Saturday, May 5, 2012

Women and Men

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I've never thought of myself as a real "girly-girl", but I've spent a bit of time lately in the company of women - and it has been absolutely wonderful!

You know, at their best, women are honest, communicative, warm, supportive, and my GOD, we are strong!!  The other day, I sat in a cafe nook with a couple of the women from the poetry group I've joined.  Both older than me (closer in age to my mother) - but it felt like time with sisters.  We talked and laughed, and shared.  I got to know them in ways that their public personas never reveal... and was awestruck by their strength and dignity, SO hard-won in the struggles and challenges of their lives.  I got to hear them share about the ways they have adjusted to the difficulties and disappointments of life, love and relationships, often making choices that meant great personal sacrifice - yet never in any way diminishing their knowledge of their own value and personhood.  Sitting there, I saw women who had found their worth, and knew it was not in the needs or estimation of any other person.  It was both humbling and inspiring.

Chatting with another woman friend this morning, the talk turned to "motherhood", and the ways in which we as women tend to "hold it all together" socially and relationally, for our families.  She is a mum who has until recently homeschooled a daughter with special needs, is now an advocate for her as she transfers to formal schooling, is dealing with significant health challenges faced by both her daughter and herself - and in spite of seemingly never-ending challenges, is looking to the future, celebrating some wonderful successes, and remaining strong.  When I talk with her, I get the sense that she is creating a world of opportunities around her family and herself, and teaching her daughter to do the same.

Sometimes it seems, in our culture, that women do all the nurturing, give of themselves, hold their relational worlds together for the sake of others,   while our men focus on wage-earning, live on some kind of "auto-pilot" and become more and more disconnected from their families and the real heart of life.

Yet it isn't always like that.  Last night I met an older man, a friend of my mother's.  We bumped into him at an event - and because he was travelling the same direction, we all caught the same train home.  During the hour-long trip, we had the most amazing conversation!  After one hour of getting to know him, I certainly don't know ALL of his story - yet I glimpsed someone much "bigger on the inside".  This incredible father, grandfather, writer, activist, community worker has brought up one of his grandchildren, solo.  He has represented minorities and the oppressed.  He has continued to be there for his children through difficulties that would make many parents walk away.  He has continued to pray for them and be available to help.  This is a man who "holds it together" for his family AND community.

My no-longer-homeschooling-mum-friend made the comment "we are made for motherhood".  In context, she was NOT referring to any kind of pre-determined role (and had I taken it that way, I know she'd have been quick to clarify).  I believe she was referring to having found personal strength and satisfaction, of a kind, in taking on the challenges that life and motherhood have thrown at her - and the sense of life and value and worth that has come to her through being able to "hold it together" for her family, and in that process discover her own strength.

I have heard others observe (and I think this probably is a general kind of pattern in our society at the point of flux and change that we stand in) that today's women often seem more confident, present, and dynamic than many men.  That neither women or men are sure what we want from the men in our lives.  That men are not sure what their "role" in relationships should really be.  Women are finding themselves, whilst men are "lost".  Often (and sadly) it seems there is still a "battle of the sexes" where men seek to disempower women, and women to emasculate men.  Sometimes I think we women want men to be strong and present and great leaders, at the same time as being sensitive and somehow "feminised".  These are not easy times for young men.  According to some, the "lost generation" of men during the World Wars, where fathers were absent, died, or came home distant and damaged, still has repercussions for men today.

I have some absolutely wonderful male friends.  I find I can talk to them, they are very often much more likely to engage in meaty, philosophical conversations  (sometimes, hanging with the "girls" means the conversation just turns to nappies, recipes and the best way to get the housework done... sigh!) and there is a "matter-of-factness" around a lot of men, that I find reassuring.  But the truth is, gender roles are changing.  Where are we now?  Where do we want to be?

So - After all that ruminating, here is my question:  How do you feel about gender?

  • If you are a woman, what particular strengths do you feel are given to you along with your "femininity" (however you define that) - and what the things you either expect or appreciate from the men in your life?

  • If you are a man - how do you define "masculinity"?  Is it important?  What expectations do you feel the women in your life have of you?  Are they realistic?  And what do you expect or appreciate from the women in your life?


  1. Wow Aunty Kerry! Yet another great read! Not to mention another heart-striking topic.

    It's amazing, because Mum and I have discussed this many times and yet it was only just as I read through and matched some of these points to theories of my own, that I realized what the real problem is.

    Well what I believe the real problem is....

    Sure Men and Women ARE different, in sooo many ways but when does it come down to just being a human being? Shouldn't we all just strive to be the best people we can be? Anything else seems to be venturing into using Gender as an excuse!

    Yes we almost DO ask too much of our men these days and what we want CAN be confusing. However, from what I've observed, we women can be all the things that we seem to be asking of men. We can be strong and lead and yet remain 'sensitive'. For that matter I'm not even sure it's 'sensitivity' or 'femininity' that we're looking for. Merely understanding. The ability to vent, discuss and let go of emotions.

    A real man, for me, is just a well balanced, caring and decent human being. I don't believe that either women or men are better as parents or 'holding it together' for their families but we can all look around and admit that in this time there are just MORE WOMEN doing it.

    I personally have had little to no good experiences with Men as Father figures in my immediate family. However, I have never felt that was a good enough reason to write off the gender completely and since have met some of the most amazing Fathers and Men. These men seem to have found the balance that is lacking in so many.

    One thing these well balanced men seem to have in common is a group of other well balanced men surrounding and supporting them as they grow.

    I feel I could go on forever on this topic and know I've probably missed out some important points but.. to conclude...

    I really do believe that for our men, in general, to get past this point of identity limbo, we need all the men who ARE strong, well balanced, leaders of their community to be role models to the younger... Change the ATTITUDES!! Towards women, towards family... because quite frankly they STINK!!!

    Women congregate regularly. In almost every family, the women at least gather and communicate on a regular basis. The same needs to be happening with the men. I know that in my family alone a pattern of absent Fathers has somehow led to a longer pattern of absent Fathers.

    I really do feel for Men in general and have nothing but the up-most respect for those out there able to 'hold it together'. I seriously do believe that we have a lot to gain from progress in this area and us women can do our part in the raising of our sons and the choosing of our partners :)

    1. Abbigail!! I'm so glad you jumped in and contributed your perspective!

      I agree with you that "personhood" should be the only thing that is allowed to define any of us - not our gender. Doesn't mean there are no differences - there are. But they vary as much as individuals do. No two people are exactly alike an any way, and gender expression is no different.

      I think Stuart mentioned "confidence" in his comment - and this connects with what you are saying about being a "well balanced, caring and decent" human being. No matter who you are, if you are confident in your own personhood, it is so much easier to be available to others in ways that are healthy and empowering to them.

      But this is describing an "ideal world" where culture does not twist and inhibit our ability to just be ourselves, regardless of gender. The fact is (and you have highlighted this) there are difficulties associated with both genders. In our culture, ONE of these, is that women seem often (NOT always) to be the ones doing the nurturing and protecting, while a significant portion of men (not all, or even most) appear to be absent from their families in one way or another. I'm sure it IS a cultural trend - there's certainly nothing in our biology that would explain it!

      Do you think that male role-models are necessary, to build healthy, functional men? As a single mum, do you seek out good male models for your son? Or do you think that as capable, thinking women, we can teach the values and the confidence he will need, to step up and reach his full potential as a young man?

  2. Mmm Gender identity, what a great meaty subject. Well I think Freud was correct. Women have Penis Envy. Why? Multitude of reasons one of which is that we have a wizz, we can write our signature in the sand/snow! Which, technically speaking, is hard to do while, um... knees are bent.

    Anyway. I disagree with your friend who seems like a great mother, some women are terrible mothers. Not my mum, but other women I have met. My mum, with all her faults and idiosyncrasies like being deaf, and not liking any sort of music, cared for us, loved us, and helped us. She was mostly a traditional housewife, until her late 40's when she started farming and running a Postal service. This didnt mean she was a doormat, she was strong, feminist, but her education level I think excluded her from many types of work.

    Personally, I like both women and men who are confident. It's a good thing that we have moved way from traditional roles, laid down by mostly the church, and upheld by the state. The big catalyst was WW2, were women could effectively do trades and work assigned to men alone, that made such a difference.

    I joke about feminazis taking over Rugby League, and I do like a bit of aggression in football. Football, is a proper place for aggression, within limits.

    And aggression can be channeled into other pursuits. I think it is true that most men, generally speaking, are more aggressive than women. When this aggression is channeled into positive outcomes, it can be a great an powerful phenomena.

    My dad, when he was younger man, would lose his temper, as we all do. However, generally speaking, he was/is a protector/guardian/and nurturer, and I feel that is good example to follow. I cant see a clash between protector and nurturer. Two sides of the one human coin.

    Excluding extreme outliers, such as criminals, or men that just bugger off, having nothing to do with children, a lot of men would get a lot from nuturing as well as protecting.

    Also, I think, men have different interests to women generally speaking and I raise just one example for your Consideration..... Trains.

    A hell of a lot of men, would be in a kind of bliss, helping other men, or alone, repair a old train, or restore an old car, or an aircraft. Doesn't matter really what it is, this "engineering streak" is there.

    One of the best thing to do though, is not oppress these interests in women, so if a woman comes along to the Steam Museum in a boilermakers overalls and wants to work on trains, its the right thing to make her feel welcome, and one of the team.

    Gay men,as well have their own culture, but i'm not qualified to comment on what it is like to be a gay man, the important thing though here is recognition and respect for difference as well.

    Gender, isnt black and white anymore, as laid down by the church, upheld by the state.

    There are Males, and Females, but add to that mix, Lesbian females, Gay Males, Transgendered and Bisexual people. And it is true I think that all these "label" blur and blend in our heads and behavour. Gender is a kind of rainbow, a lot like the Gay flag I admire.

    But sexually speaking, the only types of people that light my fire, are women. That doesnt mean I cant understand how a man can love another man, or appreciate and honor that relationship.

    Then there are homosexual/transgendered/bi people who don't completely reject the teaching of Christianity, another example of diversity in thinking. Of course, the fundys would condemn them as an abomination, an eternity in hell.

    The diversity in modern gender identity, is more proof, that the relevance of strict fundamentalist religions, have less and less importance for most people in our everyday lives.

    1. Hehe - Stuey, a number of cheeky comments about penises do spring to mind... but I shall keep them to myself

      I agree with you that gender is a continuum. Nobody fits a particular stereotype, and we all express our biology and personhood in ways that are unique and individual. And yes - the fact that gender roles ARE shifting, means that we are no longer limited to "prescribed" roles - and that is a VERY good thing. The acceptance of LGBT people in our society is very healthy in that sense (quite apart from the justice of it) because it frees EVERYONE to express their personhood, including their gender, in the way that is comfortable for them.

      Yet there are some qualities that are more common in women, and some that are more common in men. We have different hormones and physiology in *some* ways, which must account for some of it - although it is hard to tease out what is biology and what is simply culture and environment. I think, as a general thing, women do tend to approach things with more emotion and empathy - which can be wonderful, or just hard work!! Men (especially in their younger years) tend towards more drive and aggression, and as you say - when channelled well, this makes them a force to be reckoned with & is a wonderful thing.

      Mind you, I do think that interests such as "trains" should be kept to oneself. People MIGHT get the wrong idea about you!! :P

    2. Must say I love this subject and think it should be examined constantly with a variety of people.

      I have wonderful parents and have been blessed to have some truly amazing older men and women in my life.

      I am currently the "boss" in a household of men with disabilities and their carers and I have grown and been appreciated as a person so much in this group. I have seen manly men give nurture and bring out in people amazing qualities that I had totally missed.

      I agree we need good role models and leading people in our society for both men and women. I find so much time is spent picking out the faults in others and failing to see the gleam of the amazing in people. I must say I am glad I was born in this era and can be a little feminist at times. However, if I want my voice to count I need to be on the sidelines cheering on those who are doing a great job (thus encouraging them to continue) rather than just bagging out those who are not.

      As a counselor I have seen so many men and women try to live out what they think men or women should do rather than move into the areas they have interests in. The family and community are better places when we have a mixture of the sexes.

  3. Rachel! Thanks for jumping in! :)

    I think external "expectations" that we try to live up to in any area can be very damaging. I suspect gender expectations even more so in some ways, since it is often so tied to our *idea* of who we are, where we fit in society, and our worth as humans. Like you, I'm glad as a woman to have grown up in this era. I'm also glad that I had a strong mother as a role model. I've never felt defined by my femaleness, or constrained by it. It surprises me, when the occasional "barrier" pops up - I don't expect it, and tend to immediately reject it.

    A lot of hard yards were put in, before our time, to bring us to this point. There are ways in which women's equality still needs defending (wage equality, etc. etc.) but overall, we are in a very good place. More and more, now, I hear men's voices, saying that MEN need support, too. And I think this is true - NOT in a polarising sense... (I think there's a danger in both women's and men's movements that we begin to exclude and devalue the opposite gender - which is silly and destructive - might as well devalue ourselves!) but to provide those positive role models and opportunities to see things from a healthy male perspective.

    Hope I didn't sound as if I was "bagging out" anyone! Was certainly not my intent!!

    1. Definitely did not think you were bagging out anyone. I just think it can be easy for me at times to see only one perspective.

      I agree also that there is still a long way to go for women's equality in many different environments and situations. There are some amazing women who have made a way for me to have the freedom I enjoy today.

      I also believe men need support. I know some single fathers who do the best they can but who are told at times, "Their children are lacking a women's presence". Of course this is true however, it does not mean that they are not doing a good job. I know many adults from single parent home's who are wonderful people. Men need support and respect for the job they do whether they stay at home or go out to work.

  4. So I'll finally weigh in, and it's just a quick thought:

    As a gay man, I'm reminded about how whenever I finally get married, I'll have to be purposeful about taking into account who each of us really are as opposed to cultural norms. I mean, we'll both be guys, so there'll be no "that's the woman's job, honey, so, you know... wash the dishes."

    I like that idea as an ideal for all relationships. Yes, there was a time when gender really did matter. But it kind of doesn't anymore. And besides, when we paint with thick, broad brushstrokes like that... people fall in between the cracks. And I hate when people fall in the cracks. I love the idea of people looking at you for you and not putting your likes and leanings in boxes that make them comfortable.

    Yeah... I'm an idealit. :)

    Also, Kerry, my mom and dad were watching a show about sheep farmers in New South Wales and I was like, "Yay! I wonder if they know Kerry?" ;)

  5. "who each of us really are as opposed to cultural norms" - Yes! I like that, too!! Sure there are broad generalisations you can make according to gender - but they are never going to describe everyone. To really know someone, you really do have to get beyond all that! Glad you "weighed in", Ethan! :)

    (& I DO know a couple of sheep farmers - but NSW is a pretty big place!)


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