I was recently telling some friends some approaches I’ve had to dating in the past, and they announced, “You are such a guy.” Meaning, some of the things I’ve done are exactly the things women complain about men doing. I got to thinking about this and realized that in many ways, I had been… well, what do we call the opposite equivalent of a mild misogynist? Misanthropist refers to hating people in general, but it’ll have to do for now. Whatever you call me, I was a woman who didn’t hate men (in fact, quite liked them in some ways), but just didn’t think all that much of them. Why, I wondered?
Well, I grew up with absolutely no strong male authority figures in my life. And so my opinion of guys developed to be this: I liked them. But you know, you wouldn’t expect one to carry on as intelligent a conversation as a woman. You certainly wouldn’t expect them to be as strong or resilient when faced with life’s challenges, since our society doesn’t allow them to get much practice with challenges, as it rushes to smooth things over for them in advance, so they don’t even realize they haven’t really done anything. And sure, they have this annoying constant expectation to be the center of attention, and whine whine whine when they’re not. And their desperate need to impress each other was a real turn-off.
But you know, if you could ignore or put up with those things, damn some of them looked hot. And those were the only ones I wanted, because I really couldn’t see men had anything else to offer.
I always knew that was shallow, but it wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s and finally grasped that good-looking men in a male- and beauty-obsessed culture are destined to be narcissists that I suddenly found I could be attracted to men who looked more interesting than beautiful, and maybe had a spark of something interesting behind the eyes.
Why am I sharing this embarrassing personal history? Because it’s so parallel to how many young men grow up thinking about women, and it got me wondering where these attitudes come from. Perhaps the lack of strong female figures in modern day or history? Or, I should say, recorded history. As I mentioned in my article on Mary Magdalene, the disciple turned into a whore, female figures tend to get deconstructed in history just like in TV. As for modern day, wildly successful women like Martha Stewart, Ophra Winfrey and Madonna are remembered more for their gender transgressions than their business successes. I’m sure most guys who think of women like I once thought of men assume these successful women got where they are through men, somehow, anyway. I certainly suspect every successful man of hiding a Rosalind Franklin behind him – a woman who did the work and made the sacrifice, but didn’t get the credit.
But my repaired attitude suggests a wonderful solution to the problem of men dismissing women as not all that (except when it comes to sex object). Look at it this way: even in a world filled with super important men I was supposed to be very, very impressed with (yawn), the lack of strong men in my personal experience outweighed that cultural conditioning and caused me to see men as less impressive than women. So, conversely, could one strong woman in a young man’s experience imprint him more than a whole society worshiping men and dismissing women? I believe impressive women are exactly where you get men who appreciate women on an individual basis, just like they appreciate men. No more, no less. The battle can be won one person at a time. The more individuals there are who just don’t get why you’d keep someone out of a prominent position due to gender, the harder it will be to keep anyone out of those positions for that reason. And the more people will open up to the idea that women can make fascinating characters, too, the more we’ll see great women characters, and the great conditioning vehicles of TV and film will start to work for us.
In a strange way, this is my Mother’s Day post. While Mom certainly isn’t the only female authority who can show a young boy what women are capable of, she’s probably always the most influential. And she has the choice to show her son(s) a victim, a passive-aggressive doormat, an abuser or a full human being.