Thursday, October 12, 2006

On being big and strong and oh, so manly, and can I touch your bicep? Oh! It's huge...

Okay, so I find myself, from time to time, poking my head into the AJC's "Woman to Woman" column to see what Shaunti Feldhahn and Diane Glass are arguing about this week. It's been a while, though, and I can't believe I managed to miss this when it came around at the end of September: Should men still be expected to protect women?

The column itself is nothing new or profound ("Men are warriors and genetically predisposed to help women!" "Not so much, Blanche DuBois!"), but I thought it fit quite nicely with a post over at Feministe referencing comments at a post by Dawn Eden (to whom I'm loathe to link, because the girl makes my skin crawl). The commenter asserted that feminists have conspired to take the manliness out of men and the fatherliness out of fathers, and good men are predisposed to protect women, and something about boys having to pee sitting down, and that's why girls got shot up in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

He went on to add:
Women, as a rule, are weaker and smaller. Many of them also want to “do it on their own and not be protected by some patriarchial man”. That’s well and good, but bad men exist. Bad men prey on unprotected women. Women have a couple of choices to live with this reality.

1. Get a gun, a permit to carry concealed, learn how to use it. I like to see all women armed like this.

2. Stop disuading good men from giving into their protective instincts and allow them to help you.

This male chauvanist pig will jump to the defense of any woman who is in trouble. If I come across someone attempting to rape a woman, I will immediately try and help her, putting my safety and possibly my life on the line.

However, if a woman wants to act like a man, I will treat her like a man. Basically meaning that I will not insult her by getting involved in something she can handle herself without being asked.

I write, on occasion, about the subtle impositions of the patriarchy on women in modern society, but rarely are we given so explicit an ultimatum: Act the way a good girl should, or go ahead and get raped and see if I help.

First of all, allow me to confront the assertion that men are simultaneously genetically programmed to protect women and so fragile in their own masculinity that the sight of a woman in pants is enough to send them on a Falling Down: Find a middle ground. I'm not comfortable with the idea of a world full of men who either see me as a delicate flower who must be carried across puddles or as a moving target. It's my experience that both extremes are symptoms of "little man" syndrome - and I'm not talking about Napoleon. Men who truly are secure in their masculinity generally don't need to engage in ostentatious shows of chivalry, nor do they harbor any kind of seething resentment against an entire gender. Usually, they show women the kind of respect that any human being, man or woman, rightly deserves.

"if a woman wants to act like a man, I will treat her like a man" is just another sign of this false dichotomy. The commenter offers as the only two options being a man and fitting into his ideal of a woman (that being the aforementioned delicate flower). And he further seems to indicate that someone who happens to be a man is therefore unworthy of his help or attention. You kind of get the idea that if he were out with friends and one of his buddies got jumped, he'd just stand by watching, and say afterward, "Man, I was all about to jump in there, but I didn't want to get in your way."

Here's an idea, and it may be just crazy talk: Help anyone who needs it. Man, woman, feminist, effete, straight, gay, giant, midget, anyone. If you see a woman getting raped, don't stand there a moment, trying to determine if her choice of pants rather than a skirt is a sign of her personal politics - do something, dummy! If you see a guy being robbed and beaten down in alley, don't pause to wonder, "If I go and help him, will he consider it a slur against his masculinity?" Do something, dummy! If you see someone struggling with an armload of packages so tall that you can't even tell if it's a man or a woman, just open the damn door already, because the person obviously doesn't have a free hand to do it for him/herself.

I'm a capable person. I'm fairly tall, as women go, and my build is definitely more of a Kate Winslet than a Kate Bosworth. I can lift heavy things, solve moderately difficult math problems, drive stick, and handle a samurai sword with reasonable competency. I live alone, walk at night on occasion, and feel fairly safe doing so. Yes, I could, for the sake of those Manly Men who want women to fit their dictates for appropriate femininity, choose to live at home, or I could have married young so that I would have a protector around. But why should I be expected to give up my sense of self-reliance just so that they don't get all teeny-peeny at the thought of an independent woman? And why should that sense of self-reliance make me any less worthy of help than a man in a similar situation?

Shaunti cites, as a sign of men's natural instinct to protect they women, the "women and children first" rule on the Titanic. Sure, only 20 percent of the men survived, as opposed to nearly 70 percent of the women. But the survivors were making it out in half-full lifeboats full of rich people, whereas three-quarters of the folks in third class were Jackcicles. I'm sure they would have appreciated some "natural protective instincts" as they watched the rich people float away (which they wouldn't have done, obviously, because they were dead already).

I would never expect help from anyone, man or woman, but I always appreciate the offer. If someone says, "Let me get that for you," and I can get it myself, I'll usually say, "Oh, thanks, but I've got it." When someone holds a door for me, I don't mind, because I generally hold doors for other people. It's the polite alternative to letting it slam closed and break their nose. It has nothing to do with who's bigger or stronger; it's simply a matter of being polite and everyone doing what they can to look out for everyone else.

Here's the solution to this entire mess: Men, please, please, pleasepleasepleaseplease develop a sense of masculinity independent of the corresponding femininity of the people around you. Seriously, it has to stop. If your fragile man-ego depends on some little girlie-girl cooing around to make you feel like a big swinger or some MGD-fueled bar brawl, you will spend your entire life pretending to be a man. Or, alternately, a two-term president of the United States.

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