common but still a good deal of asymmetry in their priorities. Until they come along far enough in the world to understand that they're probably approaching things differently, they can both end up angry and threatened by the strength of their own needs and the anxiety over whether they will be met, understood, or even acknowledged. If that process goes wrong enough, each will see the other as oppressive, that is, misusing a power that's perceived to be unfairly acquired and used.

From everything I know of you, it wouldn't be a problem: you instinctively think of power as an opportunity for service, and you probably surround yourself with people of a similar approach to life. You don't assume they're exploiting you any more than you plan to exploit them. Service is love.

For me, an angry, victimized feminist is the flip side of an angry, victimized "Pick-Up Artist" acolyte. They face off against each other, each furious that the other has a power to exploit. It's no way to live.

Grim said...

From everything I know of you, it wouldn't be a problem: you instinctively think of power as an opportunity for service...

That may be the nicest thing anyone's ever said about me. I'm deeply touched.

Texan99 said...

Well ... shucks. You must know it's patently obvious to anyone in any contact with you. If I haven't made it obvious before now, I'm sorry to have been so opaque!

MikeD said...

She's right, you know.

Grim said...

You are both very kind. I am grateful.