How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘gender equality’

Reciprocity: The Elixer of Mutuality

Watch out for men who have Mothers.
—Laura Shapiro, Ms.

The chauvinist is long accustomed to the idea that women will serve him and take care of him as in the personal service that used to be provided by servants. Indeed, in this expectation, he’s not far from wrong.

While the worlds of men and women have changed significantly over the past 50 years, men still routinely encounter waitresses, secretaries, clerks, chambermaids, receptionists, and others in service occupations—the majority of whom continue to be women. Women fetch and carry, they tend and attend, and they take care of him often in much the same way that mothers take care of children. Certainly in the same way that mothers take care of favorite sons.

Emancipated women who are sensitive to chauvinism in many other areas may make exceptions for their sons. The more devoted the mother is—and the longer the son has been at home—the more pronounced the attitude becomes. Guess who later gets to play Mommy and take care of him? The traditional attitude in marriage is that the provider brings home the bacon and the little homemaker cooks and serves it . . . after she has gotten him a beer, found the TV guide, answered the phone, and quieted the children.

In traditional marriages, a man who would leap to his feet when a strange woman comes into the room is the same man who, at home, automatically takes the best chair in the room, asks his wife to bring him the paper, and does not move until dinner is served.

Providing personal services is a way of being considerate and of showing affection. No one would want to have lovers and friends give up such nice little touches as making dinners and drinks, helping someone on and off with a coat, and putting the coat in the closet, running a bath, lighting a fire in the fireplace, fetching the mail, answering the phone, charging the cell
phone, plumping up the pillows, arranging a footstool, getting a sweater, finding your glasses, and a thousand and one other ways of making someone comfortable. What’s important in a lover is that these touches are reciprocal, not one-sided. And that they are not expected or demanded.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unless you’re a commercial sex worker, you don’t have to continually give more than you receive, and you shouldn’t. If you are clear from the start about your expectations of quid pro quo and consistent in their application, most men will learn quite quickly how to scratch a back back.

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Rule Five: Accept the Inevitability of Chauvinism

There are three choices: to be a celibate, be a lesbian, or love a chauvinist.
—Jayson VanVerten

It would be a pleasant change if one could select as lovers only men who were free of chauvinism. Alas, since it’s the culture as well as individuals who are androcentric (man centered), there are still relatively few such creatures around. Although they are becoming less rare with each passing generation.

The misogynist is a man who hates women. The chauvinist isn’t necessarily full of hate: he simply has a fundamental sense of man’s superiority to women and, therefore, a fundamental belief in the intrinsic rightness of existing traditional sex roles. He views the exchange relationship of man the provider versus woman the nurturer as a satisfactory one, perhaps even an exemplary one. If you disagree, spend some time chatting to a conservative who champions “family values.” Although he may mutter compliance when challenged about equal pay for equal work, he usually doesn’t believe that work done by women is equal to the work done by men.

Gender equality poster

Gender equality poster (Photo credit: leitza*)

What are the signs of chauvinism in everyday life? In the early days of consciousness-raising in the women’s movement, they used to talk about the click, which was a sudden aha insight into a daily event symbolic of the arrangement between the sexes. Once you start to think in these terms, the clicks are everywhere.

A chauvinist is likely to expect personal services which he doesn’t reciprocate. He tends to make unilateral decisions that should be made jointly; he controls the content of conversations by refusing to participate on topics which don’t concern him directly. He seeks emotional support without returning it, he gives unnecessary directions, he assumes that his opinion is more valid and more accurate than a woman’s regardless of his expertise or lack of it on a particular issue. Etcetera. The analogy is that a chauvinist tends to treat women in the same way as an adult treats a child: he may be affectionate and even benevolent, but he isn’t an egalitarian.

If your consciousness is sufficiently raised to be aware of the chauvinism around you, what are you to do about it? You can opt for celibacy and try as much as possible to avoid the company of men. You can opt for lesbianism and the “lavender culture.” (Alas, you will find that some lesbian women are sexist as well, but that is another story.) Or you can resign yourself to the fact that chauvinism is endemic and simply try to minimize its effects. If you decide to become an active feminist and dedicate yourself to reforming and revamping the social system, that’s a fine political decision. It is, however, frequently a precursor of disaster in one’s personal life. You can end up defining almost everything as a political issue, which isn’t only exhausting and inefficient but also chips away destructively at even the most affectionate bond.

If you decide to go with the traditional role and model yourself on “total womanhood,” you must deny a large part of your selfhood and your intelligence. Total women are the scabs of sisterhood. In the women’s movement, they are the equivalent of Uncle Toms in the black movement. We call them Doris Days. Playing this part, even if you were willing to do so, would make you feel most of the time like an actress and a rather miscast actress at that. You might do it but would resent it, and that resentment would eventually sour your love affair.

There is a third alternative. You can learn to live with chauvinism, at least mild-mannered chauvinism, without  sacrificing your independence and self-respect. You’ll not be viewed as acceptable by some chauvinistic men. But you will be increasingly acceptable to enlighten men whose own consciousness has been raised and who, if not exactly feminists themselves, are at least sympathetic to the feminist cause.

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