Back in the days when Neanderthals like me roamed the earth, I bought my first house thanks to the GI Bill and $3,000-down squeezed from the piggy bank. Although I had been married for several years the idea of putting my wife’s name on the deed as Joint Owner (how audacious!), never entered my mind. Nor hers!
That’s simply the way it was, accepted as intrinsic to the culture, men in charge, women in servitude. Gender dictated what was acceptable behavior for men and not encouraged for women.
Did I think I was “mean” or tyrannical when I defined our wedding “I do’s” as I do the decision making and you do the housework? I never even thought about it! It was clear to both parties, in keeping with the role of the man, I was the boss and I had the authority.
That was the case in my household growing up and that was the case in my wife’s home as well. How mom and dad related when in conflict was pre-ordained: mom would cry when her wishes were ignored, and dad would either lose his temper or go silent, but his decisions held sway. When we became adults we simply carried on, accepting without second thought the Me Tarzan, You Jane stereotypes.
Honestly, I was ignorant of the consequences; blind to the negative way women experienced the world. I never ever thought of myself as participating in the oppression of women! If a therapist suggested to me, “get in touch with your feminine nature,” I would have sooner tuned in to the Ru Paul talk show. Expressions of compassion and evidences of vulnerability were signs of weakness. John Wayne simply did not shed tears. He brawled, shot fast and straight and made sure the posse wasn’t looking when he revealed a sliver of empathy, forgiveness and (look away, Marshall), vulnerability.
For most men, including me, the first glimmer of understanding about the Women’s Movement forced its way into consciousness during the sixties. There were women marching alongside men in support of the civil rights movement and the protests against the war in Vietnam. So it was reasonable to support their campaigns for representation in government, opportunities for education and rights to enter into legal contracts. Kind of like putting your arm around a frail woman and comforting her with your manliness.
They were baby steps; women still couldn’t get a charge account without their husband being the primary account holder! Men didn’t worry about losing machismo when despite the go ahead from both houses of Congress in the early seventies, the Women’s Rights Amendment was shot down by… women. The fear as argued by Phyllis Schlafly was that housewives would be disadvantaged and might lose alimony if they got divorced.
Even as women became more active and grew stronger as a social force affecting society in measurable ways, men continued to hold sway as the century neared an end. Joe Biden would like to forget his role in the 1991 Anita Hill hearings but it’s on the record.
It wasn’t the Y2K bug that threatened the status quo in 2000. It was the tide of feminism that gathered force as a series of political campaigns for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, maternity leave, equal pay and percentage of women in government. The “corporate man” no longer was the model for the height of male success; social changes dramatically altered the Zeitgeist of the times. Men began suffering emotionally from the changing roles of masculinity, changes that meant negotiating with women for sex and demands for parity.
The #MeToo movement pushed the floodtide over the levees. The much-publicized allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men became a rallying cry against domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.
Today, Tarzan would be bewildered. He probably would react to the new social order by growing a three-day stubble to identify himself as boss-man of the cave. (When did going without a shave become trendy!).
Men, this is an urgent reminder that it’s high time to revamp your attitudes about the role of women in the world circa 2019. Make sure you understand the needs and expectations of your spouse/partner, or you’ll be watching Stephen Colbert alone in your sparsely furnished studio apartment.
As for me, I’ve seen the light.
I admit to having benefited in the past from male privilege. It doesn’t take a glare from Arlene to atone for the injustice and commit to gender justice going forward. I’m all for the right of women to have equity in our political institutions, equal access to capital to start their own businesses, and the freedom to decide what works for them in their personal and professional lives.
You better believe the condo is in both our names.
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