Can We Please End the Gender Wars?


I must preface this post by saying I am writing this as much for myself as for anyone else.  I’ll explain why later.

I’ve been coming across a lot of articles lately talking about female privilege/disadvantage vs male privilege/disadvantage.  See this: http://thoughtcatalog.com/isla-sofia/2014/04/18-reasons-why-the-concept-of-female-privilege-is-insane/

& this: http://thoughtcatalog.com/mark-saunders/2014/04/18-things-females-seem-to-not-understand-because-female-privilege/

These articles are both a bit superficial to be sure, but they are excellent examples of the genre so to speak.  If you don’t feel inclined to read the articles, what the whole idea boils down to is this: grown adults are arguing over whether being male or female is harder.

The reason I started this post by saying I’m writing this to myself as much as anyone is because this past weekend I was quite literally in tears telling my husband that I wish I were male so I wouldn’t feel the insane pressure to choose between family & career when thinking ahead to having children in the next few years.  And the sad truth is in those moments I truly meant it.  My generation of women was sold a great lie when we were told we could “have it all.”  No, I’m sorry, we really can’t.  Yes, we can have great careers & also be great moms, but do not think for even a minute that no matter which option(s) you choose you won’t have to make tremendous sacrifices that your male counterparts more than likely will not have to make as parents.  For example, if a man has a high-powered career & decides to have kids, it is unlikely to have a huge effect on his job.  Yes, he may feel greater pressure to come home earlier to be with his children or to stay in one city rather than move around from place to place in search of promotions.  But overall I think it’s safe to argue that having children is less likely to have a net negative effect on a man’s career.  (I know some women who are reading this are probably thinking “But aren’t you happy that you’re the one who gets to create life, nourish it in your womb, & quite literally feed it?”  Umm, on some level I guess I am, but mostly I just think about how painful & distressing that sounds!  I guess I am too practical for my own good.  I know in time my motherly instinct will kick in & I’ll probably laugh at myself for ever wishing I were male.  But I’m not quite there yet.  Be patient with me.)

gender scales

Aside from raising children, there are other situations in life in which I think quite seriously about how I wish I were male.  The times when I’m standing in line at a restaurant & some creepy man behind me is checking me out & making me wish I were not only male but invisible.  (It doesn’t really matter what I’m wearing, by the way.  Certain men look at all women like meat regardless of their chosen attire.)  Or when I can’t open a jar & my husband isn’t home to do it for me & I feel so incredibly weak & ridiculous.  Times like that.

However, I’ve said all that to say this: Can we stop fighting over who has it harder in life?  The reality is that life isn’t fair.  But it’s also not a competition.  Life is hard for all of us, regardless of our gender, race, or anything else.  As one of my favorite high school teachers used to say, “Life’s not fair, I’m not nice, get used to it.”  (Or maybe that last part was “get over it.”  But the point is the same regardless.)  I am wary of writing this because I don’t want to sound like I’m saying we shouldn’t discuss the issues brought up in the kinds of articles I referenced at the beginning.  Reproductive rights, divorce, victim-shaming/blaming in relation to rape or sexual abuse, & other such issues are extremely important & should not be tossed aside just because life isn’t fair.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to rectify some of the inherent unfairness of life.  Indeed I think it is the ethical thing to do as truly alive, enlightened human beings.

life isn't fair

However, in the end there are some things men & women will always be inherently better at or more capable of doing than the other gender.  For example as much as it grinds my gears that teenage boys half my age are stronger than me even though I might work out just as long/hard as they do, it’s just biology.  There’s nothing I can do about it.  I’m sure very few men would admit it, but to a certain extent some fathers must be jealous of the fact that women share a certain closeness with their children that men never really can simply because we’re the ones who give birth to them.  Furthermore even good men have to deal with the fact that women often see them as inherently dangerous.  A friend of mine told me a few months ago that it really bothers him that when he is jogging he’ll often cross paths with women who give him this desperate “please don’t rape me” look.  On the other hand I’ve been one of those women (in similar scenarios), & it sucks to know that there are plenty of situations in life in which you’re dependent on the man or men you’re with being decent individuals in order for you to not get hurt.  I know that must sound melodramatic but it’s true.

Basically what it comes down to is exactly what I said before.  Life is hard.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female.  There are certain inherent advantages & disadvantages to both genders.  Actually I would argue there are probably very few that are truly biologically inherent.  Most of the privileges & disadvantages both genders experience are things society has constructed & therefore can theoretically be changed over time.  This is why I remain hopeful that the world can become a better place for all of us, even in the face of the horrible situations that women (& to a certain extent men) face in certain parts of the world in which equal rights for all is far, far from the reality.

life ins't fair but it's still good

So my plea today is simply this: can we please stop the battle over who, men or women, has it the hardest in life?  (At least in the Western world.)  Life isn’t a competition, belive it or not.  Instead of whining, can we focus on the real issues at hand like poverty, raising children, & reducing sexual violence?  Like I said, this post is as much for me as for anyone because I know I am quite guilty of whining about my gender from time to time.  After all I spent half this post explaining why I sometimes wish I were a man.

However, in the end, life is hard for all of us.

But it’s also beautiful, thrilling, & way too amazing to spend whining about something so completely beyond our control as our chromosomes.

(As an addendum, this post is in no way meant to be insensitive to those who are born feeling they are the “wrong gender” &/or are transgender.  That is an entirely different scenario which is not at all pertinent to what I’m discussing here.)

 

What Feminism Got Wrong


Since its very inception (or shall we say modern inception), the Feminist movement has focused almost exclusively on equality for women in the workforce.  Equal pay for equal work is a phrase we’ve all heard countless times.  I have no problem with this idea of course, but the more I ponder the state of modern women I’m coming to realize that perhaps feminism lost a great deal of its purpose by focusing itself far too narrowly.  Should not the greater goal of feminism be that women be viewed & treated as the intellectual equals of men in all aspects of society?  Notice that I said INTELLECTUAL equals.  I’m not one of these disillusioned idiots who tries to argue that men & women are physically equivalent.  Duh, of course we’re not.  (If we were, that would be pretty boring!)  But it’s like comparing apples & oranges; both are fruits but they are physically & biologically quite different.  Yet neither of them could realistically be argued to be better or worse.  Same goes for men & women.  Physically we are quite different but life isn’t a competition & neither gender is inherently better or worse.  Now that we’ve covered the most basic premise, let us carry on to greater ideas.

feminism

A theme I read & hear about frequently nowadays is the trend of well-educated women, often with high-powered careers, opting out of the workforce in favor of staying home with their children (or even occasionally without any children).  Old-school feminists often view this as a severe failure & bemoan how modern women could make such “selfish” choices after all they did to pave the way for opportunities for women today.  And yet if one is to be logical, one cannot help but realize that these women have legitimate reasons for leaving behind even successful, rewarding careers to raise their children full-time.

What I’m trying to argue here is that the greater goal of feminism ought to be making it acceptable for women to choose any path in life.  A woman shouldn’t feel the need to justify her choices, no matter what they are, every time someone asks “What do you do?”  If one woman wants to be a doctor or a lawyer or a CEO of a powerful company, great.  But if another woman wants to be “just” a stay-at-home mom, that’s great too.  The point is that we have that CHOICE.  It’s all about having the power to DECIDE what we want to do.  And having the humility to realize that there isn’t one “right” path for all women to follow.  Indeed there are many equally valid paths in life that we may choose, & what’s even greater is that throughout our lives we can choose to walk various ones at various times.  For example, right now I’m focusing on my nursing career.  I love my job but I also know it’s not going to be the center of my life forever.  In fact my therapist recently challenged me to consider whether having a career as the “center” of my life is ever a healthy idea.  She stated that regardless of age or gender, a career really shouldn’t be the main focus of anyone’s life.  And I’m inclined to think she’s right.  Having a career you love is wonderful & truly enriches the quality of your life.  But it shouldn’t be everything.  It shouldn’t be THE THING that defines you.

I’m straying from my point, but what I am trying to say is that right now I am more career-focused.  But somewhere in the next three to ten years I very much believe I will become more family-focused.  I already know that I don’t want to work full-time, if at all possible, when I have young children.  I know some women can handle that & that’s great.  But I know that my mentality couldn’t handle it, & I feel that being a nurse & being a mom are both far too important to potentially screw up by stretching myself too thin.  Thus, when I have young children I hope to work only part-time if at all possible.  If you should ask why I would choose my children over my career, it’s because I know that I have the rest of my life to work.  Excluding major health problems, there is no limit on how long I can be a nurse or when I can go to grad school to advance my career.  However, there is a very limited window in which my children will be young & very much in need of my care & guidance.  And even though the prospect of raising children is something I still cannot imagine I am up to, I know I would never forgive myself for missing that window of time with them.  Later when my children are a little older, there is no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to work full-time again & even go back to school to advance my career.  Again, the point is that at various points in our lives we can choose various paths that serve us best.

While traditional feminists often resent the fact that more women choose to stay at home with their children than men, I see no problem with this.  Stay-at-home dads are great, but the fact of the matter is that no matter how “enlightened” we are, most men just aren’t going to want to do that, while plenty of women would jump at the chance to raise their children full-time without the demands of another career.  I see no problem with this at all.  It’s just biology, folks.

I read a great blog post (raisingkidswithoutreligion.net/2014/02/03/what-women-do) recently that questioned whether staying at home with children while they’re young sends boys (& girls) the message that women are inferior.  It was a great question but the conclusion the author came to was that the lessons she was able to teach her sons while at home with them & the example she & her husband set for them in their own relationship actually taught them quite the opposite: that women are very much intellectually equal to men & that making career sacrifices for the sake of family in no way reduces a woman’s intelligence or intellectual capacity.  After all, even if we may achieve “less” in our careers we have not achieved less in LIFE.  As previously stated, your life isn’t (or shouldn’t be) defined by your career, regardless of your gender.

I’m in no way trying to argue that all women should be stay-at-home moms.  And to be clear it makes me sick to think of the times when women were viewed as child-like creatures who could never think rationally or independently.  Hell, no.  Indeed, from my experiences thus far in life, I continually come to the conclusion that men & women have far more commonalities than we have differences.

What I am saying is that maybe feminism should focus less on belittling men & achieving 50/50 ratios in government & other traditionally male-dominated fields.  After all, no one seems to be arguing that traditionally female-dominated fields such as nursing or teaching should be 50/50, though I certainly think greater balance in all fields would be a good thing.  Instead perhaps we should focus on empowering women to realize the full realm of options we now have.  And to understand that any of those options are valid as long as they lead to a rewarding, enriching life.  And that, greatest of all, we can choose different paths at different times in our lives.

Regardless of your gender, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.