To Forgive is Human; to Reconcile, Divine.

In 1994, Rwanda experienced a bloody genocide, resulting in over 800,000 brutal murders, including about 300,000 children with another 100,000 losing their parents. The killers who were caught were eventually imprisoned for their crimes. While in prison, some participated in programs that helped them own their atrocities and develop empathy for the victims and their families.

Simultaneously, survivors of the atrocities, many of whom had watched friends and family members murdered by machete, were grieving their losses and coming to terms with what they had seen and experienced. After much internal wrestling, some were able to forgive their killers. Amazing.

In 2003, when the offenders began to be released from prison, an even more amazing initiative developed: A program to bring the two sides together in a process of reconciliation. Seriously? Who in their right mind would associate in any way with someone who had murdered their love ones?

Forgiveness is hard enough, but it only takes one, and individuals can eventually let go of the anger, hurt pain, and disillusionment, while still remembering what happened. But reconciliation takes two, and you can never be sure if the other party has sincere motives.

Believe it or not, some victims and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide were genuinely invested in healing the breach of trust. The perpetrators had to own their harm and live with the remorse and regret of their actions. The victims had to grieve the losses and come to terms with the humanity of their victimizers, so that they could forgive them and open their hearts to the terrifying possibility of reconciliation. And yet, if Rwanda is any example, this is precisely what we’re able to do as human beings. In my view, it represents our highest capacity.

The bridge that crosses this divide? Empathy. Mutual empathy.

You would think that the battle of the sexes is small potatoes compared to genocide, so could we not learn from the example of those Rwandans who have been able to transcend the natural survival instincts of our species to relate to each other on a whole new level? Can empathy help us appreciate the human struggles of both male and female as our species and society has evolved? Can we listen to one another deeply enough to feel for the pain that the other has born, so that we can bury the hatchet in this ancient conflict of the sexes? If they can pull off such a divine feat in Rwanda, can we not do this in the West between men and women? Yeah, maybe I’m dreaming.

I have longed for, and pursued, this kind of healing in my own family, and it hasn’t happened. There are still family secrets that we can’t discuss openly, honestly, humbly, and the wounds remain tender and sore. What a shame. What a waste of the short time we have on this planet.

Here on this earth, men and women—people—have their own contributions to make. Is there a way that we can support, encourage and appreciate whatever that may be, without wrangling over the sex of the person making a particular contribution? Is there a way to reconcile the relationship between men and women? Can both come to the table with an open heart and mind for the further development of our species? Can we find a way to transcend our basic emotional reactivity to one another? Can we do better?

[Check out how they’re doing it in Rwanda in As We Forgive, by Catherine Claire Larson. The most powerful book I’ve ever read on forgiveness and reconciliation. Amazing stories of incredible people. We could learn from them.]

Mutual Exploitation. Enough.

Early in my relationship with Brad, a variety of women intruded upon our connection, coming onto Brad in my very presence. Part of this was due to Brad’s willingness to talk to women about their opinions and feelings, which is how the spark of romance begins. Basically, he was giving the wrong impression.

I had done the same thing when I had gotten back into the relationship market after emotionally recovering from a 17-year marriage that ended in divorce. I didn’t realize that being playful with men in the same way I was playful with women would come off differently. Men experienced me as flirtatious; women experienced me as friendly.

I was angry that I was being misinterpreted when I was just being myself—my quick wit is my most natural and enjoyable way to connect with people—and it took me about six months to accept the reality that I was giving men the wrong impression. Finally, I realized that I wouldn’t lead men on when I offered only my intellectual side to them, so that’s what I decided to do. When they then complained that that they wanted more of an emotional connection, I stood my ground so as not to send mixed messages.

Before Brad learned the same thing, however, I was shocked that women would so boldly seek something from Brad (emotional support, flirtations, physical proximity, etc.) that they had no right to seek from a man who was committed to another woman.

Is this boldness in women a result of the sexual revolution? Are women more aggressive, less honorable, than they used to be? I imagine a time prior to the sexual freedom afforded by birth control when women actually protected each other, kept each others’ backs and supported the relationships of their peers. Am I living in a fantasy world?

In a newspaper article (from the early 1900’s, I believe), titled, “Are Women Lacking in Chivalry?” the writer observes: “…girls these days are amazingly self-sufficient—but what about taking care of the man who is the object of her clever wiles?… Certain girls and women take an almost fiendish delight in tempting men to the limits of endurance. They play upon a man’s weakness in order to secure flattering attention and gay entertainment, to win a man’s homage and stage a demonstration of their power…. Up to a certain point the desire of the man to give and the desire of the women to enjoy his gifts, are harmless. But when a man’s heart becomes involved, and the woman who is the object of his attention has no intention of reciprocating, when she simply is exploiting him, knowing that she is protected, not so much by her convictions as by the unresponsiveness of her temperament the whole affair becomes detestable.” (If anyone can find this article, I’d love to be able to credit it properly. My pic of it prevents me from seeing the name of the paper or the date. Maybe the “Kansas City Star” in the 1920s?)

I was at a conference recently where a female business student proudly described her manipulation strategy to get a man she worked with to agree to some course of action, only for the man to realize in a couple months what he had actually agreed to. Again, I was shocked and appalled by the calculated manipulations of this young woman of her unsuspecting colleague.

Women, are we losing our integrity as a result of the freedoms we have or the positions we hold alongside men in the public arena? I don’t mean forget those women who do soberly consider their ethics and integrity, which I still believe most do. I’m speaking to those of our sex who will do anything to get what they want, and there are plenty.

And men, you have had your share of folks who have not dealt honorably with women. There have been plenty of you who have played on the innocence of some who only want to please you, commanded subordination of women in the name of God, used your strength to intimidate and harm. Of course, most of you wouldn’t dream of acting like this, but those of your sex who have and do leave permanent scars, leaving many of these female victims angry and reactive for life.

So I call out all of us who exploit the innocence of and ignorance of others. It’s really not that hard to offer our unique contributions to the world and maintain our ethics at the same time. Am I an idealistic fool to think that we can…and must?

And those of us, on both sides of the sexual aisle, who take our integrity seriously and who want our short lives to count for the development of our glorious species, we must acknowledge that there are bad apples among us who pollute the whole pale, and that we have a responsibility for calling out our own sex on breaches of character.

So I call out all of us–myself first, and then all of my brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers–imploring us all to examine our lives as fellow human beings, so that we can emerge on the other side of this heated sexual divide that has been plaguing us for far too long.

Job Well Done, Men

For millennia, men have been the primary leaders of the public world. Many women find this offensive, as if men were intentionally keeping them small. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is simply not factual. Men, who tend to have larger, stronger bodies, thanks to the powerful hormone testosterone, have simply been better equipped to keep out invaders, human and non-human. The task of protecting the tribe from harm beyond the tribe naturally, instinctively, fell to men. Protecting the tribe from harm from within also fell to men, and they did this by putting in place and enforcing a legal system.

Simultaneously, women were plying their skills on the home front, managing the tasks of the household and rearing the children. They were simply better equipped to do this, thanks to the powerful hormones estrogen and progesterone. Their bodies bore the babies, and their bodies sustained the babies long after their birth.

This division of labor was the most natural, efficient way to get everything done for survival of the species.

Things are different now, thanks to technological advancements, especially those of the Industrial Revolution, and women are free to think beyond the home if they are inclined to do so. And many are.

This reality, however, is uncomfortable for many men who operate from the instinctual, collective unconscious patterns of the ages, and who are still wired to experience themselves in the biological directive of ages past—as protectors and providers. These men find themselves offended that women would want to do the job they have been doing for millennia. I’m wondering what the offense is? Do they feel unappreciated for the job they’ve done for thousands of years? Do they feel displaced from a job they enjoyed? Do they feel the home front won’t be protected if the mother of their children is in the world outside the home, too? Do they feel that they aren’t equipped, or are simply disinclined, to manage the home and children if Mom isn’t there 24/7 to do it? Does it feel like women are intentionally displacing them from a role that nature has designed them to fulfill?

I’d love to hear from you, men! What does it feel like to you when both men and women are out there offering their energy to the world?

Feminism: For Better or Worse?

Eighteen months ago, I met a man whom I didn’t believe existed, after I had been single for almost ten years. Following my 17-year marriage, I got back into the dating market after almost three years of emotional recovery, but I wasn’t impressed with what I found. In the next 9 years, I experienced two successful dating failures—with men who misrepresented their availability—and friend-zoned many others.

I’m an unusual woman—intellectual, principled, professional, not casually sexual, warm—and I knew the likelihood of finding a matching puzzle piece was slim. Most men worth catching were already happily married, I figured. Then I met Brad—an intellectual equal who also featured the unusual quality of being interested in understanding relationships. The intellectual stimulation and the relentless romantic pursuit were intoxicating and irresistible.

As I got to know Brad, I learned that his last 20 years had featured two long-term relationships that had ended in financial devastation for him. From his perspective, the law favors women, and women are taking advantage of every loop in the law, exploiting the proclivity of men to protect and provide for women.

I, on the other hand, had taken the financial hit myself when my husband and I divorced, and if there was a law I could have exploited, I wouldn’t have been motivated to find it. Instead, I wanted to end the relationship as amicably as possible, with no hard feelings on either side. So I was hurt that Brad would think that women these days are as dishonorable as he said the structure allows them to be.

He posited that the failure to thrive that we’re seeing in Western males these days is a direct result of the speed with which women have entered the public sphere. This ascendancy has left many men lost, he says, particularly those who find it repulsive to compete with women, and who still carry what he calls, the male “biological directive” to provide for and protect his wife and children.

If he speaks for men, even some men, the Feminist Revolution may be responsible for some unintended consequences. In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, describing a “problem that had no name”—namely the malaise of many educated women who were married with children and material comforts but who were unhappy.

Since then, we’ve fought our way out from under the status quo of the ages, making room for ourselves in the public arena as well as on the home front. Good for us. I’m indebted to the women who have made it possible for a girl like me, who grew up in a cult that subjugated women, to have meaningful work in the public sphere.

But I’m wondering… Have we done this in a way that has subjected our male counterparts to some of the same conditions that fueled our own revolt? Have we created another “problem that has no name”—a masculine malaise that is contributing to the increasing failure of men to thrive?

If so, I believe it would be honorable and right to address these injustices and repair them, no matter how inadvertent they’ve been, so that we can move to our next level of human evolution together as equals: men and women working side by side to make a better world.

So, men, I’d like to hear from you. What has your experience been as the Western woman has been moving steadily into the public sphere over the past 50 years? In what ways has the Feminist Revolution impacted you, for better or worse? What would you like to see done to right any injustices you’ve experienced at the hands of women? What do you hope for the future of women? And what does it mean to you to be a man these days?