A follow-up and expansion on the ideas explored in this topic’s previous two entries.
It was while helping a young couple at work some time ago, that I had the inspiration to continue writing about the topic of gender equality. The couple was a guy close to my age, and a woman maybe a few years younger. He is tall and lanky, while she is quite short (shorter than the average American female), which, in and of itself makes for an interesting looking pair. At this time, the guy had a cast on one of his arms. Out of genuine curiosity, I of course asked how it happened. Before giving me the real reason, he joked that his arm had been smashed by his girlfriend. He laughed, and she smiled while poking him not all too gently in the ribs. I got a laugh out of it too, but afterward, I gave a lot of thought as to why I thought it was funny.
After all, if the roles were reversed, and a joke was made that it was the male who was beating up on the female, I’d be less inclined to find any humor in it. But does that in turn, mean that the scales are not equal? Is this a sexist attitude?
To find these answers, one must analyze why the original joke even provoked laughter in the first place. Is the thought of a diminutive woman chasing her boyfriend around with a frying pan amusing? In this context I think so. But is it because I am finding humor in the woman’s perceived weakness, or is it because I am imagining the man having said something quite stupid, and getting his comeuppance for it? Speaking only for myself, I can say that it is the latter, but for other men, I can’t be so sure. Even if it is only on a subconscious level, I can’t say that I’d be surprised to find that many men would find humor in seeing a woman being clearly outmatched.
Although one of those reasons for laughing about the aforementioned joke is clearly worse than the other, there is still a lack of equality. Unless I knew the couple extremely well and knew without any doubt that there was no seriousness behind it, I could never laugh about a man beating up on a woman. But when I tell myself that, I have to ask myself, “is it because I think women are weaker and have to be protected by social stigma?” Even though as a generalization, men tend to be physically stronger than women, I do not assume that one half of the couple is automatically superior, physically, to the other, unless the evidence is just absurdly obvious (imagine a bodybuilder of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stature dating a little person). I don’t make that assumption in cases where the couple is male/male, female/female, transgender/male, etc., either. I have no problem seeing conventional couples where the woman is the stronger of the two. Hell, I wouldn’t even care if I dated a woman who could out-bench me.
So what’s the problem? I think, that at least in my case, I simply can’t ignore the history of violence against women. Although the domestic abuse of males can and does happen, and is a real thing, the simple truth is most often the victims of abuse, domestic and otherwise, are women. The abuse that goes on against women, even as I type this, is intolerable and inexcusable. It is nothing to joke about. But if violence against women were to be magically put to a halt, would we still see true equality between the sexes?
I have mentioned before that I regard myself as fairly egalitarian. I also have remarked before that I think that the differences between people, including the difference of gender, should be celebrated, not condemned. I believe in equal legal and social opportunity for both sexes, regardless of what they personally identify as, and regardless of their sexual orientation or other factors. But, should not men still be allowed to be men? Should not women still be allowed to be women? In our striving for progress, equality, the end of domestic violence, and the breaking down of the old social barriers, do we gain anything by expecting men and women to behave just like one another? I enjoy seeing the progress that has been made in equality and women’s rights in the past century, but there is something I don’t enjoy seeing, especially here in the United States; it is a growing intolerance of the average, everyday male, and a real downgrading of the father figure’s importance in the lives of our youth.
Now, when I use the word intolerance, I in no way am comparing it to racial/ethnic prejudice, or the kind of rampant sexism against women that we’ve only in recent times been able to remove. Men, after all, still have dominant roles in many aspects of society. But what I am seeing, is a form of degradation of the male role model in popular culture. The fact that we have multi-million dollar sports heroes, men who many kids look up to, beating up on their girlfriends and wives certainly doesn’t help the case of decent men either.
To summarize: I want to continue to see progress made in the battle to achieve greater equality between the sexes. I want to see women given their fair chance in business, politics, sports, you name it. But, as a civilization, and more specifically as a culture here in the United States, we are still a long way off from breaking down the stigma that women are inferior to men. We must also be careful, in our collective, unbridled haste to make progress, that we don’t bury the important, fundamentally necessary differences between men and women. Like in scales, balance must be achieved, or we risk seeing the whole thing come crashing down upon us, and possibly resetting all of the deeds that have already been accomplished.