Wednesday, June 26, 2002

One lens amongst many...

In response to a question put out by Marek J, regarding what defines us as “men” and “women” and the roles we play in the modern world (as part of a larger discussion initiated by Frank Paynter on the roles men might play in supporting feminist leadings) -- my thoughts, for the sake of discussion…

What makes men "men" and women "women"? Well, there is one school of thought that would say: our genetic programming. And there are certainly plenty who argue pretty heatedly with this school of thinking, but I personally find a great deal of value in it, not as an end all be all complete explanation, but simply as one lens among many for examining a complex subject.

According to Evolutionary Psychology, we behave as we do due to an inherent drive to see the continuation and success of our genes. Thus men are programmed to feel the desire to spread their seed to many, not just to one. Thus women are programmed to nurture. Thus men select women who display an aptitude for nurturing (especially if this was an aptitude they saw in their own mothers), and thus women select men who display an aptitude for providing and protecting (especially if this was an aptitude they saw in their own fathers). As modern humans, we struggle to overcome many of these inherent drives -- modern man struggles to resist his urges for cheating; modern woman aspires to be more than just nurturer; and together we aspire to form partnerships based on more than just our genetic make-ups.

Where it becomes complicated is in the reward structures we have woven into modern society. Under capitalism, which also ascribes to the same basic laws of "survival of the fittest," there is little reward or compensation for those inherently female roles, such as being a good nurturer, because there is little value placed on them, which translates to little market value -- both in the cases of motherhood itself and the nurturing professions (teaching, nursing -- both roles in which the best nurturers amongst us should flourish, but both examples of predominantly female roles that are not-coincidentally under-valued and under-compensated). This is likely due to the fact that the "return on investment," so to speak, on nurturing is neither immediate (as we've increasingly come to demand) nor directly attributable. Certain Alpha male behaviors, on the other hand, tend to be both more immediate in their results and more directly attributable. Our capitalist system is run by Alpha males and would not thrive if it were otherwise. Why do men strive to be Alpha? Because then they will be selected by the prime females. Or something to that effect...

At any rate, before we females chastise the Alpha male-dominated capitalist system, we must note the degree to which we reinforce it. We are, all of us, consumers. And many of us are also investors. And managers, and employees, and business owners. And role models. All part of the system -- the macrocosm that embodies everything from the bedroom to the playground to the boardroom.

Another point that I would like to make is about the romanticizing of women. The fact is, power corrupts -- it twists and it taints and it tempts -- and were women at the helm of industry and politics, you can bet that there would be no less corruption nor violence. It might be a little different in form, but it certainly wouldn't be any more a utopia than the world we currently live in. We see plenty of that already -- trouble is, when we see it, we conveniently dismiss these women as behaving like men. Maybe they are; or maybe they are behaving like humans in positions of power. It's hard to say because it shapes itself into a circle.

What's more, women can be incredibly cruel. We don't see it so much because it is far more covert, tends to be smaller scale, and is psychological rather than physical. It's also insidious. Boys, you don't know cruelty unless you've ever been an adolescent girl.

Of course, I can say that, because I'm a woman. If a man said anything of the sort he'd likely be impaled for it. That's the sad reality of politically charged conversations -- you piss off a lot of people if you try to strip away too much of the comfortable bullshit. Women, as a group, are not above reproach, and neither are we simply victims (some are, yes, but those of us who talk about it the most are not). Don't get me wrong -- I'm far from the Camille Paglia school of anti-feminism -- but I think that no real progress comes without balance and objectivity.

And to that end, I really do value spaces such as BlogSisters where women's voices and thoughts can flourish, and I value them all the more in knowing that men are listening in and thinking and learning and responding. There is a balance to be found, and I think we're starting to find it in small spots like this.