There’s an episode of The Simpsons in which Marge is trying to subtly clue Homer in to the fact that his new bestest buddy in the world is gay. She tries a number of euphemisms, including, “He prefers the company of men”. Homer replies: “Who doesn’t?”
Yep, that’s, uh… that’s about it.
For years, I’ve been quipping “All men are gay”. I don’t mean it literally. It’s just a way of highlighting the fact that our culture is so male-centered that men are a lot more interested in impressing each other than in impressing women. And until yesterday, I didn’t realize there was a word for it: homosociality. But, really, we all feel the need to impress men more than women.
Let’s face it: if you want sex, you need to appeal to whichever gender you want to get sex from. But if you want anything else on earth – money, a job, security, civil rights, good entertainment, products – you need to appeal to a man. Yes, women are holding more and more positions of power, but it’s going to be a very long time before you can, say, go through the entire process of securing a mortgage without needing a single man’s approval. Conversely, you could easily go through the entire process without once running into a woman who had any power over you. In fact, until recently, a woman’s involvement in something like mortgage processing was unthinkable. And distasteful. To women as well as men.
I’ve always suspected that one of the major reasons men resisted women coming into the workforce was their fear of having to learn a whole new set of moves. They’d spent all these years learning how to impress male bosses, male clients, how to control male subordinates. Now, suddenly, they were expected to learn how to impress and work with women in these positions? It’s like suddenly finding out you need a second degree to continue in the job you’re in. No wonder they resisted.
I also suspect women didn’t make the transition any easier, probably because they had no way of guessing how they were impacting the workplace. How could they? They hadn’t seen how it was before they got there. They mistook the men’s resistance for widespread misogyny, and the men certainly didn’t want to communicate frankly about what was really bothering them, so everyone wound up at cross-purposes. And the movement for equality ended up being built on some false assumptions that have really slowed down its progress.
At least, that’s how I see it.
I honestly doubt there is such a thing as widespread institutionalized hatred of women. I think the driving force behind inequality is a lack of enlightenment, rather than a firmly-held belief that women are inferior, bad, etc. While I’ve certainly known more than a few men and women who neurotically hate women, I think they’re the minority.
What is widespread and institutionalized, however, is a culture that suppresses women, attempting to ensure that men will only ever be forced to rely on or submit to other men. Despite recent small steps in a new direction, we are all coming from a history of women being valued only for sex, motherhood and companionship. And women are no less programmed to this view than men. We learn to expect men to come from positions and attitudes of authority, and to expect women to come from cooperative and supportive perspectives.
Even though I’m female, and was taught from early on to do my own thinking, I remember the day I realized I took female bosses less seriously than male, even when I had more respect for them. The problem was, I knew her boss took her male counterpart more seriously. If she tried to punish me or promote me, there was a chance her bosses would overrule her. With a male boss, this was less likely. So if it came down to a choice, it was in my best interest to impress and please the male boss rather than the female. And I thought I was a feminist.
…Michael Kimmel’s notion of homosociality. (Homosociality is the idea that men are more concerned with winning the approval of other males than of women. Men measure their worth according to standards set by other men, not by women). Accordingly, many men who are in relationship with heterosexually experienced women may find themselves competing with all of her previous lovers. Indeed, this sense of competition often seems to happen even when the woman involved is scrupulous about not making such comparisons herself. But, if one buys into the notion of homosociality, it doesn’t matter much what the woman thinks; the man will be competing with her past lovers in his head, even if no such rivalry is taking place in hers. After all, he isn’t really after her validation; his real goal is to prove himself “better than” those she’s been with previously. And while some men might find that competition exhilarating (and many more women find it bewildering and exhausting), other men may find it terrifying. And let’s face it: it’s a lot easier to call one’s girlfriend a “slut” than it is to acknowledge one’s own sexual anxieties.
From Hugo Schwyzer
The real question is: is anyone happy with this arrangement? I’ve known a lot of women who assume the culture we have is what most men want, and that most women want change. I disagree. I think most people are unhappy in general, and most of them are also afraid of change. That’s why showing the changes in fiction could be such a powerful way to initiate real change in the world – life imitating art. Fiction can show us entire alternate realities in which the little changes people fear so much become part of a tapestry. And I’m not talking futuristic movies or science fiction; I’m talking about characters like really good female commanding officers and stay-at-home dads. These people are out there in reality; putting them in fiction can help “normalize” their archetypes.
But putting them in fiction as failures – desconstructing them as time goes by, until everyone is corrected to their socially accepted stereotypes – may do more harm than just sticking to stereotypes from start to finish.