Tuesday, February 19

Men need to get emancipated

You probably asked yourself "what the hell is she talking about?" at first. Well, I had never thought about that before yesterday, either. But then, talking to a young colleague (the same who inspired me to do this post as well), I finally realized what the problem of men these days is.

My colleague has a strange view about men and women, sometimes. But then, he's merely twenty. This time he was going on about work. Women shouldn't work after they've had children, he said basically. Or only part time, when the children were old enough to go to school (because, today, a little extra money would be good for any family). And they shouldn't go for a career at all. And all leading positions were only meant for men, too. But what it burned down to in the end, was this: Men are the providers and therefore should have the better jobs. Women are supposed to stay home with the kids, so they shouldn't have a career (read: provide more competition to men).

Feminism and emancipation have provided women with an alternative to staying at home and minding the kids. They gave us the freedom to decide about what to do with our lives. We are no longer bound to our past 'fate'. (And if society and politics provided us with better ways to combine career and family, the birth rate in Germany would surely go up again - just a tip.)

Unfortunately, there isn't such a thing as Masculinism (my word processor won't even accept that word), so men have not made the same progress. On the other hand, why should they want to change the world? They've had the better part of it for a long time (freedom to vote, work and design society).

But for those growing up today, Feminism has created quite some problems. Their way to the future isn't as easy to see as before. In the past, it was easy: get a career, have a family and provide for them, then you've done everything as you should. But today? Today a man is not only competing with other men (as in the past), but also with women. That's a new thing. And in a relationship things aren't as easy as before, either. Women have become more self-assured, they are no longer necessarily the submissive ones. A marriage today is different than a marriage 50 years ago.

My colleague is fond of comparing a relationship to a pair dancing in a formation, claiming that the man has to lead and the woman has to follow, otherwise it won't work. I haven't said it to him yet, but I rather think for a pair doing that sort of dancing formation successfully for some time, it's not a question of who leads and who follows - it's merely both of them moving together in harmony. And, watching my parents who're both headstrong and have been married for over 40 years by now, I think a relationship is pretty much like that.

And why can't women lead? There have been quite some female leaders in history, not all of them necessarily successful, but men weren't all successful either. There has been Margaret Thatcher, lately. Then there have been Catherine the Great, Queen Victoria of England, Maria Theresia (an Austrian monarch) and, farther back, women like Boudicca, Hatshepsut or Cleopatra. The latter might have had a relationship with two influential Roman leaders, but she's nevertheless been reigning Egypt at the same time. (There are more, but I haven't had time to do a complete research. Feel free to do it on your own.)

If we step down a bit, from ruling a country to merely taking care of a company, things are getting even more obvious. For a long time women have been working alongside their husbands (and in quite some cultures also fighting alongside them - among nomadic societies it's the norm and even Arabian stories sometimes speak of a woman going to battle at her husband's side). A farm won't work without the women working just as hard as the men do. And in the towns and cities of Europe, women have worked together with their husbands as well. They have even taken over businesses after their husbands' deaths. Among the workers of the Industrial age, women have worked just as long and as hard as men. And today, some scientists even claim that women were hunters in the stone age, too. (And why the hell not? The most successful hunter usually is the one planting traps and that doesn't require as much strength as jumping a mammoth and killing it with bare hands.)

In short: only during a rather short period of human history, women have been staying at home and left all outside work to men. But, as that was a short time ago, men remember that time quite well today. (Better than the time of the mammoth, I would bet.)

On the other hand, it's not a surprise men want to hold on to the 'traditional' roles in which men are supposed to provide for the family and women are supposed to take care of the kids and be grateful their husband has got a good job. Life and it's route were clear (though not necessarily easy, there was a lot of competition from other men in the business world, after all) then: get a good job and a career, find a woman to marry, have children and be considered successful and a 'real' man. Today it's not that obvious.

Career women are the most obvious 'enemy' today: after all, they compete for the same jobs, for that which a man most direly needs. So it's no wonder my colleague thinks women should be banned from having a career. If a woman works in a low paid job - part time, provided she had kids -, that leaves more jobs higher up for men. And, after all, someone has to do the jobs at the lower end of the career ladder. And why are career women such a threat? Because, unlike what he says - and probably really believes -, woman can lead and, as they have to work much harder to get up there, they can be pretty hard and vicious, too. I wouldn't want to cross a real career woman - and I'm a woman myself.

But why does my colleague have that idea of women not being able to lead? Boys and girls are still raised differently. Boys are told from early age to be competitive. Their games quite often are centred around being "the best" of something. Aggressions are accepted to a certain degree. Girls, on the other hand, are mostly told that women 'don't do this' when it comes to competing (especially with boys). It's not feminine to go up against another person (especially not a boy or man) or even show aggressions. They are taught to be mediators, to find a compromise instead of getting what they want - if necessary, by hitting someone in the face with their fist.

If you want to put it in more military-oriented terms, then men are trained to be warriors and women are trained to be diplomats. Of course, Sun-Tzu claimed that "the best way to wage war is not to wage war" (in his "The Art of War"). That man wasn't a pacifist, but a Chinese general who wrote a book about warfare. And he didn't write this because he abhorred violence, but because war was - and still is - quite expensive. Sending out diplomats to negotiate for what you want does cost less and usually brings better results.

But if a woman gets over this initial training - and I have no doubt career woman have gotten over it -, then she's not more or less able to lead than a man (even my father says so, and he's been leading soldiers when he was younger). There are few people on this world born with the talent for leadership (and it's not limited to one gender), but quite some more who can learn how to lead. Some people are hopeless cases - also from both genders.

Emancipation has given women a larger span of possible futures - but men have not developed the same span. They still mostly hold on to the traditional "you take care of the kids and I take care of the money"-plan. Unfortunately, less and less women want to share it with them.

The lady of the house riding to work while the husband stays at home.

I asked my colleague what would be so wrong about the woman having a good job and the man staying at home with the kids (a possible and logical construct, provided the woman earns more money than the man). He couldn't even imagine a man doing this. And he argued again with children not being cared for if both parents earned a lot of money (and would not learn to behave the right way). Well, in that case, the family would probably employ a nanny, I should guess. It's not down to whether or not the mother is always around, it's down to the rules she lays down while she is around (and the same goes for the father).

I have, of course, to emphasize again that he's merely twenty. In five or ten years he'll probably see some things differently. But what he's saying isn't just the point of view young men take (and he also talked about a woman's honour, but I'll write another post about that one day), there's enough men older and supposedly wise who think and talk like that.

Men need to get themselves emancipated, too, that much is for sure. Just as women have discovered there's more than one way to lead a life, they have to realize that a man not providing for a family alone isn't less of a man because of it.

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