As I was writing this post yesterday evening in a hip local coffee shop, I inevitably ran into a friend, and told him about my latest slutty book report idea on gender roles. He was slightly nonplussed by my newly shorn hair, which is now boyishly cropped. The last time he saw me, my hair was very long, silky and as he put it “feminine.”
“Don’t get me wrong, you’re lovely no matter how much or little hair you have, but I think the longer version suits you better,” he explained. Nice ….save?
I laughed and called him a traditionalist, and asked if he’d like to see me churning butter and splitting logs too.
His take on gender roles is they’re time tested, tried and true throughout different cultures, and will always be relevant whether feminists like it or not. “Feminist” itself is an unnecessary label to describe strong women who are independent and can take care of themselves, according to him. In contrast, he admitted as an alpha male he enjoyed getting manicures and throwing on a pink shirt when the mood struck him. His point was that, in general, men think, act and absorb things a certain way, and women do the same in a different way. The differences “are designed” to complement each other, although they often can be confusing to their counterparts at first.
How many times have we heard “Why do men act this way?” or “Why do women always say ‘x’?”
I think our girl Carolyn would agree with my friend. In her book, Radical Womanhood, she devotes an entire section to the differences between the sexes and why these roles are what God intended.
A man’s divine-intended role is to lead, and the woman’s unalterable identity is to “support” him in his leadership. Never mind personalities or preferences of the individual. The woman is a perpetual and unalterable acolyte to her male counterpart. Its passages like this where I have to stop and scratch my head a little.
“In matters of the heart, it is right that men should lead and women welcome and guide that leadership. She is his helpmate. Her goal is to give her man all the help he needs to lead well. His goal is to humbly accept the responsibility to lead and not run from it or wield it like a club. The guidance that she provides him comes mainly in two forms: in helping him think clearly and encouraging him to act confidently. What comes from this is a shared victory. If it proves a mistake, it is borne together. Either way, what is fostered is true unity of spirit, which is the heart of the matter, where the two become one. We have to work at it, but if we do, true unity is fostered and preserved in the complementary exchange of male leadership and female guidance.”
At first, this sounds almost feasible. “Oh, I get it. It’s like cloak and dagger. Barack and Michelle. Men and women have their strengths and weaknesses which play well together in partnership.”
But, like a shit filled donut, once you get past the sweet flaky pastry, you’re still holding a steaming turd. I can get behind male/female partnership 100%. I can get behind the partnership of two consenting, likeminded human beings who love each other, period. What chaps my ass about that excerpt is there is nothing about that “partnership” that denotes true equality. The man is the decision-maker, who can stand on his own, but is “better off” with the guidance of the woman, yet the woman’s entire purpose is encapsulated in her ability to be useful to the man. She is, in essence, a physical and emotional buffet for his various appetites. In return, she is co-dependent and doesn’t have to make difficult decisions of her own accord.
Few things get under my skin like this. It is genuinely offensive to me to suggest a woman’s sole power comes in how persuasive she can be as a helpmate to the dominant male. You know the saying “a man may be the head of the family, but a woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any direction she chooses.”
How is this not manipulative and wrong? Its hard for me to believe that anyone could just accept this model as “the way it has to be.” I know women who are natural leaders and men who are natural followers. Being born with a penis or a vagina does not predetermine what role you should play in a partnership the same way a woman in a heterosexual relationship will always be the one who gives birth to the children. It is not her default biological contribution.
My best friend in high school married young, and is now a prominent engineer for a company that designs missiles. Her husband is a struggling novelist. Their relationship works best when he stays home and does typical “womanly” household chores in the interim of his daily writing, while she is the main breadwinner. When she gets home, he has dinner on the table. Someday, if they decide to have children, he will be a stay at home parent. I’ve heard many people criticize their relationship because its “emasculating”, but fuck them. Seriously. Their marriage works beautifully for them, and both parties are happy.
My point is, for the less perceptive among us, that I struggle with gender roles. I find them extremely limiting. I identify as a human with a brain, not by what gender I am. Thus, attraction can be multifaceted. I think grouping peoples strengths and weaknesses as “masculine” or “feminine” undermines who they are and what they are capable of contributing.
I see beauty in a woman’s strong muscular arms without seeing it as “masculine beauty”. I see tenderness in a man holding his infant without finding maternal instincts to be “feminine.”
Carolyn clings to Bible quotes like a child holding her favorite blanket. Its secure, its comfortable and its familiar. Every time her understanding is challenged, she runs back to some quote or passage to back her up. I say the Bible, as an ancient document, is going to be seriously lacking in both modern idioms and moral judgment. Men and women of today have so much more access to education, information and freedom of choice.
We’ve put sleeves on blankets and men on the moon. Surely, we can evolve our understanding of gender.