*In case the title has put you off, this isn’t a rant against men. If anything it’s a plea on their behalf.*
I’ve written quite a few posts lately about the struggles women face in modern society & how feminism still has quite a bit of work to do in this world. However, today I’ve been thinking about how, in the Western world anyway, women actually have a lot of advantages that make me quite grateful to be a woman, despite some of the other problems faced by my gender. I started thinking about this when my husband was playing a video game this past weekend & getting really frustrated with it. I asked him, as I have many times before, why he plays games that just seem to make him angry & annoyed. His response was “Well, this is how men relax. For thousands of years we went around killing our enemies, or at least our food, with axes & other such weapons. Those aren’t accepted civilized activities anymore, so we play violent video games.” This led me to think about the different ways in which women & men choose to spend their free time, the hobbies we tend to pursue, & the seemingly greater freedom women have in such areas of life.
For most of recorded history women were very restricted in all manner of things, but in the modern world women can do basically anything we want. I don’t just mean legally; I mean it is societally more or less acceptable for women to pursue almost any career or hobby they desire. While it is true that women in traditionally male-dominated fields such as police work, finance, or law often face greater obstacles than do their male counterparts in those roles, in general women who choose a career that is traditionally outside the “feminine scope” receive far more praise & encouragement than men who choose more traditionally feminine careers such as nursing, teaching, or working with young children in any capacity. Stay-at-home moms certainly face a fair amount of prejudice in our society (perhaps most from other women), but consider how much greater prejudice stay-at-home dads must face. While one could certainly argue that most men would never even contemplate such a choice, consider how much harder that makes it for a man who truly desires that role?
For further discussion, contemplate the following scenarios:
A little girl wants to take piano lessons. Assuming her parents can afford it, almost all parents would agree that this is a lovely activity for their daughter to pursue. Plenty of parents would encourage their son to do the same, but as he gets older, consider the societal pressure a boy will face to choose a more “masculine” activity such as football or basketball over band, drama, or anything at all “artsy.” Girls may face this pressure too, as athletics are always “cooler” than the arts, but I think most of us will agree that the pressure is greater on boys in this arena. Furthermore, a girl can choose to play most any instrument without fear of embarrassment, but a boy who chooses to play something more “feminine” like the flute is basically asking to be ridiculed. While women who seek to be rock stars may have a harder time in some ways than their male counterparts, consider that plenty of guys will find them ridiculously hot for choosing such an activity, & more importantly the novelty of a female rock star can actually work in a woman’s favor.
I think it’s safe to say that almost all straight-A students & other “nerdy” kids have a hard time being socially accepted in school, but in general I think smart girls are considered far more acceptable than smart boys. I know that the girls in my advanced placement classes from elementary all the way through high school fared much better socially than the few boys in those classes. Many of us girls were still nerdy for sure, but I’m quite certain we all had boyfriends at some point & were generally much less likely to be true pariahs than the boys. Overall it appears that boys who make good grades & think ahead to college are far more likely to be made fun of than girls who do the same. Neither gender is going to win any popularity points for being a bookworm, but the fact that college admission & graduation rates are now considerably higher for women than men tells us something is wrong here. I’m not advocating for the reverse of course. I’m just saying that a successful society needs leaders & scholars of both genders, & there’s something fundamentally wrong with a society that degrades anyone for a love of learning, regardless of gender.
On a lighter note, say a woman decides to play video games. While plenty of other women may find this odd, the average man is probably going to think it’s hot. But say a man decides to get regular manicures (with actual painted nails); the average woman is NOT going to find this hot.
On a similar note, say a woman chooses to dress in a more masculine fashion, maybe even wear men’s clothes from time to time. This may not be their preferred look, but most guys probably won’t be truly offended by it. However, if a man chooses to wear women’s clothes even occasionally, most people, of both genders, will find this quite offensive & weird. I’m not arguing that men should wear women’s clothes, though if they want to, that’s certainly their prerogative. I’m just trying to show how women really do have greater freedom in some areas.
If a woman does something that makes her look silly or weak, for better or worse she probably won’t be viewed much differently because of it, provided it doesn’t become a habit. For example, say a woman can’t remember where she parked her car. While men & women alike may laugh at her forgetfulness, they’re unlikely to really think less of her as a human being unless this is something she does on a regular basis. A woman who is klutzy like me may never be able to wear stilettos but it’s unlikely to make men actually consider her unattractive. If a woman is struggling to pick up a weight at the gym or a heavy box while moving into a dorm room or new apartment, you can be reasonably sure that someone of the male persuasion will be happy to help her out without thinking any less of her for needing his assistance. On the other hand, if a man is struggling to carry something heavy, not only does he have to worry about hurting himself physically but furthermore he has to worry that both men & women may view him as weak & therefore less “manly.” On a similar token, if a woman cries at a movie, so what? More than likely no one will think twice about it, but not so for a man.
While everyone has their preferences, women in the modern world can choose to be as traditionally feminine as we desire- or not. No matter what we choose we are quite likely to be generally accepted by society as more or less normal or at least “ok.” And for better or worse we will probably attract a fair amount of the male species regardless of what choices we make.
While I’ll be the first to admit that I’m naturally attracted to a fairly traditional type of masculinity (broad shoulders, capable of working on basic machinery/cars, disinterest in clothes & fashion), I’m smart enough to realize that the qualities that define a good man are essentially identical to the qualities that define a good woman: honesty, respect, a strong work ethic, intelligence, a thirst for knowledge, & an open mind. Furthermore I am comfortable enough with myself & my relationship to understand that not all men will fit my “ideal,” nor should they, just as I will certainly not fit every man’s “ideal,” nor should I. Just because I prefer a certain type of man doesn’t make that the only type of man worth celebrating in this world. I think far too many people in this world are threatened by “gender-benders” or by those who don’t fit their own stereotypes about how men or women should behave because they aren’t secure in their own humanity.
In my sociology class freshman year of college, we watched a documentary that discussed the ways in which boys are societally trained to suppress their emotions & generally be “manly,” & how in many ways this is ultimately damaging to both men & women in our society. I for one know that if my husband & I have sons & daughters some day, we’ll be raising both genders to be well-rounded & self-sufficient individuals who know how to take care of themselves (everything from doing their own laundry & basic cooking to mowing the yard & changing the oil in the car) as well as how to express themselves emotionally in healthy, mature ways. We’ll encourage both genders to play sports as well as to play music or be involved with other artistic endeavors. If our son wants to play with dolls, we’re not going to stop him (yes, this is something we’ve actually discussed). If our daughter wants to play in the dirt & hunt for worms, we won’t stop that either. In case anyone thinks I’m saying traditionally masculine play, such as little boys wrestling or playing with toy guns, is bad, I’m not. I think those are perfectly normal activities for both genders, though I certainly acknowledge that more boys will participate in them than girls, & I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. The point is that we will try not to impress upon our children that they need to fit a certain mold just because of their anatomy.
To be clear, I’m not saying that all gender roles are bad. My husband certainly takes on a fair amount of the traditionally masculine roles in our relationship (mowing the yard & filing taxes for example) while I take on a fair amount of the traditionally feminine roles (sending Christmas cards, buying birthday gifts for our families, doing laundry, etc), & I have no problem with that. The wonderful thing about our relationship is that we are very comfortable taking turns with the roles we play. For example, while I do more of the laundry, dishes, & other housework than he does, he is more than willing to help out, especially when I’m working several nights in a row. When the dishes start to pile up in the sink, he’ll take care of them without me even asking. Additionally, we split the bills & take turns paying for groceries, meals, & other expenses. The point is that our roles are not rigid & unchangeable like those of many relationships of previous generations. I for one firmly believe that this engenders a higher level of respect, friendship, & camaraderie between us than if we stuck to rigid gender roles. Furthermore, we understand & respect that not all couples will approach their relationships like ours; many will have different variations on gender roles, & as long as both parties are happy, that is totally ok.
Overall, when I think about how society views gender roles nowadays, I can’t help but feel that women are now afforded greater freedom than men in many ways, as I’ve listed above. I’m not saying this to lessen the argument that feminism still has its place in modern society. If anything perhaps this lends greater credence to the notion that feminism is still relevant today. In my view, feminism promotes the acceptance of both genders as intellectual equals & the equality of opportunity for all people irrespective of gender. While men may still experience greater success/freedom in the career world, at least in certain fields, I for one wish men experienced more freedom to express themselves emotionally & artistically. I’m not saying I wish the average man spent his leisure time getting manicures or shopping for new suede boots. (Frankly I think those are pretty inane activities for either gender.) What I am saying is perhaps we women should celebrate the freedom we have nowadays to be just about anything without the fear of “losing our woman card” because no such thing really exists. I just know I am grateful that I don’t constantly have to evaluate whether my life decisions are “manly enough.” Yes, I realize that “real men” don’t cave to societal pressure & will choose to do whatever makes them happy even if it isn’t societally accepted, but even so I wish the pressure wasn’t so great for men to always protect their “man card.”
I think in the end this kind of thinking is ultimately limiting & hurtful for both genders because it denies the underlying humanity & sameness that connects us all. One of the greatest things I’ve learned in life is that people are people regardless of gender. For example, the friendships I’ve had with guys haven’t been that different than the friendships I’ve had with girls. Because at heart we are all really the same. We all have strengths & weaknesses, likes & dislikes, dreams & goals. And someday I hope we’ll all experience even greater freedom to express & pursue all of our hopes & dreams without worrying about how we’ll be perceived because of the chromosomes we happen to carry in our DNA.