Why Men and Women Fight, Part 6: Feminism 1.0

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that in the last five posts we’ve covered the operating system and the hardware that leave men and women fighting like cats and dogs. Let’s talk now about the software that gets programmed into us—the “conditioning,” in the parlance of psychology—that can leave us clawing at each other, too.

When we think of conditioning, we mostly think of what we learn in our families of origin about how to think, what to believe, how to behave, etc., and all of this early training certainly does program us to see the world in the ways our parents conceive. As we develop into adulthood, we sometimes adopt these perspectives and sometimes discard them in favor of others that either resonate with us or that we deem to be somehow advantageous to us.

What we don’t often consider to be part of our software programming—the inputs that shape our perspectives—is the cultural messages that have been fashioned through the ages before us, and then get presented to us in packages as if they are new.

For example, few couples in 2016 realize that they fight as a result of some of the social developments brought on by the French Revolution in 1789-1799. Seriously. The modern era unfolded in the shadow of this revolution because of the social upheaval and change that it sparked world-wide. The toppling of the French monarchy sparked the decline of absolute monarchies globally, replacing them with republics and democracies. Its liberal and radical ideas, including the rights of all human beings, not just the aristocracy, led to the development and proliferation of modern political ideologies, including one of the broad categories of this blog post: feminism.

In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women, in which she argued that women only appear inferior to men because of their lack of education, and suggested that both men and women be treated as rational human beings in a society founded upon reason. We’re now seeing the social development of those ideas en masse, including unique developments in the battle of the sexes, 225 years later.

For example, our education systems have changed so radically that for every four women who graduate from college, only three men do. Consequently, more women are filling management and C-level positions than ever before, leading to marriages in which women are sometimes the primary bread-winners. Some call this “economically mixed” partnerships, although we’ve always had those, just not with women owning the economic part of the mixture.

And this just in the last 50 years. Until Betty Friedan’s research, published in The Feminine Mystique in 1963, women were primarily homemakers and men bread-winners. While that is still the most common configuration for couples, women are entering the public and professional sphere like never before. I’m grateful to the men and women who have fought to make equal opportunities available for people like me—a female from an impoverished, abusive home and religious community—to acquire several advanced degrees and certifications, so that I could not only support myself, but do so with meaningful and rewarding professional work.

However, these important and necessary social movements have had an unanticipated impact on relationships. With more women in the workplace, the opportunity for affairs to develop has increased exponentially. Additionally, the birth control pill (1960), no-fault divorce (1969+), and the legalization of abortion (1972), have contributed to relationship stressors that couples have never had to face before. In 1970, Alvin Toffler published Future Shock in which he describes the psychological state of individuals and entire societies when too much change occurs at too fast a pace for our psyches to keep up.

These shock waves include the blame game that has become especially hot in the feminist political sphere these days. Many Third and Fourth Wave Feminists blame men for the current nuances in the battle of the sexes. Many 21st Century men blame feminism for the social conflict that they believe contributes to the discontent of their female partners and the dissolution of their families.

And so men and women fight partly because of the cultural upheavals that began with the French Revolution, leading to important evolutionary shifts in Western culture and in the human species. Will these shifts lead to the emergence of a more humane existence for all human beings? I believe they can and they will over the next several centuries, but right now, we’re experiencing shock waves from which many relationships are suffering. (See my post: “Feminism: For Better or Worse.”)

Tomorrow, we’ll look more specifically at how these grand social movements can make for heated arguments in real time between couples.

Why Men and Women Fight, Part 5: Dents, Damage and Wounds

We talked last time about the implicit nurturing of a child that results in a style of relating that the child takes with him or her into adulthood. This attachment style is hardwired into place by the age of 4.

Right about that time, the child goes off to school and establishes a social life beyond the home, complete with influences of all kinds. Those who embark on this journey with a secure attachment style navigate the new social sphere with relative ease. Those with an insecure attachment style struggle to make healthy connections, to varying degrees and in varying ways.

For the next 15 years or so, we continue along that social journey, encountering relationships that sometimes bring us joy and hope, and sometimes dent, damage and wound us. We react by further developing our style of relating (See Why Men and Women Fight, Part 4). In effect, we create a wall around our true selves so that we don’t get too hurt in the fray, or so that we at least minimize how hurt we appear to others. After all, a wounded animal is most likely to be left as prey for stronger animals.

Physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual abuse and neglect result in some of the most common wounds, the worst of these being the kind you can’t see…the kind that doesn’t get you to the emergency room. (Research suggests that emotional neglect is even more damaging to the brain than physical abuse.)

So by the time we reach adulthood, most of us have accumulated a variety of dents along the way, and few of us even recognize how we fashion for ourselves a shield of self-protection. We’re just surviving, and we don’t even consciously realize it.

Then we meet some beautiful person who is also all dented up, and our hormones tell us that this person is the perfect solution to fill all the hollow places inside. And they’re looking at us through the same hormone high, expecting us to do the same for them. This works beautifully for about 6 months or so, until the hormone high dissipates and we’re left realizing that the person we thought was going to fill our emptiness is actually expecting us to fill theirs.

And that disillusionment, creates some really hot fights between men and women. Worse, we don’t even realize that those losses along the way have changed us, have wounded us, and that we’ve been demanding our damaged partner to keep us from having to grieve those old losses that left our real self somewhere deep inside a self-protective shell, only sending out a pseudo representative to interact for us until we deem it safe to play without our emotional armor.

Our pseudo representative relates to others through a lens of (mostly unconscious) fear, anxiety and stress. This is the self that manipulates through shame, blame, rewards, threats, distance, proximity and a host of other strategies. This self seeks approval, and is willing to sacrifice the essential self for acceptance. Often times, the essential self, the true, authentic self, has been tucked so far away, it’s hard to even find him or her anymore.

Now imagine partners relating to each other from this posture of self-protection, two pseudo-selves who had imbued the other with superpowers to heal wounds inflicted by people and circumstances that predate the current relationship. Fighting erupts, representing the disappointment and disillusionment that sets in when the foolish belief in the perfect other is exposed for what it is: a lie told by one’s own wishful thinking. Better to blame and resent the other than to take responsibility for being the fool of our pseudo-self’s desire to believe what we wanted to be true, rather than what simply is true.

Fortunately, fighting because of unresolved damage and loss diminishes as both he and she can identify their unresolved wounds, responsibly tend to our own, and allow the other the respect to do the same. Letting go of the demand that one fill the emptiness of the other takes a planet-sized burden off of a relationship.

So now we’ve looked at the operating system and the hardware that make men and women fight. Tomorrow we’ll discuss some software that can also have that effect.

Why Men and Women Fight, Part 4: Attachment Styles

Okay, so we’ve talked about the operating system disparities that make men and women fight. We’re just very different animals right from the get go. It’s natural.

Then there’s the hardware, the result of the early nurturing process, that gets hardwired into our psyches—before we even develop explicit memory (somewhere around age 5). Prior to that, our brains process our experiences on an implicit level, and what we learn from our early life experiences gets etched into our view of the world, without us even realizing it. I’ll call it “nurtural.”

Ideally, in the first 3-4 years of life, our caregivers interact with us in such a way that we develop a solid sense of ourselves and others. Parents do this by providing for our real needs—not needs that they imagine us to have based on their own anxieties, stresses, and immaturity. Caregivers who nurture well, who provide an environment in which the developing child can rely on them for both structure and freedom, as the child actually needs, are also able to regulate their positive and negative emotions, so that the child isn’t drawn into regulating the inner world of the caregivers. Such an environment leaves a child with what we call a secure attachment style, which the child then takes it into all relationships from then on.

Individuals with a secure attachment style are able to both be independent from and intimate with others. They don’t worry about whether others approve of them, so they are free to develop their interests, without having to sacrifice their sense of self out of an undue need for acceptance.

On the other hand, children whose caregivers interact with them based on imagined needs—keeping the child too close or providing too little guidance—create an environment, out of their own anxieties, that promotes one of three insecure attachment styles, that the child takes with him or her into adult relationships.

Adults with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style seek high levels of intimacy, and become fearful when separated from loved ones. They often doubt their worth and blame the other if he or she isn’t responsive enough.

Adults who develop a dismissive-avoidant attachment style deny needing close relationships, and tend to be invulnerable, independent, self-sufficient, and condescending. They usually hide their feelings and distance themselves when they sense rejection.

Those who emerge from childhood with a fearful-avoidant attachment style find it difficult to trust others, although they do express the desire to be in close relationships. These mixed feelings emanate from feeling unworthy of care and suspicious of the intentions of others.

So imagine what a fight might sound like between someone who desires but feels unworthy of care (fearful-avoidant) and whose partner displays little need for close relationship (dismissive-avoidant). Yikes! Or what about someone who feels smothered (dismissive-avoidant) by their partner’s desire to spend all their time together (anxious-ambivalent). Argh!

To make matters worse, we tend to be attracted to others at the same level of our own functioning (not necessarily the same attachment style), so people with a secure attachment style tend to be drawn to others with a secure attachment style, and people with an insecure attachment style tend to be drawn to others with an insecure attachment style.

Fortunately, people who enter the adult world with an insecure attachment style can develop a secure attachment style…by doing a hell of a lot of psychological repair of attachment injuries. I’m a product of that process myself, and can attest that it’s not easy work, but I highly recommend it if you want to fight less…or at least more fairly.

More tomorrow on our hardware, and then we’ll talk about our software, which gets men and women into some especially heated battles.

Why Men and Women Fight, Part 3: Justice and Mercy

The research studies of Kohlberg and Gillian (See Why Men & Women Fight, Part 2) roughly approximate an age-old philosophical debate about how to evaluate right and wrong. Men and women do that  differently, too. Kohlberg’s study found that a typical male follows a deontological approach, meaning most men find something to be intrinsically right or wrong, based on principle. Gilligan’s study found that a typical female follows a teleological approach, meaning that she deems something to be right or wrong depending on how much good or harm results.

Philosophers have been waging this debate for ages. Perhaps both approaches are incomplete without the modifying influence of the other. Combining these perspectives results in more complicated moral justification, however. Justice would say that a certain principle should govern a decision. Adding the mercy perspective, requires that the anticipated outcome be considered as part of a decision. The combined approach balances the theoretical with the concrete, the universal with the particular.

Adding the mercy component to a justice orientation also requires that emotions be part of any moral decision-making process, as Aristotle posited in Nichomachean Ethics: “feeling at the right time, about the right things, in relation to the right people; and for the right reason.” Hume also described an ethic that includes both rational analysis and character.

Gilligan suggests that our approach to ethics is formed when we are little boys and girls. Our nature and our nurture, Gilligan contends, leaves boys seeking fairness, equality and impartiality when they encounter other males who want the same item. Girls, on the other hand, come into conflict due to competing responsibilities to the people in their lives. This guides them to a very different ethical approach.

In the end, males and females fight over these perspectives without even realizing it, and without being able to name the differences. Men come to their wives from an adversarial standpoint because it feels as natural as breathing. Women come to their husbands from an empathic standpoint because to consider anything else feels like putting on someone else’s shoes.

So what to do about all this? I don’t know. I know all this stuff, and I still fight with my boyfriend for the very same reasons I’ve outlined in these posts. We just see reality from different angles, and no matter how much you know the other’s perspective is wholly other, it’s really hard to remember this when you have to decide how to parent the kids, how to spend money, where to go for the holidays, or whether tonight’s the night for sex.

And of course, our disparate operating systems are only part of why we fight, so we need to address our differing software, as well.

For now, I’ll just put my longing out there, that we can learn to listen to the other from the standpoint of the other’s operating system, without having to agree with the other. It takes a hell of a lot of commitment, and both partners must have equal parts of that. It’s the only way I can imagine for cats and dogs to occasionally peaceably and amicably share the same bed.

I’ll start addressing various psychological software incompatibilities tomorrow…

Why Men and Women Fight, Part 2: Ethical Development

If you take how men and women view the world and how they arrive at what they know (see blog post titled: Why Men and Women Fight, Part 1) into relationship, you get some hotly contested battles. When people, more typically men, employ objectivity and reason in decisions about character and decision-making, they will tend toward conclusions of rights, fairness and justice. When people, more typically women, employ emotions along with reason, context and responsibility to arrive at how people should act and choose, they will tend toward conclusions of responsibility to others, empathy and mercy.

While Perry and Belenky studied the differences between the sexes in the way they come to know what is “true,” Kohlberg and Gilligan identified differences in moral and ethical development. Kohlberg, studying males, identified three stages of moral development: preconventional, conventional, and postconventional.

In the preconventional stage, subjects first decide what’s good by what has the most power, and then by reciprocity. What brings pain or pleasure determines right and wrong.

In conventional morality, the focus shifts from self to others, measuring what’s good against the expectations of family and society. Approval and acceptance guide morality at the beginning of this stage, and by the end of it, law and order are even more important.

In the post-conventional stage of ethical development, Kohlberg’s males demonstrated autonomous, self-determined thinking, most valuing principles such as utilitarianism, the “social contract,” agreements, democratic processes, fairness, respecting the rights of others, and promoting the common good. As this stage develops, individuals often adopt more general, universal principles, such as the Golden Rule, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, justice, reciprocity, human equality and dignity. Kohlberg called living by such principles an ethics of justice, and it is a rational, impartial, objective, non-emotional stance.

Gilligan’s studies, on the other hand, found that women tend to stop at stage three, developing care and responsibility to others, rather than justice and individual rights. Helping others and minimizing harm take center stage in this ethics of care. From this ethical perspective, every situation is different and how to respond must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Every problem requires a tailor-made solution.

While Kohlberg’s stages show male development from a simple to an increasingly abstract way of ethical thinking, Gilligan’s stages show female development from caring only for oneself, moving into a sense of responsibility to others, and ending in an acceptance of the principle of care for others and oneself.

Like Perry and Belenky et al., Kohlberg and Gilligan observed that both males and females start in the same place, external authority and self-centeredness, and move toward forging one’s own ethics.

But there’s the rub: males and females tend to forge a very different ethic, in the end. Men tend toward justice; women tend toward mercy. Treating people with impartiality based on the abstract principle of justice is part and parcel of the (typically) male detachment I describe yesterday. Mercy, on the other hand, with its emphasis on reducing the amount of pain and suffering in the world, is more personal…and more (typically) female.

The journey of Western women toward a more mature ethic requires them to pass through a step that most Western men don’t encounter. In order to reach autonomy and independence, women have to question socialization that says their role is to subjugate their interests for that of their loved ones. Learning to apply an ethics of care as much to herself as anyone else is a critical step on a woman’s development to ethical maturity.

And we wonder why men and women fight? How we ever reach consensus is the greater wonder!

More tomorrow….

Why Men and Women Fight, Part 1: How We Know Things

Men and women fight like cats and dogs, because, well, we are like cats and dogs. We’re just very different animals, so says the research. We experience reality in fundamentally different ways, probably resulting from both nature (body, brain and hormone differences) and nurture (boys and girls are treated differently from birth). Science is still trying to figure all this out, though, so this blog entry is about what is, not about why it is that way.

What we do know is that what we observe. Men tend to understand reality primarily from a detached, objective, logical viewpoint. Women tend to experience reality from a connected, intuitive, emotional viewpoint. Traditionally and empirically, the latter way of knowing has been considered not just different, but inferior in Western cultures. Modern science requires hard facts, not feelings, about how things work, so women’s ways of knowing confounds the empirical method. Or maybe it doesn’t.

Science is now engaging in empirical testing about the voracity of intuitive epistemology, and finding that both ways of knowing can be equally productive…and equally questionable. Psychological research shows that men and women come to know what they know by a different set of stages.

In the 1960s, psychologist William Perry studied (primarily) male college students and identified four stages by which his subjects arrived at conclusions about reality (Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years, 1968). In the first stage, duality, black and white thinking rules the day. Authority figures who give facts and answers are assumed to be correct.

In Stage Two, unacceptable multiplicity, it becomes clear that authority figures don’t agree, so one’s own authority figures are assumed correct and the rest wrong or incompetent. Black and white thinking still rules.

In Stage Three, acceptable multiplicity, gray becomes an option, with the individual’s own subjective interpretation of reality being the right one for the individual, while others are allowed to have their own opinions.

In Stage Four, relativism, the individual makes peace with conflicting opinions, and becomes much less tied to absolutes, although there is an special appreciation for the informed opinion, one that is backed by a reasonable explanation, arrived upon by a constructed intellectual approach.

Some 20 years after Perry published his research, a group of female psychologists conducted similar research on females, which identified a different progression of epistemological development. Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (Women’s Ways of Knowing, 1986) found that women don’t necessarily follow the pattern toward knowledge that Perry identified for males. Both men and women start and end at roughly the same place—starting with black and white ways of knowing (what Belenky et al. called received knowledge) and ending with an understanding that reality is less precise and objective than it seemed at first, so adopting both objective and subjective ways of knowing becomes important (called constructed knowledge).

Even the first stage is somewhat different for men than for women, Belenky et al. found. Males, from the start, tend to identify themselves as authority figures, viewing the world through an “us/them” perspective, while females tend to see others as authority figures, and themselves as receiving the right way of seeing things.

In the second stage, subjective knowledge, truth is seen as personal, private, subjective, and intuitive. There are still absolutes, but they now arise from within. At this stage, females sometimes make themselves the authority, with empirical methodology taking a back seat to their own intuition.

In the third stage, procedural knowledge, women add objective and rational ways of knowing (separate knowing) to their epistemology, adopting the scientific method as another way of discovering truth. Many women, in this stage, however, begin to rely on empathy (connected knowing) as much as anything as a way to understand reality. Separate knowing relies on impartial but adversarial debate while connected knowing relies on mutual trust and dialogue.

In the fourth stage, constructed knowledge, women try to reconcile the opposing epistemological strategies of exploring facts and experiencing feelings. They try to blend objective, scientific and rational with subjective, intuitive and emotional. Women at this stage have reached the conclusion that all knowledge is constructed, fashioned, and that the knower is an integral part of the context of what becomes known.

That Perry’s model was decidedly absent of intuition and empathy explains, at least in part, why the battle of the sexes is still so hot. Most men simply don’t tend to consider feelings, empathy, trust or personal relationships in their quest for knowledge, and they see the need to as inferior. They remain detached, rather than connected; they come as skeptics, not as believers. Most women, on the other hand, can’t trust a reality that disparages a method that seems to them as natural and necessary as air. No wonder men and women become exasperated with each other! They don’t see the epistemology of the other as legitimate or trustworthy!

You’d think that the maturity and broader perspective that both sexes eventually adopt, which uses data of all kinds to understand and interpret reality, would allow them to see and appreciate the viewpoint of the other. If only….

More tomorrow….

The Justice of Letting Go

I just watched a couple hours of men’s rights activist Karen Straughan on YouTube, and was often encouraged by her intellectual approach to appreciating what men have done to protect and provide for our world for millennia. In the end, however, I was left disturbed and dismayed. The heat around feminism is a lot hotter and the fight much uglier than I realized, with people flinging mud and hand grenades at each other. While Straughan presented a variety of important and reasonable points, she also littered her talk with a generous helping of emotional appeals, strategic omissions of reality, and other propagandistic methods of delivery. It seems like no one can stay on the intellectual level for long in this conversation.

Straughan’s presentation reminded me of Rachel Maddow, whose views I tend to agree with, but whom I can’t watch because of her condescending attitude. To her credit, Straughan was far less sensational than Maddow, but still unable to keep a lid on the sarcasm, mockery and other emotionality that has no legitimate place in an intellectual arena. I call logical fallacy, and I find it disheartening.

Hopeless, really. Growing up in a household where emotional grenades and gender bashing (on both sides) was the norm left me with an aversion to emotional argumentation. I’m hoping my blog can be a place that’s free of this kind of reactivity, but I’m thinking that this topic may be too fraught with anger on all sides.

Plus, the topic itself creates unnecessary tension between me and my partner, and I don’t think it’s worth that. Before Brad, I was mostly oblivious to the depth and breadth of this cultural conversation. I was just surviving a household where traditional gender roles were believed to be God-ordained, and in my particular family, that belief was enforced with violence, overt and covert. I just wanted the fighting to stop, and I wanted to get out of there and live my own life. I didn’t want to be dependent on a man because I saw how unfortunate that deal was for my mom.

I decided that my survival was my own responsibility, no one else’s, so I pursued an education that would afford me a paycheck that would allow me to take care of myself. I was also compelled to offer something meaningful to the world, something that came from resources I had within. So I became a teacher, then a psychotherapist. I love my work, and my clients make real and lasting progress when they take ownership of their healing journey. I don’t care if the person sitting across from me is male or female. Solidity is sexless, and my job is to help each person I see become increasingly solid in who they are as a human being.

Now that I know Brad, who is deeply invested in this feminism vs. men’s rights debate due to his own experiences in his previous long-term relationships, I have learned more than I want to know, I think. I’m not sure I want to carry this torch. I have other torches to carry, torches that my life experience has made me more passionate about.

Besides, I miss my innocence, my uninformedness about feminism and men’s rights, which is probably just another way of saying ignorance is bliss. I’m sure that seems to some like sticking my head in the sand, but from my perspective, it’s just not my fight to fight. It’s been difficult enough trying to fight the demons of my own past, trying to reconcile the injustices of my upbringing. Carrying those old wounds around with me eventually became too cumbersome, and I realized they were only stealing from my present and my future. Continuing to cry oppression and victimization after one has escaped the battlefield and healed from the wounds inflicted there only allows perpetrators to continue to win, long after the blood has dried on the battlefield.

So rather than allowing the harmful people of my past to keep stealing from me, I had to stop seeking justice some someone else as a proxy for those who’d done me wrong, and let it all go.

Plus, I just want to enjoy my present life with my awesome boyfriend, without tension sparked by unresolved wounds from past relationships. Letting go is just a more certain route to freedom than clinging to justice sometimes.

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?