Sunday, March 22, 2015

Reason #2: Gender equality does not require gender equivalence

Disclaimer: Let me just preface with the fact that this particular post is really written to address the 98% of heterosexual humans that identify as either male or female, and is meant to examine their relationship with one another.  To the last 2%: you matter, you're important, but you may not relate to some of the issues I'm going to bring up, so please forgive my temporary exclusion.  

Men and women are not the same.  Their genetic, physical, and hormonal differences, regardless of cultural expectations and personal perceptions, lead to fundamental differences in their capacities, desires, experiences, and/or goals.  As humans, our bodies and brains do influence how we perceive the world.  To date, scientists have found around 100 differences between men's and women's brains, and study after study after study has shown how our physical structure influences our mental/emotional perceptions.  So before I flesh out Reason #2, it seems paramount to establish that men and women are structurally different, and that this has far reaching consequences.

For instance, estrogen, which does far more than run female reproductive organs, oscillates a LOT more in women than men and can even have an opposite effect on men.  This oscillation affects serotonin levels, endorphin production, and a host of other ambiguous processes that scientists have been trying to understand for decades.  Though I would argue this oscillation is ultimately beneficial, and part of what makes us so awesome, we cannot pretend that this oscillation does not affect on our choices and desires (anybody who has felt the tick-tok of your fertility or PMS knows exactly what I mean).

And thanks, in part, to the ratio of our sex hormones (usually dictated by our XX or XY chromosomes), women have the appropriate structures to incubate, deliver, and feed a baby.  Men only have the structures necessary to start that process.  Yes, those are obvious, perhaps even trite examples, but I'm surprised by how often we write off the consequences of those differences as unimportant or inconsequential.  If we were all unisexual or capable of asexual reproduction, maybe we wouldn't be so different.  But we are not.  And there are consequences to that arrangement.

For instance, women will probably never know what it's like to be terrified of getting kicked in the testicles, the embarrassment of a surprise erection (or no erection), nor do they have to learn to control their roid-rage during puberty.  No man will understand what it's like to bear children, have a period, or experience menopause.  These experiences are not insignificant and definitely affect how we process life.  Broadly, I would even argue that the consequence of all those physical differences is the root of many gendered behavioral differences.  They cause heterosexual men and women to desire, 'feel completed by', and want to please/impress one another, while simultaneously making it almost impossible for them to fully empathize with and 'understand one another.

This struggle for empathy, combined with our innate desire/attraction is, in my perceptions, what makes gender dynamics so complicated and messy.  No matter how sensitive, kind, or patient a guy is, he will never really understand what it's like to be a woman (and vice versa).  He will have to consciously stretch his frontal lobe capacity to put himself in her shoes, to woo her, understand her, value her, and constantly learn to love her.  But his empathy is always limited by his inability to grasp some of her experiences and his libido and ego will always present him with opportunities to see her as an object or opportunity for pleasure rather than an equally infinite and complicated being that should be reverenced as a complimentary counterpart (and vice versa - women are not off the hook there).

And while I may not ever truly understand a man, I can appreciate the challenge and fulfillment that comes from trying to understand and work with him for the rest of my life.  I personally think being drawn to and paired with a being fundamentally and structurally different from you is a great way to make sure we spend our entire lives engaged in efforts to learn, forgive, empathize, and become more like God.  I think the inherent differences (and the behavioral consequences) between men and women can be beautiful and synergistic, and in a culture of mutual respect, consideration, and admiration, far more beneficial to our economy and society than awkward attempts to equivocate the sexes and the gender roles they adopt.

So this is the basis for my #2 issue with feminism.  Too often, I feel like feminism disregards the underlying currents that influence and shape male/female behavior, and labels some gendered characteristics as inferior to others, while simultaneously trying to redistribute, rewrite, and advertise hypothetical gender patterns that 'should' exist.  But I don't believe one gender or gendered behavior is inherently better or worse than the other, no matter which sex tends to adopt which pattern.  I don't think femininity is less powerful, influential, or important than masculinity.  I don't think masculinity is less impressive, beneficial, or necessary than femininity.

Again, I believe strongly in gender equality.  Not only are men and women equal in value, and thus should be valued equally, but I also believe that behaviors associated with a certain genders (ie. assertiveness - masculinity - men, or risk-aversion - femininity - women) need to be equally valued just as our sexes should be.  Nurturing and submissive behaviors are NOT less important, less potent, or less valuable than protective or aggressive ones.  Investments in intimacy, family, and relationships are NOT inferior to advancements in career or academic accolades.  They all have importance and place, even if they do not yield equal publicity, pay, or prominence.  Human worth is not measured in those things, nor should personality or gender be.

And in my mind, feminism would actually benefit far more from emphasizing the power and value of classically 'feminine' characteristics (like sensitivity, softness, meekness, etc) than trying to arbitrarily redistribute masculine ones.  Yes, men and women are all a hodgepodge mixture of masculine and feminine traits.  Each individual is their own yin/yang.  But in a world where we have to work together, we do have a tendency to emphasize or lean into our yin or yang according to the opposites we wish to attract or spend time around.  This WILL have an effect on our gender dynamics, and if we ever hope to achieve gender equality, we have to equally value the gender roles we adopt when opposites attract (since ya know...those attractions are what actually create societies).

For example, I may possess and excel at many masculine behaviors, but I LOVE the opportunity to balance the power of a secure man's masculinity with the power of my self-assurance and femininity.  The attempt at interdependence becomes a beautiful (and even fun) dance.  And it's not that I lose my more masculine characteristics in the dance, but more that I don't have to rely on them so much (which is kinda nice).  Rather, I find myself being able to explore and extend more into my femininity than is possible by myself because of the cantilever effect his masculinity offers.  I like that mobility.  It has helped me get to know parts of myself I didn't even know existed.  Perhaps that is why most women I know (feminists included) really enjoy, and often try to attract, masculine men.

That being said, do I think we need to push some of the boundaries we have created dictating what is masculine and what is feminine?  Absolutely!  I think men are being just as harmed by some of those current constraints as women.  Some characteristics classically associated with masculinity and femininity need to be perceived as more unisexual.  Self-confidence, emotional intelligence, compassion, influence, power, and self-sufficiency are a few that come to mind.  There should be nothing gendered about those characteristics because we are all divinely powerful human beings meant to learn, improve, and love one another for eternity.  None of that is gender or sex specific.  We should be independently developing all of those no matter who we are dating or married to because they are the foundation of self that allows for all relationships to thrive - whether romantic or not.

Will the practice of those characteristics look the same for men and women?  Probably not.  But again, I think that's okay. We can and should work to help one another become the kind of humans we all want to be in whatever way best suits our goals and capacities.  I also think we need to anticipate that men and women will not partake of all opportunities and behaviors in equal numbers, and accept that that's okay, as long as that's their choice.

Nobody should question or belittle a human's capacity to earn respect, trust, opportunity, and responsibility.  Men and women are equally capable of choice, progress, and influence - even if our methods vary.  Whatever 'gendered' behaviors we adopt are equally capable of being powerful and beneficial to society.  However, I do think gender equivalence is a myth.  Not because men can't be feminine and women can't be masculine, but because I think we are structurally, socially, and sexually inclined to enjoy being paired with and complimentary to a gender that is different from our own.

So rather than arbitrarily trying to homogenize the traits across the sexes, we should focus on how to authentically create a balanced team - drawing on the strengths of whatever behaviors we are inclined to adopt to create something incredible.  That doesn't mean all women should be strictly feminine and all men hyper-masculine, but it does mean we should encourage one another to be self aware and find places where our individual balance can be a contribution to the teams we enter into.  It does mean we should be advertising the value of traits that don't necessarily equate to higher salaries or bigger titles, but do equate to better relationships.  Ultimately, I think respectism and the world at large would actually benefit from recognizing and cherishing those qualities that exert a more subtle (but not less powerful) force for good.  Not only would it give people more permission and encouragement to develop those traits, but I bet it would help both men and women to focus less on 'who is in charge' and more on working together to get what they both ultimately want (aka love, belonging, and each other).