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The Politics of Gender

“Women are the culture bearers” used to be a common saying in anthropology. Though the expression now seems quaint, it still contains a lot of truth.

strong womenA female friend and I have been talking about what is going on with women and men in America. My observation is that women, being the stronger sex emotionally, have continued standing, while most men have quit and literally lied down, and become couch potatoes.

Sometimes I’ll ask women I know: Why are women keeping this dead culture going? Most express incredulity at the question, though not denial or defensiveness, evincing surprise that a man should know a secret that they thought only women knew.

Today my friend told me of encountering five or six women while in one day who looked like they had just been crying. All had red-rimmed eyes. She said it was very strange, and sad. When I asked if perhaps they were just tired, she said no, that a woman could tell.

My friend said that she herself had been upset earlier in the day about a family matter that goes back to her childhood, and so was more sensitive than usual to people around her. “One woman and I looked at each other with mutual understanding,” she said, “and the woman blurted out, ‘Well, I guess things aren’t really that bad.’”

With presence and acuity my friend replied, “Things seem to be very bad if we’re just coming from our own perspective.”strong women 1 Later the woman waved to her from across the store, she said.

Why is there a breakdown between the sexes, with men quitting and women keeping the sinking ship afloat? And how is it playing out politically?

“There’s an attitude among many women,” my friend said, “that it’s our turn, without looking at what the problem is. Too many women come from self-pity, and because of some perverse sense of payback and not questioning what is going on within them.”

Thinking on the history and continuing fact of male domination in many parts of the world, I recall the blatant sexism I witnessed in Russia a year before the fall of the Soviet Union. At times my jaw literally fell open in seeing the brutality with which husbands often treated their wives.

The women I got to know must have seen how appalled I was, because though I was the guest of the most powerful men in business, politics, and the media at the time, it was a half dozen women who invited me to dinner my last night in Moscow on a bitterly cold day in January 1990.

We talked openly about gender differences, as well as the differences between societal attitudes regarding women in America and Russia. We agreed on a premise that many feminists in the West now reject: The essential sameness of strong women 2women and men far outweighs gender and cultural differences.

At that time, as the Cold War was ending, there was still a real hope that a half century of superpower nuclear confrontation could be transformed into cooperation. There was also the intent, with my female and male partners in the US at least, that men and women could work together as equals, without domination by one sex over the other. Now, as the war between the sexes escalates, we’re on the brink of another Cold War.

Domination, like greed, militarism, and selfishness, has come to be seen as a given of human nature, and women have come to psychologically dominate men, at least in the West. Of course men deny it, except after a few drinks at the bar, and most women deny it, no matter how many drinks they’ve had.

Relations between the sexes lately are embodied the strange partnership between Bill and Hillary Clinton. Hillary now clearly runs the show while Bill, a former president, plays bad cop, attacking Republicans in the name of defending his wife and the Obama Administration.

At a pivotal point in the conversation with the women in Moscow, one of them told me a Russian proverb: “Men go first, and if it works, women come after.” That saying usually receives opprobrium from women in America, but there is a deep truth in it that has nothing to do with domination.

Martin LeFevre

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