In my last post, I talked about women and the “right to be sexy”. The sexy issue ties in with the issue I think looms largest for us, which is the degree to which women are so immersed in the patriarchal culture–and the “romance” fantasy that serves it so well–we don’t treat one another as equal to men. If we women don’t see one another or ourselves as equals, how can we expect men to?
When we favor men over women
The realm of dating/romance is where I see this problem most clearly. Since my college days I’ve scratched my head over the norm in which most women will dump a plan with a woman to go on a date with a man in a blink. There’s no hesitation, the dump is generally conducted with the unspoken assumption doing something with a man always trumps any plan a “girl” has with anyone female. With a wink and a “you understand” both women collude in placing any time with a man in a category of “above” or “better than” any time spent with a woman.
Doesn’t matter if the woman has been your stalwart friend for years, held your hair while you puked, shared your secrets, stood up for you against the guy who broke your heart, if some man you barely know asks you on a date for the same night as your plan for dinner and a movie with a woman friend, you dump the woman — wink, wink because we all understand the man is better. Any man, no matter how little known or how bad he may turn out to be is just more important.
I can’t quite decide whether I feel more disturbed by the women who dump their women friends so readily or by the friends who accept it as natural and right to be dumped any time there’s a chance to do anything with a man. (I will admit I never demurred–knowing it was a losing battle–but the women who did it to me got put at arm’s length and went way down my list of trusted people…; I don’t take kindly to be treated as less valuable than a man)
I told many men, back in the years when I was serial dating, that I had a plan on the night he asked about, could we choose another night. Never once did a guy say no to a different day. So I got to enjoy the plans with my girlfriends and then enjoy the date. No good reason to discard the girls’ night in favor of the man. Except maybe you don’t think women are as worthy of your time.
I know few women who would say this out loud or even admit they feel that way. The behavior says otherwise. I’ve known strong, independent women with impressive jobs who would flake out on a plan with me in a heartbeat if any man whatsoever asked them out on a date. I’ve known women with amazing resumes who’ve turned on me snarling at the suggestion that women shouldn’t treat one another that way. “Stop being childish” or “you’re just being naive”.
I’ve never said I think shifting that mentality would be easy. The fairy-tale-happy-ending fantasy has become a deeply rooted delusion of our culture. Issues about men and women and romance are usually complexly tied to unresolved issues about Mom and Dad, so generally get into the heart of our deepest wounds and issues in the world. Add in the deep cultural undercurrents about men being stronger, smarter, faster, more capable, better at leadership, etc. and you have a formula for women putting men and romantic relationships with them before all else, in many cases unaware of the degree to which they’re doing it.
Nor am I saying you need to hate men or eschew marriage. I’m not sure why so many women put this extreme interpretation on any efforts to get them to shift their behavior and offer more esteem to women, but I think there’s a middle ground. You can love a man — hopefully one who admires and respects you and treats you as his equal — and still love the women you know and give both types of relationship equal weight.
I make no claim about how we shift all these intertwining issues. Or that it will be easy. But as long as women are treating one another as second class citizens and refuse to even acknowledge it’s what they’re doing or the fact it’s a problem we need to address, I don’t see how we imagine men will ever treat us as equals. We have to feel like equals and treat one another that way first.
When we don’t see our own worth
I’ve also been looking around at studies on the pay gap and the low numbers of women in upper level positions of business and government. I was interested but not surprised to see besides gender discrimination, many bosses report women are less likely to demand a raise or promotion and studies found women are also far more reticent about putting themselves forward. (Probably not helped by the general male attitude that any woman who does push for advancement is a bitch…)
In a society where women are raised as less than, often told their main jobs are cleaning and child rearing, so many of us lack the kind of confidence and self-esteem most men take for granted. Most of us are so entangled in the world view of a society that values men over women it is hard for us to feel confident and worthy.
Some inner searching and working on raising our sense of worthiness are so important if we want to break out of our web of male privilege and achieve real equality.
When we stand together
Our best hope, I think, of stepping outside the patriarchy and insisting upon equality is to support one another. To help one another heal the issues keeping us in thrall of romance, the issues of low self-worth and confidence, the habit of valuing men over one another, etc. Together we heal. Standing together we are a force.