“Men have become women, and women have become men,” the young woman passionately proclaimed as we stood talking in the park. More than half my age, she succinctly voiced something that I’ve felt for some time.
Our paths had literally converged as we walked on one of those sunny mornings, summer or winter, that you can easily come to take for granted in California. As strangers do on rare occasions, we started talking immediately about serious things, and the woman gave voice and vent to things she’d obviously been thinking and feeling for some time.
Though only in her mid-20’s, she already had a wealthy husband and two kids. The guy owned properties in town, including the largest fitness center. Her kids weren’t with her, and she was apparently trying to sort some things out. She struck me as an artist that sold out young and was unhappy about her choices.
“There’s not only a big gap between men and women these days,” she went on with striking honesty and clarity, “but between younger and older women.”
With little prompting, she explained: “My friends and I feel that a lot of older women are jealous of us, not just because we’re young, but because we have husbands and seem better adapted and happier.”
Not wanting to make it personal, I didn’t ask the obvious personal question, but solicited her views about men. Perhaps because I was an older guy that didn’t show interest in her sexually, she felt she could unburden herself.
“Men have mostly quit,” she said, echoing my view without having expressed it, “and women, being stronger emotionally, have taken charge,” adding, “but it’s not working.”
You never know how much we are seeing things as they are, and how much we’re viewing them through the prism of our personal lives. But she spoke in a matter-of-fact way, with flashes of passion convincingly popping through, strong feeling that added to rather than diminished from the truths she was speaking.
We were standing at a juncture in the park, with one of the paved paths leading to the footbridge, and the other continuing straight down the pedestrian road. Just then a 20-something woman and man walked up, the guy pushing a baby carriage with the obligatory dog leashed to it, and the woman walking listlessly alongside.
“Let’s go this way,” the young man said with some enthusiasm, pointing toward the bridge. Without even a second’s consideration, the woman firmly and flatly said, “No, we’ll continue straight.”
The woman I was talking with held my gaze with a sidelong smirk, waited until they passed out of earshot, and said, “See what I mean?”
I asked if she was conservative and Christian, and she said no. Then I told her how, on my last night in Russia on an ostensibly business trip the last year of the Soviet Union, six women had taken me out to dinner.
They had seen my jaw drop at the blatant male domination, often accompanied with put-downs. I’d voiced my dismay to my interpreter, a very formidable woman for whom men, uncharacteristically or characteristically in Russian culture, did exactly as they were told. (There’s always an exception to the rule, or there is no rule.)
That night in Russia provided, to say the least, a memorable conversation about men and woman, East and West. At the end of the dinner and discussion, one of the women gave a Russian proverb: “Men go first, and if it works, women follow.”
Needless to say, that saying doesn’t go over so well with women in North America these days. Some women bridle at it; others say, with pride or pathos, “Now women are leading.”
That’s when the solitary wife and mother uttered her cutting quip that “men have become women, and women have become men.”
We concurred that men and women cannot and should not, as evangelical Christians preach in public but don’t practice in private, go back to the bad old days of male domination. We also agreed that female domination, even though it’s much more subtle, may be just as bad.
It isn’t about traditional roles, or roles at all. It’s about members of both genders feeling needed in the family and society, however we construe the new family and construct the new society.
Speaking of and hopefully to my gender, far too many guys have quit on their families, themselves and humanity. Oh many go through macho motions, but most have turned into women pleasers—not unlike how most women used to be men pleasers, only more nauseatingly.
Sometimes I’ll ask a woman if she agrees with the old anthropology canard, “Women are the culture bearers.” Most will readily agree. Then why are women keeping this dead culture going?
Perhaps it’s because men not only don’t know how but also don’t know where to go first anymore. The wilderness has been conquered, and though equal pay for equal work is still not reality in this and many countries, women can now do any job a man can do, including fight in man’s wars. A man is not even necessary to have kids.
The new, true and final frontier is within, though a man who ventures there is labeled sensitive and feminine, which is doubly ironic since so many women have become masculine and insensitive. Truth be told, it takes a lot more courage to be responsively and responsibly insightful these days than it does to kill or be killed on the battlefield.
Perhaps it will only take a few men, developing the feminine and masculine within themselves in the right balance (which varies from person to person), for women to begin to do the same. And women can also lead, without over-accentuating the masculine in them, or undervaluing it in men. But if a woman has to tell a man to ‘get his man card,’ he’ll never get it.
So men, take the risks and find and forge a way out of the wilderness of darkness that has engulfed us all. Heart and courage still have their place, and so do we, if we step up.