Monday, February 11, 2008

Lies We Tell Women

Women get beat up pretty badly on Dr. Helen's site and advice column--well, for a number of reasons. And I think, in part, she's providing a counter-balance to the deafening drumnbeat of "Woman good, Man bad", so she may not be looking too hard at the fact that women hear the same drumbeat as men. And where men may hear they're not wanted, women may hear they're all precious snowflakes, irreplaceable and priceless. The latter is arguably the more damaging message.

I mention this because in the Unicorn post, the always insightful Synova points out that:
Women my age (dare I say 43?) have been told certain things our whole lives. One of them is that it works to plan to have a child who doesn't *have* a father.
And I hear similar things from other women. Indeed, like Synova, I grew up on the whole fish/bicycle/if-women-were-in-charge-there-would-be-no-wars claptrap as well. And so it occurred to me that there are a whole bunch of lies we, as a society, tell women.

I'm probably going to get into trouble here, but what the hell. Here's a few lies:
  1. Raising children is not the most important thing you can do.
  2. A father can do the same job as a mother.
  3. Anyone can do the same job as a father.
  4. A second parent is completely unnecessary.
  5. Single parenthood won't impact your career in any way more challenging than can be resolved by a couple of magazine articles and '80s movies. And it sure won't affect your child negatively.
  6. It's wrong to depend on a man.
  7. There's weakness in having a man around for the traditional reasons.
  8. Chivalry is a form of condescension.
  9. You can have sex with anyone you want whenever you want with no repercussions.
  10. That perfect guy--the one that you don't need at all, but whom you plan to bless with your companionship--isn't going to care about the previous item.
  11. Abortion is comparable to an appendectomy.
  12. If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.
This last one gets me because it's one of the great bumper sticker lies. Ladies, it's not men who threaten your right to an abortion, it's other women. To a guy, an abortion is a "get out of jail free" card. I used to do a lot of work (indirectly) for CARAL and NARAL, and every survey I saw showed that men were the majority in favor of preserving abortion rights, while women were the ones more likely to want to restrict them. This makes perfect sense, not just economically, but because an abortion is relatively abstract to a man.

Anyway, that's a very narrow set of what is basically a large group of lies being told for decades. And it's fair to have a degree of sympathy for women who end up hunting unicorns as a result.

Now, I tend to look at these things from an engineering perspective. (Granted, I'm a software engineer, so my results can't be trusted or duplicated, and will fail in leap years. Nonetheless.) There once was a set of male activities and female activities. When societies start, they carve these "gender roles" in stone and punish transgressors heavily. As survival becomes--or seems--more secure, the punishment begins to look cruel and arbitrary, and elements in society start to tear down those roles.

Shortly thereafter--in a civilizational time scale--the society collapses.

It would be nice, and I think entirely possible, to preserve the roles while not punishing "transgression"--nor even viewing transgression as such. I say this as someone who has seen enough baby girls gravitate toward dolls--not only without encouragement but with active discouragement going on. And seen boys turn flowers into guns and monsters.

It's just as wrong to force boys and girls to give up their traditional roles as it was to enforce them. Arguably worse.

And I've seen women shamed about being devoted mothers. (Devoted meaning that was what they did as their primary occupation.) Some women aren't cut out for it--but shouldn't that make the ones who do the job even more valuable? (They are, of course, even if they're not regarded that way generally.)

So how does this relate back to Miss Unicorn? Well, she's already squandered a lot of her prime market value (as the economics-minded put it), but one should never underestimate the value of a kind woman to a man. On Volokh, when they discussed this, there was an interesting sub-thread by a woman who absolutely refused to consider any offspring not genetically related as worthy of anything from her. (Wow, it was Daniel Plainview in drag!)

Fortunately, most people don't feel that way. So, what Miss Unicorn should do, is to assess what she brings to a relationship versus what she's expecting. This should be a humbling act. (We all need to do this from time-to-time: Look at what we expect of our significant others and be grateful for kindness received.) Fortunately, for children--and for wives and husbands--love is a valuable commodity.

It's all our kids can give us, at first, in the form of smiles, hugs, hand-crafted ashtrays, whatever. And it is, of course, the currency in which romantic relationships are built. (Sorry to slip into triteness again but it can't be helped.)

It's free. It's easy. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It's paid back with dividends.

But you can't do it if you don't feel the other person is worthy.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Grab an umbrella. Unleash hell. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. If swelling continues past four hours, consult a physician.