December 20, 2009

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What Can Manly Men Expect of Women?

Awhile back, Leo posted these delightfully nostalgic and funny “Marital Rating Scales” from 1939 in the Community:

wifechart2

husband2

After having a good laugh, what Kate and I both noticed after reading through these charts was that while we could imagine a modern day woman expecting her husband to live up to most of the standards on the Husband’s Chart, if a man expected a woman to adhere to the Wife’s Chart, he’d probably be met with the look of death.

Now obviously some of the expectations on both charts are just silly, and part of the reason that the Wife’s Chart seem even sillier is that a woman’s place in society has changed far more than a man’s during the last 70 years.

But it’s also indicative of a new double standard that has emerged in our modern age. Women are still free to flog men for their shortcomings and expect a lot from them, but if a man has any expectations for women, the conversation is bound to go something like this:

sexist

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It seems like men are catching onto to this movement to recover some of the good things of the past, while holding onto the progress we’ve made. I was just reading this interesting article in the NYT about how 20-something men are rejecting the whole casual, let it all hang out Baby Boomer vibe that’s dominated society for the last few decades and are starting to want to dress up and look sharp. This quote, from a college professor, particularly stood out to me:

“But the younger generation is looking at getting dressed up and making their mark,” Mr. Cohen continued. “It’s a real generation gap here. I teach at three different colleges, and I am amazed how dressed up some of the students are. Girls still come in their hoodies and pajamas, but boys come in their suits.”

In some ways, the new movement towards a return to traditional manliness needs women to be on board to be successful. After all, if you have men opening doors and asking women on real dates, and they’re just laughing in your face, that’s clearly not going to work out too well. And if you have men striving to be their best, but they feel like women aren’t even trying, you’ve got a recipe for creating strained relations between the sexes and bitter and disillusioned men who think all women are an unappealing mess who are not worth the trouble of dealing with (something you already see in certain online communities).

We often get emails from women who praise us up and down for the mission of the Art of Manliness. “This is just what men need!” they say. “I love the idea of bringing back traditional manliness!” they tell us. We love that women are on board with the movement, but it makes us wonder, “Okay, if men are manning up, what are women going to do to follow suit?”

After all, if women say they’re not in favor of a genderless society, and they want men to be men, then they have to be prepared for the flip side of that equation. A world where women are women.

Now don’t get me wrong. A man’s desire to man up should really have little to do with women and their opinion of him. Basing their lives around the opinions of women is exactly where men have gone wrong these last few decades. A man should want to seek true manliness out of his desire for confidence, honor, and self-respect.

But it’s also wrong-headed to think that womanliness has nothing to do with manliness. It would be hard to define manliness unless it was juxtaposed beside femininity, the way we wouldn’t be able to define dark, without the experience of light.

And it’s also indisputable that men used to be motivated to be honorable men because they felt they got something in return from the women in their lives. Manning up involves some sacrifice, but men didn’t feel like they were the only ones making an effort. Men dressed up, took women on dates and paid, brought home the bacon, took care of their wives, and acted as the rock in the family. In return, they could count on women to look classy and attractive, be charming, cook dinner, take care of the house and kids, and make her man feel like king of the castle.

But these days a new double standard has emerged where it’s okay to celebrate men manning up, but telling women they need to recover some of their femininity is offensive. To wit:

A woman telling a man to stop looking like a slob and dress up. Awesome!

A man telling a woman to stop looking like a slob and take care of herself. Sexist!

Saying that men should stop hooking up with women. Awesome!

Saying that women should stop sleeping around. Sexist!

Saying that men should get off the couch and go to work. Awesome!

Saying that a woman should be nurturing with kids. Sexist!

Saying that men should take the initiative in relationships. Awesome!

Saying that a woman should let the man lead (ever!). Sexist!

Well, you get the idea. The are a few reasons for the disparity. The first is that men spent most of world history in a position of privilege (although there were real downsides to being a man during this time, too). Then the women’s movement happened and they lost that position. So when it comes to recovering  aspects of traditional manliness, men are excited to get on board (not because they want the exact same position back, but simply because they see the past fondly). Women, on the other hand, fought for the last few decades for the position that they now find themselves in. So even if they aren’t totally happy with it, looking back to recover what was good about the past makes them feel like they’re betraying what their sisters fought for. And if anyone suggests that bringing back some old school femininity might be a good idea, it’s been ingrained in them that they should be offended.

Second, women have historically been put on a pedestal, as the protectors of morality, while men have been disparaged as being baser in their nature. So it’s always been socially acceptable to castigate men but not women, because of the implicit understanding that women were just naturally pure and didn’t need much external encouragement to be “good.” Some feminists still seem to hold to this idea-that men and women are equal, but really-wink, wink- we all know that men are actually pigs. A real head scratcher to be sure.

But these days women say they don’t want to be on a pedestal, that putting them there is sexist! So now that we’re on equal footing, can we admit that today’s women need some work too?

Could we perhaps say that equality shouldn’t mean embracing and outdoing men in things that were traditionally considered masculine? That making out with other chicks for attention and lifting your shirt for beads and getting smashed and burping the alphabet and dressing in sweatsuits really has very little to do with being “liberated?”

That if men are going to know their way around a kitchen, that maybe women could, too? (I know lots of women my age who couldn’t cook to save their life.)

That you can’t insist on both being treated like a princess while also being a totally “independent woman?” (And that these dual impulses are driving men nuts?) And that a lot of relationships are falling apart not because there aren’t any good men to be found, but because women are so paranoid about “losing their identity” that they can’t settle down and give themselves over to being with a man? (Did you know that 2/3 of divorces are initiated by women?)

Now don’t get me wrong. We’re certainly not advocating a “Get back in the kitchen!” movement. Just like traditional manliness, recovering traditional womanliness will require sorting through which is the baby and which is the bathwater. And that sorting seems like an even more difficult task than it is for men. A veritable minefield where PC-ness, reality, history and progress collide.

But that is where I’d like to start this discussion. What aspects of femininity do you wish women would once again embrace? If you’re manning up, what do you expect of women? I’m also interested in what our female readers have to say about the subject.


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