Editor’s note: Women today also have an interest in helping men rediscover the lost art of manliness. Thus, today we bring in a guest writer to shed some light on how manliness looks from the female side of the fence. Please give a warm Art of Manliness welcome to Angela Bailey. Angela is a writer, teacher, and a mom. You can read more at her blog www.welovemen.wordpress.com .
It has become a very stressful yet all too predictable scenario for me. A man and I are walking together. We might know each other or he might be a stranger who just got distracted for a moment and didn’t notice the closed door looming menacingly before us. We continue approaching, perhaps a little more slowly now that we both see the writing on the wall, or the door in this case.
I’m never sure what he’s thinking at this point, but I know I have two choices: I can hang back and see what he decides to do or I can speed up and reach for the door before he gets the chance. I’ve gone both ways here. Usually I make the decision at the very last moment using my keen peripheral vision to quickly assess his cultural values, upbringing and emotional state of mind.
With a younger guy, I just go for the door myself (out of pity for both of us). If I think a man is in his sixties or older, I’ll often wait since I’m fairly sure he’ll get the door and gesture for me to go ahead. But when he’s between 30 and 60, it’s a crap shoot. If I pause expecting the door to be opened for me I risk the confusion and awkwardness that awaits if the guy wasn’t planning to offer me that service. Of course by the time I realize this, we’re both already stuck, hands and arms intertwined in a struggle for door supremacy. Eventually one of us lets go and we both stumble through the doorway and scurry off in shame. I’m embarrassed I ever wanted him to hold the door in the first place and I get the feeling he’s sorry he didn’t.
You might wonder why I even bother with any of this. I could certainly avoid these clumsy encounters altogether by simply taking charge and opening my own darn door. After all, I am perfectly capable of handling a simple door-opening by myself. But to be honest, I really kind of like having a man do it. Obviously, it’s not about what I can or can’t do on my own. There’s just something inside me that seems to enjoy and value the service of men. And lately, I’ve been starting to think that “something” might be a woman. If it is, then I’m pretty sure there’s a man lurking inside some of the guys I know too. Just the other day for instance, a male friend of mine—for no reason at all—took my keys right out of my hand and went outside to check on a problem I was having with my car. I didn’t even ask him or anything. So all this makes me wonder, could it be that it’s finally okay for men and women to be….well men and women again?
I was born in the 60s and I can’t remember a time when I felt like my identity as a girl or woman was actually about me. It has always been more about modeling myself after the ideal construct of the strong, liberated modern woman—independent, powerful, assertive (did I mention independent?). Need a man? Are you nuts? Not me. I am woman hear me roar! Etcetera, etcetera.
I certainly would not want to appear anti-feminist in any way. The truth is, I am profoundly grateful for the rights and freedoms I have today. But there’s no doubt that the very necessary social movements required to secure fairness for women created some uncertainty around what it means to be male and female. Feminist activists had to take the spotlight off the things that make us different and focus on our common humanity in order to drive home the point that we all deserve equal treatment. However decades of emphasizing male and female “sameness” have left most of us frustrated and confused about how to reconcile our deeply rooted, biologically-based feelings and desires with our intellectually constructed social values. Lately, the battle of the sexes has become more of an inner conflict matching our sense of who we are against our idea of who we should be.
Certainly, the noble concept of who we should be has served us well over the years. Our culture has always placed a high value on the pursuit of justice and fairness for everyone. The process can be slow, but our collective desire to hold ourselves to a higher and higher standard has been one of the driving forces behind the building of the most fair-minded societies in the world. There is no question we possess considerable will, reason and intelligence. We might even be smart enough to figure out that our intellects have only so much power over our biology.
There is no denying the simple fact that we are all here primarily because our fathers and mothers had sex. Obviously other things had to happen too, but the most critical element in baby-making is surely the act of sex itself. They say evolution is about “survival of the fittest,” but it’s really more accurate to describe it as “survival of the fittest and most prolific.” No matter how strong or smart or beautiful you are, the only way your genes survive and get passed down to future generations is if you reproduce. And that puts our behaviours around reproduction front and centre in the process of natural selection. Bottom line is, we’ve all inherited the well-honed skills, desires, and impulses that facilitated the impressive reproductive success of our countless ancestors over the millennia. Men are designed to behave in ways that will get the sexual attention of women and women are naturally inclined to seek out and admire male characteristics that serve to enhance the survival potential of their offspring.
Like it or not, the instincts governing our interactions with the opposite sex are programmed into the most primal recesses of our DNA. Sure, we can pretend our intellects are completely in charge, but we’ve all seen how well that works out. I doubt relations between men and women have ever been more strained than they are today. Resentment, anger and conflict are prominently featured in so much of male-female interaction these days and the media compounds the problem by reinforcing this dynamic at every turn. Criticizing men has been in vogue now for quite a while, with positive representations of male qualities absent from most of popular culture. Women, who’ve convinced themselves the best route to having it all is doing it all, have unwittingly shut men out of the roles that define them most fundamentally as men. Add to that the unprecedented availability of meaningless sex and pornography and you have a recipe for disaster: men with little sense of self or purpose and scarcely anything to motivate them to excel.
I’m afraid women are no better off. We are relentlessly conditioned to think one way when instinctively we often crave something entirely different. We roll our eyes at macho posturing even though a man’s bold strength and courage make us feel safe. We complain endlessly about the audacity of the male ego, but it’s a man’s confidence that gives us faith in his wherewithal. And while it’s fashionable to sing the praises of a sensitive guy, I believe most of us prefer men who are thick-skinned and resilient (all that stuff about not being afraid to cry…please be a little afraid). With so much of what we’ve been taught to believe conflicting with what we instinctively desire, is it any wonder women are such a jumble of contradictions? Unfortunately, admitting the truth leaves us open to being labelled needy, weak and unenlightened.
When I talk to women about this sad state of affairs, they’re usually quite guarded at first. But as soon as I open up and share my frustration over feeling unable to express my honest feelings and desires, they almost always jump right in and agree whole-heartedly. They want to be women, empowered by their many strengths but still vulnerable enough to need men, to enjoy and appreciate their unique talents and offerings. As for men, they seem even more gung-ho for change. Most guys I meet light-up at the slightest gesture of affection for their battered masculinity. They want to be men for us, if only we’d let them.
I guess the good thing is we’re getting pretty close to some relief. Enough of us seem to want the same thing: the freedom to be ourselves. So where do we go from here? Personally, I think we just need to take it one door at a time. Once we relax and allow ourselves to celebrate and enjoy the pleasures of our differences, the rest should happen naturally. It’s just not that complicated. Even my grade 6 students get it. After only mild encouragement, the young gentlemen in my class are proud to graciously allow their female classmates to enter and exit through a door first. The girls are flattered by the gesture and pleased to offer a sincere smile and “thank you” in return. I’ve even had a number of parents thank me for introducing a little chivalry into the lives of their children.
As for my own predicament, I have decided to go forth bravely into this world full of confusion and closed doors. Maybe next time, I’ll even wait a little bit longer before I reach for that door handle. Hey, why not give the guy a chance to be the man we both want him to be.